Today’s writing-related Challenge of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, involves getting real about your story.
I don’t know about you, but cheesy messes makes me squeamish. Not actual, edible cheese. I love that stuff. But the literary kind is a whole ‘nother topic altogether.
To illustrate this, consider Someone Like You, a movie I used to adore back in college when I apparently had a limited understanding of reality.
Someone Like You is the story of Jane, who falls for the new guy at work – even though the new guy is already in a relationship – gets her heart broken because she willingly becomes the other woman, and then tries to explain away her selfish stupidity by coming up with a ridiculous scientific theory that all men are barnyard animals.
When I summarize it like that, it sounds like a really dumb movie and I’m even more ashamed for ever buying it. But back in college, I loved the thing. After all, it starred Hugh Jackman as the actual, good-guy love interest, and oh my word was he swoon-worthy.
Watching it again last year however, after a decade’s worth of real-world reality checks, I realized that Hugh Jackman didn’t make it worthwhile for a whole list of reasons, including this one:
Like I said above, instead of taking responsibility for her actions, Jane develops a theory that men simply can’t commit. So it’s not her they’re leaving. She’s not the reason she’s still single. They are. To solidify this idea in her brain, she appropriates some obscure dead doctor’s identity and publishes her findings under that name in a well-known men’s magazine.
The media goes nuts about it, with all the major and minor outlets trying to find more on this author and even book her on their shows. And since it just so happens that Jane herself works for an up-and-coming talk show, she agrees to do an interview with her own producer – over the phone, of course, since she can’t reveal her actual identity.
Except that Jane has her moment of truth right before the interview begins, and she decides to come clean. Walking out onto the studio stage, she confesses to her employer, the audience, and the world that she lied to all of them, then runs off to applause and into Hugh Jackman’s arms amidst some cheesy, happily-ever-after background music.
Ummm… Yeah. That ending’s not realistic. Not even close.
I’m not saying their relationship is doomed. But a few passionate smooches isn’t going to solve the pile of legal problems Jane’s going to face after those smooches are finished. She’s a relative nobody who pretty much stole someone’s identity to publish flat-out lies about an entire gender.
You think there’s not going to be a fall-out from that?
In real life, there would be. But since it’s a movie, the writers thought they could do whatever they wanted. Which, admittedly, they could. They just had to sacrifice their literary dignity in the process.
That right there is the definition of cheese: sacrificing your dignity to evoke an intense or unrealistic amount of emotion. And, hate to break it to you non-script-writers, but it tends to show more prominently on paper than on screen.
Something about grease stains, I guess.
Book writers can sometimes get away with cheesy displays in romances because their readers are more drawn to certain types of intense emotion. That’s not me trying to bash romance writers or readers, by the way; it’s just that when someone is intensely committed to seeing a happily ever after happen, the resulting relief when it does come true can easily override their natural aversion to a cheesy ending.
That’s something less-dignified romance writers can capitalize on to make their endings easier to write.
However, if you’re writing a non-cheesy manuscript – romance or otherwise – and you’re at the ending, here’s a tip and a challenge for you…
Add a little reality to your ending.
I know that creating non-cheesy endings, where the conclusions actually makes sense, are more difficult to write. They’re something I struggle with all the time.
But the concept behind them isn’t difficult. All you need to do is acknowledge reality.
So, in the Someone Like You example, Jane could simply tell Hugh Jackman’s character, “I know I created a huge legal mess here that’s going to take years to untangle and will probably haunt me for the rest of my life, but I really love you and I know you love me too. So how about we give it a shot anyway?”
Then Hugh Jackman can hesitate while he thinks it over before dragging her into his arms and passionately smooching her. Because yes, he wants to give it a shot too.
That’s it. That’s all that it would take to put a much more realistic, non-cheesy ending on that story.
Well, maybe not non-cheesy. In reality, there might not be any actual saving of this happily-ever-after attempt. But I maintain that it would be less cheesy that way, which automatically makes it a better story ending than it is right now.