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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Why doesn't divorce issues cause tension?

   
Author Topic: Why doesn't divorce issues cause tension?
JBSkaggs
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In the real world Divorce and Custody issues are heart pounding adrenaline filled roller coasters of drama and tension.

Yet no one else cares. Its boring in the books I have read, it's boring on TV, and its boring to hear other people talk about it.

Why do people tune out divorce and custody issues?

When your going thru it, it is just like someone attacking you! yet people's response is "so?"


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Keeley
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Actually, I thought Kramer v. Kramer -- about a custody battle between a mother who abandonded her child to pursue her career and the father who was left behind with the child -- was a great movie. War of the Roses is also a favorite movie of mine and I think of it whenever I find I'm not communicating enough in my marriage.

But then, I've seen divorce/custody battles up close. If I don't watch a movie about the subject, it's because I find it too painful.


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ChrisOwens
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On a comedic note, what about Ms. Doubtfire? I thought it was used to good effect there...
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goatboy
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If it bleeds it leads.
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JBSkaggs
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Goatboy what does that mean?


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Tanglier
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The thing is, everyone thinks divorce is bad for different reasons.

If I were to write a divorce story:

The break-up would be spawned by some miscommunication between two people who loved each other. Then one person would actually do something wrong based on the miscommunication. It would have to be a story of two good people who kept making honest mistakes and misconstruing each other's honest mistakes. Like a husband who gets a part time job to pay for his wife's birthday present, something she has always wanted, but he can't tell her why he has the parttime job, so she thinks the job is fake and that he is having an affair. She takes it out on the kids, she is driven to do something really bad with them, and some misunderstanding about how she treats the kids starts the divorce, and when it finally gets cleared up, the couple would go through the divorce out of some misplaced sense of guilt and inadequacy for even starting this mess, because once you start down that road, it's hard to stop.

And with kids, it's hard. You have to portray a custody battle that's not built upon selfishness.

You'd have to understand what makes marriages beautiful, I think, and the insecurities or pressures that tear them apart creating a wound that doesn't get healed.
___________________________

Like everything, it would have to be about the incidents and the accidents. To make a divorce story work, the character has to do something with what can be construed as with the right intentions that subtly has all of the wrong consequences.

[This message has been edited by Tanglier (edited February 18, 2005).]


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HSO
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JB, I think that divorce has become too commonplace in today's society, which sort of makes it not-so-tense from an outsider's perspective. Most, if not all of us, know someone who has gone through a divorce; could be a family member, or friend.

We're so used to the idea of divorce that it is hardly the scandalous thing it once was. No point in quoting stats, it's almost expected now that people will be divorced.

Not saying that people going through it aren't suffering, because surely they are. It's always two things that cause the most tension: Children (custody / joint custody) or Property (money included, copyrighted works and future royalties, etc.). The issues that caused the divorce are entirely separate. The divorce itself is legal banter and compromise between lawyers speaking for their clients before a judge.

After the divorce, you get a whole new set of issues to deal with.

Anyway, that's how I see it. I might be off -- slightly jaded, perhaps. Divorces = yawns.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited February 18, 2005).]


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Tanglier
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I don't buy it. Murders are commonplace, but they make good stories. Divorces are close to are perfect matter because they are function of a person's decision. It's a violent and considered act.

The material is interesting, it's just that people aren't good at writing about it, yet. Then again, A Man for All Seasons is a fine film.

[This message has been edited by Tanglier (edited February 18, 2005).]


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HSO
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Murders are hardly commonplace. Most people go through life never seeing a murder happen or knew anyone that has been murdered. Statistically, it's a low-probability depending on where one lives.

Murders only seem commonplace because the media is looking for something sensational to report. The fact that murders top the list of things to report is because it is rare.

Comparing divorces to murders is like comparing apples and oranges, to borrow the overused phrase.

Now, divorces that lead to murder... that would be interesting. Murders that occur in the middle of a divorce would be interesting.


[This message has been edited by HSO (edited February 18, 2005).]


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Lord Darkstorm
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Maybe divorce is something people don't want to read about. If you have suffered through one, and the lingering after effects, you don't ever want to relive it. For those who haven't, they have heard enough war stories from others.

