Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Same, but Different

Analyzing Movies to Improve Your Writing

When I first began writing romances I was often told editors want “the same, but different.” Although our stories are not formulaic because of our wide range of characters, conflicts, and subgenres, every romance must have a couple who overcome the conflicts keeping them apart. There must also be a happy ending – otherwise, it’s not a romance. Gone with the Wind is not a romance for this very reason. Our genre is doing well in this economy because our readers can count on the happy ending. There is no doubt they will walk away from the book feeling good. So, how do writers continue to take the same basic “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” story and make it different? The Answer: Twists.

My favorite rendition of the Cinderella story is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. I believe it is the perfect example of taking a typical romance and twisting it into something more interesting. I watched the movie again today to analyze the type of twists added to the story, hoping it might shed some light on this subject.

Adding Historical References

Ever After begins with the queen speaking to the Brothers Grimm. Right away, we feel connected to the story because we have all heard of the brothers who wrote Cinderella. My favorite addition to the movie was the inclusion of Leonardo da Vinci. I found it daring and interesting to create a friendship between da Vinci, Cinderella, and Prince Henry. Of course, adding the discovery of chocolate wasn’t a bad touch. The prince claims the Spanish monks are sending it to him and he gives some to the evil stepsister. Again, it was an interesting touch since I love chocolate – again we feel connected. This is a tactic most often used by politicians. Whenever they can convince you their lives are similar to yours in some way (common ground), you feel closer to them. The story pulls you in by naming famous people you will most likely have heard of before and a delicacy you probably already enjoy.

Give all Important Characters Motivation

If you haven’t read Debra Dixon’s book on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, you should. Whenever you can include each of these elements, you strengthen the story. In Ever After, we see why the stepmother begins to hate Cinderella – named Danielle in this story. When they first meet, she tells Danielle her father speaks of nothing but her. When he dies, the stepmother looks into his eyes and appears to be truly concerned for him, but he turns his gaze away from her without saying a word. Instead, he tells his daughter he loves her. Of course, we hate the evil stepmother and question her love for him, but I got the impression from this scene and others that she truly had feelings for him. You can almost feel her pain when it is obvious he only loved his daughter. We now can understand why she resents the girl and treats her horribly. Not acceptable, but at least in this rendition of Cinderella, we see why she mistreated the girl. It adds emotional depth to the story.

Introduce Conflict Whenever Possible

In Ever After, Danielle doesn’t fall for the prince right away. In fact, she tries to convince herself she doesn’t like him at all. When they first meet, she thinks he’s a thief and pelts him with an apple, and then later she insults him. She hates the way servants are treated and believes the prince should do more to help. Not exactly, the typical Cinderella story.

Also, this version of the story gives us a tough, “modern,” even educated Cinderella. She quotes the book, Utopia, which convinces the prince to becme a better man. Although the prince starts out whiney and spoiled, he learns from Danielle and in turn uses his position to help those less fortunate. He even intends to create a university all people can attend, regardless of their station in life.

I have heard some people complain that they did not like the prince in this story because he was whiney. As I watched the movie today, I thought the story might be better if he had a strong character trait that would help Cinderella become a better person. But, I changed my mind. The prince can give so much to her by making her his wife and helping the servants she crusades for, I decided it might upset the balance if the writers also made his character stronger from the onset. In this story, she is his match because her strong character and passion give him something he can’t buy with his royal money. He proves he is worthy by growing as a person, doing things for others because she inspires him, and in the end, by marrying her despite discovering she was a servant. So, in this case, I didn’t mind him being a bit whiney. Okay, the fact he was cute didn’t hurt either.

Add Suspense and humor

The writers added both elements with the addition of the gypsies. I doubt anyone can forget the scene where they grab the prince, but Danielle is told she can leave with anything she can carry. We have a tough version of Cinderella here, so she picks up the prince and attempts to carry him. The gypsies laugh and all become friends.

Unexpected Character Twists

One of my favorite, unexpected twists in this story is when we see the stepsister, Jacqueline, become disgusted with her family, which motivates her to change sides. She becomes Danielle’s ally and a true sister to this girl who needed a sense of family.

I’m sure there are twists I have overlooked, but I hope these will help shed some light on ways to make your story “the same, but different.”

Happy Writing,
Tina LaVon


Lisa Logan said...

Excellent post--and great comparisons with Ever After. I was besotted enough by this film to see it an astounding fourteen the theater. A brilliant retelling that didn't involve the girl having to be "saved" from being a victim. This was a strong, intelligent woman who was a fair match for the prince of France.


Tina LaVon said...

You're right, Lisa.
I really enjoyed the fact the writers made her strong, so it wasn't just him offering to save her from her life from her life of servitude. In many ways, she saved him.

Carol Webb said...

Thanks for posting this, Tina. Very informative!