I thought I’d talk about the movie As Good As It Gets – Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Greg Kinnear. And, lest I forget, Verdell. Verdell being the most adorable of the lot.
First of all, if you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out! It’s one of the best movies made. Ever. Hands down. The first time I saw it was on a plane heading for Brazil. I had my headphones on and only when I noticed the scathing looks from surrounding passengers did I realize how loud I was laughing.
But I digress. If you haven’t seen it, go rent it, watch it and then come back here and read this. I’ll wait for you.
Hum de dumm. De dumm, de dummmm . . . a little bit of finger drumming . . . dum de dum de dum . . .
Oh, . . . so, you’re back. Wasn’t it great!? Wasn’t it every bit as funny as I told you it would be? Oh sure, there are really heart wrenching moments. Like when Simon gets the crap beat out of him. I cringe just thinking about it! So horrible, so horrible. But you have to admit that Frank’s reaction to seeing Simon’s face in the hospital is priceless.
I think we can all agree that the acting is superb by all involved (especially Verdell!). So let’s move on to the plot and subplots, running seamlessly side by side in such a way that you don’t even realize the paths your being led down. You lose yourself so completely in Simon’s tragedy, in Carol’s difficulties with her son, that they become as powerful as the main focus of the movie. Yet they all link back together so that, in the end, its just one story with many facets.
I keep thinking how our novels need to play out in the same manner. They need to have enough going on that the reader is fully engaged in the many aspects of the protagonist’s struggle. They need to pull the reader in so that she feels like she’s the one living the protagonist’s life.
But writing like real life isn’t easy! Real life doesn’t plod along in a linear fashion like a flat-line on a grieving heart monitor. Real life introduces interlacing challenges with multi-diminsional characters, all with varying relational needs. Real life moves up and down as fast as a fiddler’s elbow.
So how do we represent all those ups and downs, those connecting stories when we write? Especially if we’ve chosen a perspective (a Point of View) that requires us to remain in the head of the protagonist at all times?
I sometimes struggle with perspective. I want to be everywhere all the time with all my characters. But I’ve been cautioned against it. “Pick a head and stay in it,” is what I hear. I want to ask, what about the movies! Great movies that allow me to be everywhere with everyone. To be involved in all the action regardless of where the protagonist is at the time. Think about it . . . if every scene in As Good As It Gets had to include Melvin (as in first person or third person limited), then we’d miss out on that marvelous interaction between Frank and Simon in the hospital! And we sure wouldn’t be there when the doctor paid a visit to Carol, changing her life forever.
So, how on earth did I go from talking about plot & subplot to talking about perspective? I think it’s because the two are linked together as closely as an old married couple. If the relationship isn’t working, the reader will know it. And she probably won’t want to come over for Thanksgiving dinner. But if it’s a good match, if the two in the relationship “compliment” one another, then everyone will want to be around them. And who knows, they might even stay for the pumpkin pie.
Bottom line, choosing perspective shouldn’t be taken lightly. We need to think about whose story we’re trying to tell. And how far from the main character we can stray without losing focus on his or her conflict(s). Or if we even need to stray? Is all that peripheral “stuff” germane to the main plot? If not, then maybe it can be eliminated. And maybe, when we weed out the superfluous, we can shift the perspective too, bringing the lens closer to the protagonist, keeping that marriage from falling apart.
But certainly not in the case of “As Good As It Gets.” Nope, it’s . . . well . . . as good as it gets, wouldn’t you say?