I love a good romance, and for me, at least, part of what defines “good” is that there’s a certain sense of justice to the proceedings. Our happy pair battle true obstacles with courage and valor in order to reach a place where love can flourish. And at the end, they get what they deserve: a happy ending. Or at least, we think they’ve got a good chance of being happy with each other, no matter what the rest of the miserable world is doing.
There are many stories that contain romantic elements, but fail at being romances because the obstacles overcome our lovers. As romance writers, we can watch how the couples fail in order to figure out how to make our own couples succeed. Or . . . as plain old writers, we can figure out how to fail beautifully, if that’s where the story needs to take us.
BTW, since I’m talking about endings, if you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog or Jazzin’ for Blue Jean, either watch them, or prepare to be “spoiled” this month. Honestly, both works are brilliant in the details, so knowing the plot won’t spoil them. (And I’m pretty sure the controversy over Dr. Horrible when it came out means that the Neil Patrick Harris vehicle comes pre-spoiled for a vast segment of the viewing public.)
Let’s tackle Dr. Horrible this week. Short plot summary: aspiring “villain” meets girl, falls in love with girl, must build up own self-esteem which has been slashed by the rival “hero”, almost wins girl, girl dies horribly thanks to “villain”/”hero” rivalry.
Intellectually, I realize that this is the way it must be. We’re told from the beginning that Dr. Horrible becomes a villain. In Romance-Land, a satisfied man in a loving relationship will not become a villain.
But my heart revolts at the terrible plot twist at the end. Dammit, Whedon, you got us invested. Our hero, Dr. Horrible, is sweet and geeky and aspiring. Our villain, Captain Hammer, is vain and hypocritical, and doesn’t deserve any good thing. And our girl, Penny, is a step or two above the typical cupcake/trophy that seems to populate male-dominated science fiction romance. Well, OK, upon reflection, and not having watched the show since 2012, maybe she IS the typical cupcake/trophy – there’s something very Lois Lane about her. She’s beautiful, spunky, “worthy of love”, but mostly around to be wooed and won, and a pawn in the boys’ games.
But it did seem to me that she had the potential to flip this tragedy on its head and bring about a happy ending. I felt horribly betrayed by the death dealt to her. But, I guess that’s why they call it Dr. Horrible.
So, maybe our lesson here is: if you are writing a romance, don’t set up the hero for failure. If you are writing a non-romance, sprinkle the hints that this could end badly LIBERALLY through the work. A set-up and a blurb just isn’t enough. Give your poor audience/readers a little bit of distance.
Unless you like ripping out the hearts of your fans. In that case, knock yourself out: build a pyramid, and write yourself a stone knife and get slashing like an Aztec priest, you cold-hearted bastards.
Oh my. Not sure what came over me. I suppose this goes back to connecting to your reader and making a powerful impact. I will never forget Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I may even watch it again. I may, possibly, on a sunny day with ice cream and a box of tissues, watch it to the end again. Does that make it a great story? Yes, I’m afraid it does.
Does it make it the kind of story I want to write? God, I hope my Girls in the Basement never lead me in that direction. What would you do if your Girls presented you with a story like this? Would you follow it to the end, or would you have a nice lie-down until something easier came your way?