Thursday, November 15, 2007

Seasonal Changes

We had one of our patented Texas climate changes yesterday. I love those kinds of days, where it starts out one way and ends another. By noon, I was having to open all the windows and turn on the ceiling fans to keep the house from getting too hot and stuffy. By dinner time, I was having to turn off the fans and close the windows because it was too cold. In the meantime, I could hear and feel the front come through as the wind shifted and changed temperatures, which was rather cool.

I'm about midway through going over the page proofs for Don't Hex With Texas. It took me a while to get into it because I couldn't find the right work environment. I needed access to my computer because I'd entered the copy edit changes in "track changes" mode on the manuscript, and most of the galley errors come in entering copy edit changes, so I wanted to be able to double check that. But I also had a big pile of hard copy to go through. Sitting at my desk meant turning constantly (plus there is the issue of the totally messy desk). I finally put my sheepskin rug my parents sent me from Australia on the floor in front of the chaise and my computer on a lap desk next to me, so I could sit on the floor, lean back against the chaise, put the hard copy on my lap and have the computer nearby. Between writing while sitting on the chaise and proofreading while lounging on a sheepskin rug, I'm starting to feel like I should be wearing silk pajamas to work instead of sweats.

Because my brain seems to operate on tape delay, it struck me just before I went to sleep last night that it might have been easier to illustrate the difference between kitchen sink writing and strengthening the central conflict with an example that more closely parallels my "what not to do" example. Then it occurred to me that The Philadelphia Story is a great example because it's fairly parallel. Like The Family Stone, it's a romantic comedy about a central character wanting to marry someone the rest of the family isn't wild about, it takes place under chaotic circumstances and in a short span of time.

The core story question in The Philadelphia Story is "Will Tracy really marry that bozo, even though the rest of her family -- and she, too, even if she doesn't want to admit it -- still hasn't gotten over her ex?" If I pitched that idea to my agent, she'd tell me it needs more.

And, boy, do we get more. We find out just what Tracy's issues are through the subplot about her father, whom she can't forgive for an indiscretion, and whom she won't let her mother forgive. Tracy has no tolerance of human imperfection in herself or anyone else. While she claims that her first marriage failed because of her husband's faults, we see that she's never likely to find happiness until she comes down off her pedestal and learns to forgive imperfection.

Her father's failings lead to another subplot, in which her ex agrees to get a reporter and photographer into the private society wedding in exchange for the scandal not to hit the press. That brings her ex into direct conflict with her and helps add to the tension and chaos of the situation once she finds out what's really going on and decides to play mind games with the journalists to try to keep them from getting the story (and yet, if they don't get the story, an even worse story could go public).

But then that complicates the situation even more when she and the reporter hit it off and she finds herself showing distinct signs of human frailty on the eve of her wedding.

All that serves to raise the stakes -- if she doesn't learn to accept imperfection, she's not only doomed to always be unhappy herself (since no man can live up to her standards), but she'll miss her chance with the right man, she'll keep her parents from being happy, and then that keeps her sister from being happy. Furthermore, they've elevated the standard romantic comedy dilemma of choosing between Mr. Safe but Obviously Wrong and Mr. Risky (since she's failed with him before) but Obviously Right by throwing in a third man, someone who's actually a viable Mr. Right, someone she could possibly be happy with. Now it's not just her having to make an obvious right vs. wrong choice, but which potentially right choice (Cary Grant vs. Jimmy Stewart -- yikes, what a choice!), and if she chooses wrong there, she could be dooming someone else to unhappiness, since the photographer is in love with the reporter and he would probably chafe under Tracy's lifestyle. Plus, we've got the specter of social scandal looming over everything.

There's a lot going on, because it is a screwball comedy, and those are all about the chaos, but all the chaos keeps raising the stakes for that central story question and makes that story question even more important. In contrast, I don't think all the additional plot elements in The Family Stone served to make it matter more if the guy gave the family ring to the wrong girl.

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