Having lived through one myself, I can't say I'd enjoy a book that has a central theme of a divorce.

I think other harsh things, like murder, have an appeal becuase most people have not murdered someone, and those who have been murdered don't read any more...wonder why?

Divorce is a breakup, which can cause good tension, with external factors heaped on. Lawyers, court, and don't forget the money...all the extras detract from the breakup. Now if one kills the other to keep from going through a divorce...well...


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Survivor
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I have to admit, when my parents got divorced nearly all of us were much, much happier. My sister went so far as to say that she finally overcame her fear of marriage because our mom finally divorced our dad. I think that a couple of the younger kids were a bit confused by the whole thing (well, one of the younger kids), but in hindsight, there isn't anyone in our family that isn't quite a bit happier (including my dad, though things were a bit tight for him during his second divorce).

The same is basically true of my oldest sister's divorce. We were all really glad to get rid of that guy in a safe and legal manner. I was on the fence about the divorce of my other sister, but she seems much happier with her second marriage, and I didn't really have that much insight into her previous husband (I got the impression that our family was pretty hard on his ego though), so I'm not in the best position to judge.

My parents' divorce was like a bent fairy tale with a happy rather than gruesome ending for the "villain". My eldest sister's divorce was like one of those 90's chick flicks about women liberating themselves from oppressive males. My father's second divorce was (for the rest of us) light comedy with a happy ending for the hapless protagonist. My other sister's divorce was apparently like one of those arty films about intellectuals with shallow lives growing apart and feeling all bitter and estranged from everyone (but she married a nicer guy later, though she's still an intellectual who feels a bit estranged--at least she has a real life now and she doesn't seem bitter anymore).

So of the four (really only three, since I'm not that familiar with the one) divorces with which I personally am pretty familiar, only one had good dramatic elements. But the cool action/adventure parts didn't relate so much to the actual divorce (which was handled in a safe and legal manner). The hiding out at safe houses and occasional fist-fights (literal, in which I took part) to gain and keep physical possession of the child were much more interesting.

I suppose that I'm with LDS. The whole element of taking the battle to court detracts from the spectacular nature of the fundamental conflict. I think that's the entire point of taking something to court, right? Courts exist so that all the passion over a conflict can be diminished by putting it through a fundamentally boring resolution process.

It is no accident that courtroom dramas usually a) take place largely outside the courtroom (or outside the normal bounds of legal procedure) and b) throw the legitimacy of the court's decision into doubt. Both are necessary to inject drama into the legal system, which is designed for the purpose of eliminating drama.

That said, the actual divorces I've known were never dramatic enough for an actual court appearance to be necessary or even a serious possibility.


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Robyn_Hood
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Perhaps, in some ways, divorce is too tense a subject. Because of the deep personal issues often involved, people become jaded about seeing it portrayed. If the story doesn't match their experiences or pre-conceived notions, they write it off as being a false representation. Or if it hits too close to home, they try to shut it out and dismiss it as uninteresting because they know how it goes.

I don't know if this paralell works, but when I watch a movie or read a book, I want to be entertained. I avoid watching "dramas" or "heavy" films, because I don't find it entertaining. Why would I want to watch something that I cuold experience in a far more personal way by simply attending a family barbeque? I get enough "drama" in real life that I have no desire to watch it for fun. Divorce is one of those things that perhaps fits the bill -- I don't find it particularly entertaining to watch two people rip their lives and their families apart. It might be intense, it might have deep, pentrating raw emotions, but if it really real it isn't something I personally find entertaining.

Now, if you have that sort of thing happening in a Soap Opera it becomes farcical and mildly entertaining in a hypnoticly insane way.


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goatboy
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JB,

I'm referring to the tendency in the media to have lead stories that deal with death, destruction and mayhem.

Blood and violence sells. Most divorces, while painful, don't end up in open bloodshed. Mystery sells, too. Most divorces don't have alot of that either. When I think about it, there really aren't that many plot variations, so each new one becomes a re-hash of the last one.


