Recently I’ve been working on the ending scenes for my contemporary romance. It’s a nice change of pace from dealing with the Mess in the Middle. The Problems have all been solved; Obstacles removed; and my hero and heroine are getting their long awaited Happily Ever After.
Naturally this involves addressing that final declaration of love and raises the question: Private or Public?
In one of the classes I took – or maybe it was a writing book I read or conference session I attended – there was a discussion about the need for the final declaration/confession of love, when our hero/heroine have made it past all the obstacles and are going to finally get together, to be done in public.
The public nature of the scene was supposed to make the declarer/confessor vulnerable, while showing that they were so focused on their loved one that nothing else mattered but doing whatever they needed to do to get that Happily Ever After. A spontaneous romantic gesture that raised the stakes. After all, how can a character go back on a declaration once they’ve made a big deal about it in public?
I’ve always found the public declarations to be a bit awkward. Sometimes the scenes include a crowd of disinterested strangers who seem almost oblivious to what is going on with the hero/heroine. At other times, there is an actively attentive crowd that bursts into applause at the successful conclusion of the scene. Both results have the potential to be rather awkward or distracting.
In the Hallmark Channel move Anything for Love that I watched the other day, the heroine professes her love for the hero over the hospital Public Address system. There was crowd cheering at the end. Unrealistic and a little embarrassing.
In Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me, the hero Cal proposes the heroine Min in her apartment while their friends, family, and exes all mill about. No cheering, though there were doughnuts. Fun and charming.
In real-life, there is always the chance that it won’t go well (YouTube is littered with examples of public proposal disasters). When a public declaration doesn’t go well in a book or movie (generally when it’s done too early in the story), it can be down-right cringe-worthy.
The public declaration, as noted by TVTropes, is often preceded by a desperate race/chase by one character to get to the other character before It’s Too Late.
“At the end, there will usually be some kind of Race for Your Love situation, where the Protagonist desperately has to chase after the person they love before they walk out of his / her life forever. There may also be a Concert Climax situation where a very public declaration of love is made, followed (hopefully) by a Concert Kiss.” ~ TVTropes
* Sorry; got lost for a while following links at TVTropes.*
Anyway, a popular example of the big race to the public declaration occurs in When Harry Met Sally, when Harry has his ah-ha moment and then races across town to get to Sally to clue her in.
“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” ~ Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally
In the movie Made of Honor (as I’ve seen in many other movies/stories), the declaration comes in a church packed full of wedding guests, to the bride, but not by the bridegroom.
“. . . 10 years ago, I got in bed with the wrong girl. She turned out to be the right one. I love you, Hannah. I always have. And I always will.” ~ Tom, Made of Honor
Sleepless in Seattle, Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Georgette Heyer’s The Corinthian are additional examples of the race and/or public declaration.
The most charming example of the public declaration that I’ve come across has to be the Friends with Benefits “Closing Time” flash mob ending. If you haven’t seen it before, check it out. It’s fun while also being a subtle commentary on public declarations.
So, what’s your preference? Do you like your hero/heroine to make a big, public declaration – telling all the world of their love – or do you prefer a private, intimate moment? Any examples to share?
For those who hadn’t seen Friends with Benefits but wanted to watch that flash mob scene, I looked it up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goPvYeQwlPI. You’re right, Elizabeth, that’s a great scene!
I guess I don’t really have a preference between crowd scenes or intimate scenes for the proposal. Crowd scenes are fun to read, I think: all the awkwardness and embarrassment can mirror what’s happened earlier in the book. In writing that scene, though, I’ve always gone with the intimate setting. I think that’s because it’s hard to keep a lot of characters in play and still get the emotion you want from the proposal. At least, it’s hard for me.
That’s a good point Kay – when writing the crowd-scene ending, there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of besides just Our Guy and Our Girl and it can dilute the impact of the scene. So far my stories are tending toward “small group” public declarations; not because I’ve intentionally planned them that way but because that’s just how the stories have unfolded.
Private, please! There are stories where the public version is necessary and/or satisfying, but most of time the public declarations of private feelings seem contrived and (as you pointed out) awkward.
An example of a nicely-managed PDL is the mutual-declarations between Jamie and Aurelia in “Love Actually”. He clearly would have preferred privacy, but the BigFatPortugeseWedding-style family gives him exactly the opposite.
You’re right, that scene is a good example f a well done PDL. The movie also has a “race for your love” scene, as well as a private declaration that becomes public when the characters kissing behind stage are unexpectedly revealed. Great – now I want to go re-watch the movie.
For me, there’s a difference between a crowd scene and a scene involving the HNH’s community. I quite like a declaration in front of the community, because the witnesses are meaningful and it’s establishing the new order for their world going forwards. SEP has both in Heaven, Texas. Bobby Tom at his most arrogant and entitled proposes to Gracie over the PA system at a fund-raiser in front of all his celebrity friends and it never occurs to him that she might refuse – he thinks he’s doing her a favour. She rejects him – public humiliation – and he goes on a bender that lands him in the local jail. She heads out of town and he has to get himself out of jail and do the desperate chase thing followed by the grovel and real proposal in front of half the town.
My favourite is the end of Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, where all the key players are assembled. The heroine has been pretend-engaged to the hero while pining for the handsome, rakish anti-hero. When the chips are down, the hero comes good, but the anti-hero calls the heroine’s bluff (as both men believe). He gets a nasty surprise for his pains, the hero gets a wonderful one, and they all live happily ever after. It’s brilliant. I wish I could do something half as good.
I haven’t seen Friends With Benefits, but loved that flash mob scene. Great fun.
That’s a good point about Community Jilly. I think that’s one reason the scene in Bet Me worked well for me. The witnesses were meaningful and it definitely established a new order of things.
I had forgotten about Bobbie Tom’s proposal in Heaven, Texas That was soooo embarrassing but an excellent example about how a public declaration can go horribly wrong.
So, the Simpsons parodied the Hugh Grant/Martine McCrutcheon PDL in Love, Actually. To “All the Young Dudes,” the two have sparks fly, get seranaded by several British superstars (including Alan Rickman as Snape), and are wrapped in a British flag. It really is a thrilling moment, and the ridiculousness is great because it’s fully-intentioned ridiculousness.
If it winds up being ridiculous when it’s not meant to be ridiculous, that’s a problem.
But done right, it’s glorious. A private declaration done right is also glorious. When two people find that they are truly connected and they think it’s going to be forever, it’s a glorious moment (and like simultaneous orgasm, seems to happen more often on screen than in real life). I also like a good “come to realizations separately” sort of scenarios, too.
I think the declaration gets set up by the black moment/character arc. If the black moment suggests a public declaration is required to wipe out the screw up, as with Bobby Tom, then it has to be public. Of the setup is quieter and more intimate, and privacy equates with sincerity (e.g a politician or celebrity who always plays to the crowd), then it needs to be private.
My favourite example of ‘public declaration gone wrong’ is the movie Bed of Roses, where the hero’s perfectly normal assumptions about the heroine, and her incredibly broken childhood, make it a painful train wreck of a proposal. If you haven’t seen it, it is definitely worth watching, just don’t forget the box of tissues!
/anne – I haven’t seen that movie in years and don’t remember the proposal at all. I will definitely have to re-watch it. Thanks for the reminder.