Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Can't See You

Last night I got together with some writer friends and we analyzed a movie. We've done this every year for five years now. This year we analyzed "It's Complicated."  

I can't speak for all of us, but for me, personally, I'm fascinated by structure, and since I (nominally) lead the movie discussion, structure is always our jumping off point.

Over the years I've collected several structures for us to look at. Michael Hauge's Heros Journey; Blake Snyder's Save the Cat; the fabulous Leigh Duncan's plotting arch; and this year we added Victoria Lynn Schmidt's heroine's journey from her book,  45 Master Characters, Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters.

Every year it gets easier to pick out the different elements (e.g., Theme Stated, Turning Points, Dark Night of the Soul). I like to think I'm learning these elements along the way. I'm not a detailed plotter, which is to say that I don't sit down and plot my story out scene by scene, turning point by turning point, before I start writing. So my hope is that by going over the structure this way in other stories, these elements will come out more naturally in my own stories.

One of the most fascinating twists in our yearly movie discussions is the question of whether or not the things that work in a movie can work in a book. And of course the answer is often no. Movies are visual. Books are internal. But sometimes you can achieve the same effect using a different technique.

The thing that stood out to me this year, in "It's Complicated," was the way that Meryl Streep's  character, Jane, couldn't see Steve Martin's character, Adam.

Michael Hauge calls it "the journey from identity to essence." According to Hauge, in most good stories, a character starts out fully rooted in their identity and ends up fully in their essence. He often uses the movie Shrek as an example.

In "It's Complicated," Jane's journey is kicked off by her youngest daughter leaving for college. As for many women, the empty nest has Jane questioning her identity. One of the ways she addresses this is by starting the process of getting her kitchen renovated. Adam is the architect assigned to the project, but until Jane has started to progress from her "identity" toward her "essence" she overlooks Adam. The way he has to keep re-introducing himself to her is a running joke and it was, for me, a lovely element of the story and an elegant way to show Jane's progress along the way to her happy ending. 

I've been trying to think of a book that uses a similar device but it was a long weekend and my brain is tiiiired, so I'm throwing it out to YOU, dear reader. Can you think of a story where the hero/heroine overlooks somebody/something important until they change enough to be able to recognize what's good for them?

What about Marianne and Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility?


  1. Great post, Evie. Love it. And you're so right, the structure of It's Complicated is fascinating. There was so much to love about this story. The dialogue is spot on and it's just so well done.

    I cannot think of any book or story that uses a similar technique (where a character seems invisible to the other until they begin their arc). But I'm also at that stage of life where a story seems brand new just a few weeks after I've read it. LOL.

    Good luck with your pursuit of structure. I'm sure you will begin internalizing it ... or figure out how to plot those points ahead of time any day now. ;0)

    Fun, intelligent post. <3

  2. I can think of a few more movies where one character (usually the guy) doesn't "see" the woman until something happens (like the woman takes off her glasses and is magically transformed into a Beautiful Lust Object). Alas, like Mac, no books come to mind.

    Though, hmm, I just finished A Seal's Surrender, by Tawny Weber. In it, the h/h "see" each other through old lenses and need to learn who each other currently is in order to get to their happy ending. Not an exact fit to what you're describing, Evie, but a start!

  3. I really enjoyed your post, Evie. The plot did a good job of showing that he was invisible to her. It was all the things a good movie should be - funny, touching, well-plotted, and containing engaging characters.

    A vague memory is dancing around the edge of my brain regarding a similar story but I can't think of it right now. If I do, I'll chime in again. The only thing I can think of right now is the Taylor Swift song, "You Belong With Me."

  4. The one book I can think of which sort of fits is Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. I don't want to give the ending away (any more than I already have, lol) so I won't explain what I mean by the previous sentence. :-)

    Evie, this was a great post! Really got me thinking about character conflict and how many shades of gray there are to the concept of not "seeing" each other. Love it!