The other night while crocheting an afghan for a new mother at church I stumbled across a Jason Lee movie, made when he was still clean shaven and before his My Name is Earl days. The movie was called A Guy Thing. Not a terrible romantic comedy, but pretty easy to catch up on after missing the first forty minutes.
You may think formula is a bad word when you are in the planning stages of your book. You want to stand out in a crowd. You want something unique and exciting to offer an editor. But editors are looking for something that follows a well proven formula. Something guaranteed to earn back the $70,000 the publisher spent to produce it.
A Guy Thing stuck to the old tried and true formula like glue. Cute plot, likeable characters with some minor ones you could learn to care about. But the feature that stood out to me as a writer who studies these kinds of things to learn what works and what doesn't was the way the storyline kept raising the stakes.
Spoiler alert: If you care one way or the other how A Guy Thing turns out do not read any further even though you’ll miss a great illustration on raising the stakes. .
First, our hero, played by Jason Lee, got drunk and ended up in bed with another woman a few weeks before his wedding. Bad situation. But the drama doesn’t stop there. He finds out the woman in question is his fiance’s cousin. He has to keep her from spilling the beans to his bride. Cousin assures him they passed out and nothing happened between them. Problem solved as long as she keep her promise to keep those pouty lips sealed.
Wrong. Cousin happens to have a psycho ex-boyfriend who has them followed and gets pictures of them together. Now Jason Lee has to keep his bride from seeing the photos and protect himself from a psycho ex-boyfriend bent on revenge.
Things are pretty bad for old Jason. Especially since he is falling for the cousin while trying to retrieve the photos from Nut-job’s apartment. Did I mention Nut-job Ex-boyfriend is a cop. He pulls Jason over for a traffic violation and plants drugs in his car. Now Jason must figure out how to get out of jail, escape some police brutality, and not let his girlfriend know what’s going on, all on the night of his wedding rehearsal.
Okay, other stuff happens here as well, most notably to insure that soon to be jilted bride isn’t left high and dry without the true love of her life.
Don’t get me wrong. It was no mistake that this movie wasn’t featured at the Sundance Film Festival. But it proved that you must continue to raise the stakes throughout your story. Just when it looks like things can’t get any worse for your hero or heroine, you must find a way to make it worse.
John Gardner said to create the best characters possible and then put them in the worst situations imaginable. Love that advice. Continue to raise the stakes for your characters and then see how they wiggle out of an impossible situation.