Tuesday, 13 July 2010

When My Editor Said No

Last night I watched It's Complicated with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. It's fun but I thought there was a better film lurking in there. The problem (for me) was the inconsistent tone.

Meryl Streep is a terrific (if slightly annoying) actress. She has huge depth and brings reality to her roles. I believed that I was watching a real person, not an actress playing a character. So it was unfortunate that Alec Baldwin is a different kind of actor. He's pretty much WYSIWYG. I like what he does, but it didn't sit well with Meryl's style. I never believed that these two people had ever been a couple. The tone was wrong. Were we watching a realistic drama or a superficial but fun rom-com?

I've done this myself. In the first draft of Another Woman's Husband I made the blackest moment very black indeed. I wanted the main character to suffer and boy, did she suffer. She got drunk and was sick in a car park, and then...well, you'll never know because my editor said No. It's the only time she's made such a categoric statement. No, she said. The tone is wrong.

I don't think it was the vomiting that did it. After all, in It's Complicated Meryl also gets drunk and is sick into a drawer. But the tone in the film is light-hearted and the scene is played for laughs. The tone in that first draft was too realistic and therefore rather sordid. I could have lightened it up, played down the realism, but I decided to scrap the scene altogether* and have a re-think.

Tone has to be consistent. I think that's why we wince at Candid Camera types of programmes which feature people coming off their bikes and instead of flying into a pool of mud (funny) land on their noses (ouch and not so funny). Gritty drama, black comedy, rom coms - they can all be good. Put put the two together, cast Meryl and Alec and the result is not so successful.

(*Actually, I didn't scrap it, I've carefully saved it and if I ever write a gritty literary novel, by jingo, there's going to be a car park vomiting scene in it.)

At last! I've got my finger out and have committed to running some day courses:
Writing a Novel - 31st July in Bath and 18th September in Truro
Getting a Novel Published - 1st August in Bath and 19th September in Truro
Contact me on sarah@sarahduncan.co.uk for more info...


liz fenwick said...

Oh, another key point for me right at this moment...

Exmoorjane said...

Very very interesting. That's why everyone needs editing, IMHO. When we read our own stuff, we're just way too close to catch those 'off' moments. Works for all types of writing - whether journalism or novels.
Totally agree re Meryl Streep too, btw. ;)

Sarah Duncan said...

Good Liz, hope it helps.

Jane, you're absolutely right (both editing and Meryl). I have to admit I loved writing that scene, really got into the awfulness of it all, and I simply couldn't see it didn't fit. Hooray for editors, I say.

penny simpson said...

the first time Meryl has irritated me..

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Penny - you've made it onto the comment box! Good to see you here. It's the giggling that irritates me. She just doesn't do giggling well.