The Fictorians

Try and Fail in Love

19 February 2015 | No Comments » | Jace Killan

gone-with-the-windI remember watching Gone with the Wind when I was about five or six. My mother is a sucker for the classics. The plot and story were a bit over my head, but I remember getting the gist of what was happening by pestering my mom. I gathered that Scarlet O’hara was in love with Ashley, but for some reason the two didn’t run off together and live happily ever after like the other shows I’d watch. In the Disney movies, there seemed to be a clear connection between the love interests and then the evil villain did everything he/she could to keep the two from being happy forever.

Gone with the Wind was different. The characters seemed to get in their own way of being happily-ever-after. I remember at that young age becoming upset with Scarlet that she wouldn’t just express her feelings in a reasonable manner. That always seemed to work in the cartoons. Scenes like “Kiss the Girl” and “A Whole New World” were all about expression and contained in them try/fail cycles. Scarlet frustrated me because it seemed she just wanted to play games.


Like any conflict, a great love story will have try/fail cycles. Gone with the Wind impacted me as a child because it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight and happily-ever-after story. Misperceptions, miscommunications, expectations, lies, and all of those things that make us human beings can help create some intense love and conflict development. Having a character that isn’t “Prince Charming” but someone with faults and flaws can help deepen that conflict as well.

Scarlet tried to hook up with Ashley but failed each time. During the times it might have worked out, she got in her own way and failed some more. I hated the story for it, but here I am discussing it thirty years later because the conflict made it memorable.

Meet Joe Black starts with a love-at-first-sight scene and then develops the relationship through a myriad of try/fail cycles, each offering greater insight into the human experience.

The love interest doesn’t need to be two human beings. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s love interest is the Shire. Conflict is introduced by the use of a temptress—the ring. How many times did Frodo try to give up the one for the other? The story is laden with these try/fail cycles.

We’ve all done stupid things for love and this can be another way to utilize try/fail cycles. In Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella seems insane as he nearly loses the family farm and goes on a road trip to chase a developing love interest.

There are so many more.

The next movie you watch, take an inventory of the love interest and temptress if there is one then watch for the try/fail cycles. As readers we want the protagonist and love interest to succeed. But if they don’t try and fail a few times before making it work, we’ll tire of the tale and toss it aside. In short it will become forgettable.


For the Love of the Screenplay

18 February 2015 | 2 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Tracy Mangum.

I have a confession to make: I don’t like many “romantic” movies. It’s not that I’m unromantic-it’s actually the opposite. The problem is that many “chick flicks” are full of cliches, stock characters, and predictable plots that kill any sense of romance. Most of these films suggest that a woman’s life is meaningless without a man, and that a woman happy being single is simply lying to herself. They teach us that love is only for skinny, beautiful people with straight teeth and perfect hair. The tell us that men are sex-crazed, commitment-phobic animals that have to be manipulated into a romantic relationship. He will ultimately reject the constraints of the relationship and hurt the innocent woman who only wants to care for him. After a period of time, she will begin to move on just as he realizes his mistake, and will demonstrate his newly discovered feelings with grand gestures that straddle the line between affection and stalking.

Romantic comedies too often follow the same plain and boring recipe.

  1. Boy meets girl (He is handsome, she is adorkable – equal parts awkward and adorable)
  2. Girl is obviously perfect for boy, but he doesn’t notice since she is awkward and doesn’t wear makeup
  3. Boy has a girlfriend, but she is a false romantic lead
  4. Girl will consult with the best friend (possible bad gay male stereotype) for advice
  5. Girl will get a makeover that includes a new wardrobe and is now stunning
  6. Boy will now notice girl and unresolved sexual tension begins
  7. Boy will say something stupid and hurt the girl’s feelings
  8. Girl cries and runs away
  9. Boy rejects false romantic lead and chases down girl
  10. Boy makes a large declaration of love – probably in a large urban area where witnesses ooh and ahh.

This formula is as stale as 11:00am movie theater popcorn that’s been reheated from the previous night’s shows. It’s easy to make these films, they cost less to make as they feature little to no explosions and special effects, and audiences will often just eat them up on date night.

So how do you write a successful love story that doesn’t fall into these tropes? You develop complex and interesting characters and dig deep into the wells of emotion buried deep in their hearts.

