Weddings are chock-full o’ writerly goodness, yeah? You have family members who don’t get along. You have a solemn ceremony which can be disrupted. You have a large group of people who have to be in a certain place at a certain time, with a number of things that can go wrong. Conflict galore!
And it’s all dreadfully, horribly dull.
This is the mistake. Many writers assume that the reader will be fascinated by the wedding of Polly Protagonist and Harold Hero because, you know, the writer’s daughter got married last week and she gets all choked up remembering how her little girl walked down the aisle. So readers will get choked up at the lovingly detailed description of Polly and Harold’s elaborate wedding, right?
Trouble is, no one really cares. Fortunately, we can save the situation.
Fictional weddings don’t fall flat because the readers don’t care about the characters. They do (if the writer is doing a good job). It’s because fictional weddings are always, always, ALWAYS the same.
First, we have the structure of the ceremony. The bride walks down the aisle to meet the groom, various people say things that are always remarkably the same (no matter how poetic the individual vows are supposed to be), and afterward we have a party with boring toasts. It makes for dull reading and slow scenes in movies, yet many writers and directors insist on using them.
Second, there are only two types of conflict that ever show up at weddings. 1) Whether or not the ceremony will take place, or 2) Trying to keep the ceremony running smoothly. These conflicts are always the same AND THEY ALWAYS SHOW UP. Apparently, no one can get married without one of these two conflicts.
With Conflict 1, you can have the bride or groom wondering if s/he should back out. This has no suspense to it because 99.9% of the time, they go through with it in the end. And does anyone find it believable that the groom would run away and hide in a bar an hour before the wedding, forcing the best man to go find him? I mean, come on! You can also have something delay the bride or groom on the way to the ceremony. This doesn’t create suspense either–we know the person in question will make it. Yawn.
Conflict 2 involves someone trying to disrupt the ceremony, either for a good reason (because someone is getting married to the Wrong Person) or for a bad reason (because the antagonist doesn’t want the marriage to happen). If the interruption is for a good reason, we know the wedding will be interrupted Just In Time. (Apparently no one has ever heard of divorce or annulment.) If it’s for a bad reason, we know the villain will be vanquished so the happy couple can have their moment. It’s always the same. And I don’t think I need to comment on the lack of believability.
The best way to handle fictional weddings is to gloss over them. If you absolutely =must= include such a ceremony, please don’t waste the reader’s time with a word-for-word recitation of what happens. Instead, focus on how the viewpoint character feels: “The minister read the homily and called on Polly to say her vows. She choked up once, and Harold squeezed her hand. Then the minister was pronouncing them husband and wife. Polly faced the congregation, barely able to believe it was all over.”
The only time it’s interesting to go into details of a wedding ceremony is if the ritual is wildly different from the one we know. Writers of historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, or fiction likewise set in other cultures may be granted some leeway in describing weddings, but ONLY if they’re different enough. Same goes if you’re doing a wacky, out-of-the-way wedding, like a nude wedding on the beach, or a skydiving wedding. Then we WANT the details!
Laura Ingalls Wilder does the best wedding ceremony ever in THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS. She goes into detail about the preparations before-hand, since she’s writing an historical, but of Laura’s actual wedding to Almanzo, she writes, “And so they were married.”
A fine example to live up to.
–Steven Harper Piziks
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