When Not to Show the Crappy Date
Two very good writer friends (good friends and good writers), Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison, recently introduced me to Gilmore Girls. I know, right? How could I have missed this wonderful show? At least I finally found my way to it.
Because these wonderful friends know how much I enjoy Supernatural, they suggested I start with Season 3 so that I could see a young Sam Winchester, ahem, Jared Padelecki, as the love interest of Rory Gilmore, the teen in the show.
That my good friend saw my main character as similar to Rory is just too much of a compliment for me to take in. There's a lot to like in the show, but I don't need to tell you that, right? So, let's get to the reason for this post. I watched an episode in which Lorelai goes out on a date with the very yummy Don Draper - man, I keep doing that - Jon Hamm. The scene cuts as Lorelai and the Jon Hamm character leave for the date. The next scene is Lorelei entering Rory's room to talk about the crappy date.
Now, I probably would have shown the crappy date - the awkward moments, Lorelai's boredom, Jon Hamm's complete lack of awareness that it was a crappy date, plus his impossibly square jaw. As a writer, I was intrigued by the decision not to show the crappy date. See, I'm in (what I hope to be) final revisions on my young adult novel and part of the revision process for me right now is to evaluate whether or not my scenes are holding their weight. If they aren't, they need to go. I've read a couple of fantastic posts on evaluating scenes and I use them in my evaluative process. Check out Coe Booth's post of a David Mamet memo on Write at Your Own Risk here and Catherine Linka's post on pacing here.
When I thought about the Gilmore Girls episode, I understood why they didn't show the date even though it had great comic possibilities. The show is first and foremost about the relationship between Rory and her mother, Lorelai. Showing Lorelai waking Rory to talk about a crappy date offered the viewer more insight into the closeness of this mother/daughter relationship. And because Jon Hamm would not be returning to the show (which I only forgive because of a later, even more yummy appearance by Billy Burke), it didn't make story sense to show the date. Now, for all I know, they shot the date scene and simply didn't have time to include it.
What I choose to take away from a craft standpoint is the reminder that drama alone is not enough reason to keep a scene. Even drama that feels like it's related to the overall story is not enough. In this case, Lorelai's dating is an important aspect of the show - she's single and she's like not to be. The scene must also -- in some form -- build on what the reader knows of the characters, their relationships to one another, the overall theme of the story and the forward momentum of the plot. Man, that's a lot to expect of each little scene, isn't it? But hey, if the scene isn't up to the task, he shouldn't have walked into the story to begin with! So, how do you evaluate your scenes? What helps you figure out what to keep and what to cut?