Did you ever see the movie Purple Rose of Cairo? I’m not usually a Woody Allen fan, but this one has stayed with me. Set during the depression, the story revolves around a woman who goes to the movies to escape her hard, dreary life. The male lead in The Purple Rose of Cairo (yes, on the screen) notices that she has sat through the movie several times and steps out to be with her. All sorts of chaos ensues, both in the real world and in the movie that is now missing its main character. There is one scene in particular that I have been thinking of today. Jeff Daniels (the movie character) kisses Mia Farrow (dreary life woman) and then waits for the “fade out;” he doesn’t know what to do next because, in the movies, they fade out after the big moment without having to go on like we do in real life.
Movies and books have this as an option. They can spend an entire story driving toward the characters’ recognition of their feelings for each other; let that recognition be the climax of the story; and then send their audiences off “into the sunset” satisfied with a happy ending.
Satisfied? Maybe. Sometimes. But not always.
Television struggles with this concept, and often fails miserably. The nature of the beast is that the narrative is open-ended; the writers write every week with the assumption that they will have to make more story with the same characters next week (or however long there is between episodes). If there is not enough good storytelling going on, then there is nothing left to do once the characters get together. If the show doesn’t “fade out” after the first kiss (or whatever), what is left to hold the audience? My current favorite, Castle, is doing a good job with this; Castle and Beckett are as entertaining together as they were “getting” together. One of my older favorites, X-Files, didn’t do so well; the premise for getting Mulder and Scully together was unfortunately contrived and didn’t hold up beyond the impact of the moment. They waited too long; the actors were ready to move on before we the viewers were ready to let go.
This is one of the reasons I have so much trouble pigeon-holing the genre in which I write. I am much more engaged in the narrative (and the narration) if the story is bigger than the two main characters. I like to have them get together in the middle, and then explore the impact of their relationship on the story. Set up a problem; have the characters struggle with it individually; get them together; and let them approach the problem from a new position of strength. Romantic, yes, but more. I read recently that the best tip for good fiction is “conflict, conflict, conflict.” That is so true, isn’t it? Give me a good plot, an intriguing problem to overcome or puzzle to solve; throw in interesting characters that evolve with the narrative, and I am a happy camper. Whether the setting is fantastic, historical or contemporary, there is no “fade out” in a truly engaging story.