Jeanne–WWJWD: What Would Joss Whedon Do?

Joss Whedon

One of my big discoveries while at McDaniel was Joss Whedon, The man is a god where plotting is concerned. He routinely puts his protagonists into situations where there seems to be no possible resolution–at least none that include continued existence and/or happiness. And he equally routinely manages to pull off crazy creative solutions that accomplish just that.

I dream of someday getting a review that says, “reminiscent of a Joss Whedon story.”

Told you that to tell you this:

Recently, I read a romance novel with a plot that was what Jenny Crusie calls a string of pearls–a series of tenuously connected events that are all roughly the same intensity.

The book started out strong. The protagonist was the widow of a famous musician. Her husband had died a year or so before and she was dead broke, living in her car and selling off her possessions on eBay to buy food until hubby’s will cleared probate. Only then it turned out hubby had invested everything in a company that failed. There was no money.

Hubby had also, just prior to her death, informed her–on national television–that he had three kids by a mistress she knew nothing about. Especially painful given that she always wanted a family but was never able to have one.

The protagonist and, for that matter, the other characters in the book, were all really likable and believable. Overall, the book had the feel of a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. (Another wrtier crush of mine.)

On a 1-to-10 scale of potential for a great read, I’d give this an eight. And I’m a tough grader–I reserve my nines and tens for books that leave a mark on me.

Soon after that slam-bang beginning, though, her former brother-in-law brings her to live in a mansion. She meets the three daughters of the (now also dead) mistress, who are also living there (bad), but she almost instantly learns to love them, and they her (good).

In order to keep the money flowing in, she has to agree to do another season of the reality show where she first learned about her husband’s other life (bad). The studio agrees to pay her an insane amount of money, to place the cameras only where she directs, and to declare anything she doesn’t want to share off limits (good). Under the terms of the contract she negotiates, if the show doesn’t finish out the season for some reason, they still have to pay her. (unbelievably good)

Her character arc is to let go of loving the douche-bag dead husband who cheated on her (bad) and turn her sights toward the BIL who is really good-looking, wealthy, and has been in love with her since the day he set eyes on her. (good)

It’s another case of the author not being willing to torture her beloved characters.

If Joss Whedon had been plotting this, it would have started the same way, but:

1) The kids would have hated her. Everything she tried to do to win them over would have just made things worse, up to the point where kids were running away, using drugs, skipping school and possibly setting the house on fire to make their point.

2) The studio would have given her half what she wanted, but only in return for setting up cameras inside the bathrooms, bedrooms and anywhere else you might want a little privacy.

3) The brother-in-law would have treated her like a gold-digging hooker.

And that, in my opinion, is what Joss Whedon would do.

9 thoughts on “Jeanne–WWJWD: What Would Joss Whedon Do?

  1. That book sounds . . . interesting? I confess, I have difficulty torturing my characters, too. My protagonists are too perfect and my antagonists are cliches. I have to go back and figure out how to torture them. This is a good time for me to figure out what Joss Whedon would do with the characters of my WIP. In order to get my NaNo word count, I can try out some scenes where I torture my main characters and see where that goes. More scene ideas – Yeah!

    • It’s good to remember that everyone has their own angst-level that they prefer in their fiction. As we discussed in school, I love really black, black moments. I find them cahtartic. And to get there, the protagonist has to really hit bottom. If you want something a little lighter, though, less torture is okay.

      Just, maybe, not as little as this author offered.

      • I think you’re right about WWJWD, Jeanne. Personally I don’t like my black moments too black – I don’t like ever-increasing stress and unhappiness, even if the payoff is catharsis. The darkness stays with me like a book hangover, whereas a brighter, funnier story keeps me lifted for ages after. That said, the book you described sounds too sunny side up even for me – I still need my characters to earn their HEA 😉 .

  2. I love your ‘rewrite’ of the book, Jeanne! I’ve been using Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction to help ratchet up my writing on my romance series. He has great exercises in there for all sorts of things, including ways to ramp up internal and external conflict and consequences. Some of the exercises have helped me take my characters to scary places I wouldn’t have taken them otherwise.

  3. God, I hate conflict. I remember saying this in class. Conflict is just something I really, really hate. But it needs to be done, because I can’t remember the last book I liked that was about fluffy kittens and butterflies.

    I like my fluffy kittens fighting The Man in society, that’s what I like.

    I am making a little progress. Originally, Bunny worked for her crush, and lots of things came to her. Not on a silver platter, but the boss loves her, too, so he gets her clothes for the masquerade ball, blah-blah-blah. Then I got the bright idea to make Bunny a new girl in the city, fighting for her chance and almost at the end of her cash. Suddenly, all sorts of plot imploded into a heap of ashes. Ker-flooie. Gone. But after three months (or so) of wrestling with this idea, Scene Two arrived, and I feel like I’m back on track.

    She still has friends, but they can’t do as much for her, and she has to fight to get her own.

    Well, we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed — no, toes crossed. I need my fingers for typing.

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