  1. Give me characters that I can fall in love with, so that when they fall in love with each other, I am already emotionally invested.
  2. Give me a credible reason to keep them apart. It can be anything, class differences, a sinking boat– but if the audience doesn’t buy in, you are dead in the water.
  3. Don’t write long scenes where your characters talk at a restaurant table – make your script as visually exciting to watch as your dialogue is to hear. “Jewel of the Nile” had the actors sliding down mountains and avoiding alligators and “Annie Hall” had the great lobster scene.
  4. Tweak the formula. Be clever and ingenious. “Defending Your Life” has the leads meet in the afterlife. “Sleepless in Seattle” has the couple meet in the last five minutes of the film. “Groundhog Day” has the boy relive the day over and over and over until he gets it right.
  5. Romance means sexy, and comedy means funny. Intimacy – either physical or emotional, leaves people vulnerable, exposed, and can be used for painfully honest comedy that reveal truths about your characters.
  6. Make it actually ABOUT something. Why are you writing about this couple? What about their story reflects some insight into the relations between men and women, or the human condition? What questions are you asking that the the screenplay’s story answers? Is it gender issues like “Tootsie”, or is it the awkwardness of adolescence like “American Pie”- what are you trying to tell us?

Let’s examine one of my favorite romantic films: “Up” by Pixar.

But it’s an animated film, it’s not a romance right? WRONG.

UpThe story begins in the childhood of Carl Fredricksen, whose love of adventure leads him to meet a spunky young girl named Ellie. In the first 20 minutes – a sequence that could easily be removed from the film and win and Oscar by itself – we watch Carl and Ellie meet, fall in love, plan for children and adventures that never come to pass, and eventually grow old together, until Ellie passes away, leaving Carl’s body and soul deflated like a balloon. Grown men are crying in the audience, and not one word has been spoken.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 6.05.32 AM

The house has come to symbolize Ellie to Carl, and he flies her to South America with hot air balloons to fulfill a promise they made to each other to visit there. Along the way, Carl “adopts” a boy scout, a talking dog, a large and awkward bird, and must deal with love, loss, regret, hope, and closure. Ultimately he has to leave Ellie and the house behind and go live his life, and have new adventures on his own. He doesn’t forget Ellie, but he doesn’t have to literally have her attached to him at all times.

The magicians at Pixar had us all thinking this was an innocent kids movie and while we were looking one way, they wallop us with emotions from our blind side. It’s unique, refreshing, and beautiful.

Write from the heart and from the gut. Make it real, make it honest, and make it count.

Tracy MangumAbout Tracy Mangum:

I’m a local Salt Lake City filmmaker and blogger.

My short film “Father Knows Flesh” won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor at the SL Comic Con FanX Film Festival last year. I cover the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agents of Shield, Gotham, and Disney for Lord of the Laser Sword.

I taught film in SLC for 10 years at LDS Business College.

The Undeniable Draw of Dysfunctional Relations

17 February 2015 | No Comments » | Leigh Galbreath

Relationships between people are utterly fascinating to me. It’s one of the parts of writing that pulled me to the craft in the first place—how people relate to one another. It may be because I’m not so good with relating to other people, but I love exploring how different characters relate to each other and how it complicates the story at large.

And I’m not just talking about romantic relationships but also relationships between hero and villain, between family, between friends (though, if you think about it, these are all types of love stories, just maybe not all that romantic). The delicate interplay between two (or more) human beings is one of the most important and central pieces of a puzzle that makes good story for me. Suffice it to say, Man vs. Nature is not really my cup of tea.

No, give me the young girl’s unrequited love affair, a son’s silent resentment, and a friend’s disappointed failure, and then play it against the oblivious boy, the overreaching mother, and the unknowing friend’s success. I want to see how two souls react to a given circumstance and the wonderfully wrenching devastation that follows.

Okay, so maybe I’m a bit of a sadist to fictional characters, but honestly, we all take a little bit of vicarious joy at seeing the good guys struggle through torn friendships and lost loves. Sometimes they recover, sometimes they don’t. It’s the things that pull the characters apart, that really play those heartstrings, isn’t it? It’s a well-known phenomenon in television that when your male and female leads who have been flirting for forever, finally take the dive, that your ratings will soon follow. Sure, we want to see the lovely couple come together in the end, but…well…that’s the end, isn’t it?

In most cases, we don’t want to see their happily ever after. We want to see them work for it. We want that sexy chemistry played against impossible odds that keep a wedge between our besotted hero and heroine. We want to see the arguments as our hero’s sidekicks lose faith when all hope seems lost. We want the subtext and the betrayal and the hidden truths.

Happy endings are all well and good, but in truth, for me, the real joy of a good story isn’t the obstacle itself. It’s the reactions each character has to said obstacle and how they mix together to make the fantastically messy soup that touches and enrages and saddens. It’s not necessarily the struggle itself, but the way that struggle effects and changes the people caught in the whirlwind of it. To me, there is no better fun to be had in both the reading and the writing of fictional characters.