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Corpsegrinder
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I think that a story about a divorce could indeed be as interesting as a murder mystery. However, a good divorce story would be much harder to write.

For example, a murder mystery deals with a linear progression of events toward a clearly defined goal: the detective follows a trail of clues until he catches the killer. The end. Everybody who reads a murder mystery automatically knows that the uiltimate goal is to catch the killer.

On the other hand, what is the ultimate goal in a divorce? Are the former spouses fighting for custody of the children? Are the former spouses fighting over marital assets? Is one of the spouses trying to escape physical/emotional abuse? Are the former spouses simply tired of each other and want to move on? Or, is it a combination of all these elements?

In order for a divorce story to be successful, you'd have the establish the ultimate goal of the divorce very clearly, because this is what would detirmine the story's conflict.


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Alynia
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Oh, and don't forget: A good mystery follows myth. You have the sacrifice, the hero and the villan.

Every murder needs a sacrifice.

The core of human belief is myth. We love myth. We are comfortable with it and know that from the fire the Phoenix will always arise.

Divorce generally has no myth. Divorce as seen in the news (hence it's really ugly or it's the publisher of a rival newspaper) has all villans all the time. Sadness and yelling and falling from lights in the ceiling...

Now, in War of the Roses, the writers used a bit of myth in the background. You thought they were going to rise from the fire. You laughed instead of cried most of the time and really, really thought they might come out of it. And in the end, they did (sorta).

Anyway, that's why I think we don't see good stories with divorces.

Nil myth.


-a


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Corpsegrinder
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Ever read any of the Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte mysteries by Arthur Uplad? Like as in, THE BONE IS POINTED? Inspector Bonaparte is a half-white, half Austrialian aboriginal detective who solves crimes set in the Outback during the 1930's. Kind of like QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER meets Sherlock Holmes.

Anyway, in this wonderfully strange setting, the aborigonals posess telepathic abilities. In THE BONE IS POINTED, they place a curse on the main character and drive him temporarily insane by simply sitting around a camp fire and thinking bad thoughts about him. It's a very cool book.


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Tanglier
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quote:
On the other hand, what is the ultimate goal in a divorce?

Hopefully, to save a marriage.

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Keeley
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quote:
Hopefully, to save a marriage.

Kramer v. Kramer SPOILER


I think that's why I like the end of Kramer v. Kramer. The couple doesn't get back together, but they come to an understanding regarding not only their son's custody, but also each other. And it's that understanding that gives the person watching a sense that their family is going to be okay. Not perfect, but okay.


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Doc Brown
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JBSkaggs, I think this discussion shows that divorce is a good source of tension. The question is, why isn't that tension always well-suited to fiction writing?

Survivor made a great point. Divorce is conflict, but in our society the resolution is designed to be as conflict-free as possible. The idea is to keep divorce from escallating into murder.

Corpsegrinder had another great point, dramatic fiction needs to have suspense. The reader needs to worry about what will happen next. That's hard to do in divorce fiction because the big picture ending is a foregone conclusion (the marriage will end) and the protagonist only cares about the details (How much money will I get? Will I get the kids? The house? The car? Granny's silver set?)

If you want to use divorce as a source of tension, you need to get the reader focused on one of these details. Once your reader cares about who gets the kids, house, or whatever, you will have enough suspense to sustain a story.


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JohnSWalsh
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Divorces are like dreams--yours isn't interesting to other people.

I think they're boring in fiction because you either know how they're going to turn out, they all seem the same to outsiders, and if it DOESN'T turn out as expected you feel like it was a big waste of time--"Why didn't you figure out you loved each other before you went to court, you mopheads?"


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franc li
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I think the trouble with divorce is that it falls too easily into a "you are evil incarnate and I am an innocent victim" myth. And then there are the cases where someone really is evil, and I think it tends to be because that person gets away with their evilness. Like some guy I knew who was very good at sheltering his reportable income while living like a king so he theoretically couldn't pay much child support or alimony. At least that is the version I got from a female friend of the ex-wife. The cruel twist was that the teenaged son did something of a retaliatory nature to the father or his property resulting in the son going to jail. GRR.
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