For some reason it never occurs to me to write short posts on a specific topic or story example, but I don’t know why not. There’s always stuff I leave out of the long ones that comes to me later and I never get around to because I don’t know where to put it.
But it’s my blog, isn’t it? There’s no post length police. That I know of.
So let’s try it.
In the last post, we were talking about common elements in Act II:2, and there’s something I forgot to mention.
I have been watching more romantic comedies for examples to use here, since I know a lot of you people write in the romance genre. And I’ve noticed that there’s a very typical scene, usually in the very last part of Act II:2, but sometimes in Act III, that I’ll call “The Lover Makes a Stand” (Takes a stand? Makes a stand? Looking it up. Okay, it’s “makes a stand.”).
Well, but before I talk about that scene, I guess I’m going to have to backtrack and explain what I mean by “the Lover”. Maybe this isn’t going to be such a short post.
There’s a saying I’m sure you’ve heard that in a relationship there is always a lover and a loved one. Whether that’s actually true in life, I’m not sure I want to know; one would hope these things would be somewhat equal. But I know this Lover/Loved One dymanic tends to be the case in romantic comedy (the romance readers/writers will have to tell me if it’s the case in romance fiction, I’d love to know your thoughts.). Either way, it’s a useful model for writing romance.
In most stories, for most of the story, there’s an imbalance between the hero and heroine, or hero/hero, or heroine/heroine… the two lovers, whatever gender and orientation they may be. (I’m not going to get into the subgenre of ménages today, sorry.)
At first what this looks like is that there’s a Pursuer and a Pursued - but the pursuer might not be the one who loves most deeply. The pursuit might be ego-based, or to win a bet, or obviously, just sexual conquest - any number of things.
Now, the two characters might equally hate each other at first: as in WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, YOU’VE GOT MAIL.
But pretty quickly in most romantic comedies, one of the characters becomes more interested in the other, and becomes the pursuer.
Note that the protagonist can be either the pursuer or the pursued. In NOTTING HILL, Hugh Grant is the pursuer (in that diffident English way, of course...). In IT’S COMPLICATED, Meryl Streep is the pursued.
In WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, Harry is the pursuer. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL, Tom Hanks is the pursuer. In PHILADEPHIA STORY, Katharine Hepburn is the pursued. (arguably in these three films there is no true protagonist; the hero/heroine characters are about as equal as characters ever get in a story)
Hmm, do we see a pattern here? Male pursues, female is pursued. Maybe biology really IS destiny. No, wait - in BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, Bridget is the pursuer. In BRINGING UP BABY, Katharine Hepburn is the pursuer (but not the protagonist). And I’m sure you can think of a lot of other examples.)
But the pursuer is not the same as the Lover, necessarily. In NOTTING HILL, Hugh is both the pursuer and the lover (he is definitely the one who feels most deeply in the tentative dance going on between him and Julia Roberts). In IT’S COMPLICATED, Alec Baldwin is very much the pursuer, Meryl Streep is the pursued, and Steve Martin is the lover (also a pursuer, but overwhelmed by Alec Baldwin’s intense pursuit. But clearly in this trio, Steve Martin is most clear about who and what he wants.).
In WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, Harry is the pursuer, but not the lover. At a certain point, it’s Sally who realizes that she wants more than friendship. She becomes the lover.
In PHILADELPHIA STORY, Cary Grant is the pursuer and also the lover, but interestingly, he’s coming from much more of a position of strength than the lover usually comes from; from the beginning, he has no intention of compromising.
All right, I’m realizing I could do about three posts in a row on these dynamics, and I haven’t even gotten to the short observation I started out wanting to make. But is what I’m saying above making sense? Pursued and pursuer, lover and loved one, different combinations of and variations on those dynamics?
Now we come to the Lover Makes a Stand scene. As I said, this seems almost always to come in the very last part of Act II:2, but sometimes in Act III. Basically, it’s the crux of Sequence Six or Sequence Seven.
And in this scene the Lover, or whoever has become the Lover by this point, the one who loves most deeply, basically says to the Loved One - “I’m not going to take your bullshit any more. Make up your mind. Either commit to me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m out of here.”
Steve Martin tells Meryl Streep that she’s not done with Alec yet, and he doesn’t want to see her while she’s still emotionally involved with him. Hugh Grant tells Julia Roberts in the bookstore that between her “vicious temper” and his far more inexperienced heart, he doesn’t think he would recover from being discarded again, and turns down her offer to date. Sally refuses Harry’s offer to go to the New Year’s party as a friendly date because “I’m not your consolation prize, Harry.”
Cary Grant – well, in PHILADELPHIA STORY Cary makes his stand at the very beginning, in action, not words. The whole movie is about him creating a situation that will force Katharine Hepburn to look at herself clearly and choose what and whom she really wants. Cary never begs. He manipulates, then stands back and watches until she falls, and in falling becomes the whole woman he always knew she could be, but he will not accept less than.
(And that is the sort of thing that makes a person Cary Grant, btw...)
In Eat Pray Love, Javier Bardem (who is the Lover and the Pursuer in the "Love" portion of the movie) Makes A Stand on the beach, with boat packed. And of course, Julia doesn't get on the boat. Yet.
In all of the above scenes, the Lover’s Stand forces the Loved One to step up and commit just as deeply as the Lover is committed. But it seems that very, very, very often, it’s one character, the Lover, who has to force the issue.
It’s such a common scene, I’m going to have to stick it in my Story Elements Checklist, right around Sequence 6 or Sequence 7.
Now, sometimes there’s a different scene at this juncture, which I will call The Declaration. A very good example is in BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, when Bridget races to the party to tell Colin Firth she loves him, only to find that his parents have thrown the party to announce his engagement and departure for America. Then she makes her Declaration – a mangled sort of toast that Colin understands is her desperate confession of love. It’s not the same as a Make a Stand scene because it’s not saying, “I’ve had it, I’m walking.” But it does put the cards on the table so the Loved One will have to make a decision, one way or another.
(Okay, so maybe I don’t write short posts because as they say - the less time I have, the longer I write. )
Anyway, what do you think, all you romance writers out there who are far more qualified to write this post than I am? Am I on to something, here?
Any examples of Pursuer/Pursued, Lover/Loved One? Or examples of The Lover Makes A Stand scenes or Declaration scenes for us?
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How To Write A Novel From Start To Finish: previous posts
How to write a novel from start to finish (part one)
What is genre?
What's your premise?
The Price (more on premise)
What is High Concept?
The Dream Journal
Three-Act Structure Review and Assignments
The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure
The Index Card Method and Story Structure Grid
Elements of Act One
Story Elements Checklist for brainstorming Index Cards
What KIND Of Story Is It?
Elements of Act Two, Part 1
Plants and Payoffs
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (part 1)
What's the PLAN?
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (Part 3)
Elements of Act II, Part 2
Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
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