So, when plotting out that next great story, let me suggest to you to not think about how you’ll bring your characters together, but rather how to pull them apart. After all, good story is made from good conflict, and the more emotionally devastating the conflict the more satisfying that happy ending will feel.

Struggling to Define Love

16 February 2015 | 3 Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Stephan McLeroy.

Acid bubbled in my gut as I stared down at Jamie from the front door of my double-wide.

“Pat, come on, just let me in, just for a second.”

I took hold of the screen door’s aluminum frame and gripped it for support. The urge to look away so I could think through things for a moment itched at my eyes. But I didn’t. Jamie’d seen through my bullshit yesterday. Now I had to at least seem resolute as I made my choice: would I let us be together, or would I keep running the safe play.

“Damnit, Jamie, why can’t you just cut your losses and get the hell outta town.” I said, my voice stumbling over every syllable.

Jamie moved up onto the first step below the screen door. The rubber of Converse high-tops scraped against the sandpaper laminate, shaving away the edges of composure. Bright eyes, the color of pool table felt, stared at me with an understanding that called my bluff.

“Pat, come on, this isn’t cards here, I’m tryin’ to show you that you can have something better, something real, and I’m willing to work through all that baggage you got, but you haveta stop pushin’ me away.”

Without warning, I felt my sinuses tighten up, and fluid fill my eyes. I started to close the screen door, but Jamie had mounted the second step. Long, rough fingers slid over my hand and I felt my tight grip on the aluminum melt to butter. I tried to inhale, ready to make some excuse neither of us wanted to hear, but the air caught in my mouth as Jamie pressed against me. A river flowed through me, washing away the fear, the doubt, crashing through the calloused sphere I’d worked around myself. I’d loved and lost, loved and been hurt, but all of a sudden, with Jamie’s soft lips pressed against mine, it all didn’t matter anymore.


Whew! I hope that was as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. Love is fantastic isn’t it? For me, I’ve always been keenly interested in the subject. It’s incredibly challenging to try and define love for others, but the task is extremely important when writing love relationships between characters. When it comes to love, however, there is one thing you can always count on: Everyone’s version is unique.

Let’s go back to the little scene I wrote above. You might have noticed I kept the two characters gender neutral. For fun, I let three friends read the scene and then asked them two things. First, I asked them what gender the two characters were. As you might have guessed, the genders of the characters changed with the gender of the friend being asked. Then I asked them to describe Pat’s relationship with love prior to the events of the scene. All three agreed that Pat, whether they were male or female, had been hurt and, as a result, had developed a fear-based relationship with love.

Now, don’t get me wrong, gender is a major source for experiences we utilize while building our individual definition of love. We use experiences to decide what we associate with love. For some that love feeling could come from a sense of security, for others, it’s centered on unconditional trust. Then you have other people who associate love with something specific like height or weight or how obsessed the person is with the band Gwar. A definition of love for any given person can be associated with almost anything. This can create great differences between two love definitions, but it can also allow for some similarities as well. We empathize with friends and connect with stories of love gained and lost because the love definitions we encounter resemble ours. However, at some point, deep down, these definitions will all diverge from your own.

Okay, let’s get back to your characters. As with real people, each of your characters will have been formed by their unique experiences; their current and former relationships create the patterns for how they love someone. With this in mind, you’re going to have to define love for them. Then the problems arise: how do we define someone else’s love without having lived through every single moment in their lives that could have affected their love definition? Ah, the glorious struggle of character development. I’ve found that dealing with this problem is often quite similar to dealing with other character development issues. For each writer it might be different, for me, however, it came back to that idea of people with similar life experiences. Who do I know that would be able to empathize with a character I have no shared experiences with?

To answer this question, I revisited some of my favorite fiction for characters I felt would have connected in the ways I was struggling to define. Not for a mirror but for a frame of reference. More importantly, I began talking to the people around me. At first, my intentions were to go about this wholesale; I intentionally went to people who either grew up in extremely different cultural environments or had very different love relationships from myself. I found that having these conversations expanded my view of what could mold love into definitions completely different than mine. Although I couldn’t experience the feelings associated with those different kinds of love, I could at least begin to see how my characters could begin to form their own love definition.

Love is a tricky thing to nail down in the real world and in fiction. Your definition will be different than anyone else’s, including your characters. If you choose to speak with other people about defining love, consider how the elements of their experiences could help to frame the ways in which your characters love. By reaching outside your own personal frame of reference, you can, in a way, ‘experience’ many definitions of love; perhaps foreign to you, but perfect for your character.

Stephan McLeroy is a historical urban fantasy writer based out of the San Francisco Bay area. He is currently working on a new novel, The Adventures of Lockwood and Blackfox. If you’d like to hear more of his thoughts on things like writing and Elder Fashion Cocktails, check out his blog:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: