Monday, November 16, 2009

Salty Or Sweet?

I recently listened to THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks. I've seen the movie version a million times, and I was all set to go on a wild ride of fights and lovemaking…and more fights. Allie and Noah are probably one of my all-time favorite movie couples. No one can throw down the way they do. They love each other so much, yet they never hesitate to call each other out on being complete ass-hats. It's what makes them great.

That said, I found—as I have in a lot of book-to-movie stories I've read/listened to over the last few months—that the movie far outshined the book. They're the same story, obviously, but the thing that pushed the movie ahead of the book for me was the pacing and TENSION. This isn't meant to disparage the book in any way—let's face it, it's a heartbreaking story that most of us will never forget. There wouldn't be a movie if Sparks hadn't written a damn good book that touched people.

My point touches on Kristen's post from last week. Our characters are not our dolls to play with. We need to put them through hell and back and hope they come out the other side okay. A movie has a short timeframe to make that happen, so naturally the pacing will be fast and tense. But why can't books also be that way? Shouldn't we all be striving to keep that underlying tension going through every scene? I would argue that we should. To help make my point, I shall now give you an example from THE NOTEBOOK.

For those of you who have never read the book or seen the movie – possibly both – here is a quick rundown of one scene, as told in the movie/book. Bear with me while I mangle them both. J If you haven't seen/read either…you may want to skip this post.

**SPOILER alert!!**

Brief Summary of the movie: Allie and Noah were teenage sweethearts, torn apart by her parents who thought Noah wasn't good enough for their daughter. They both moved on, only to be reunited several years later. Allie is now engaged, but Allie and Noah end up back together during a couple of wild, sex-filled days. But they're caught by her mother and now Allie must decide between Noah and her fiancé.

*curtain rises*

The Movie: Noah watches Allie's mother drive away, after she's tried her best to break the two of them apart. Noah: What a beeeyotch! (Doesn't say it but you KNOW that's what he's thinking!)

The Book: Noah watches Allie's mother drive away, after she's tried her best to break the two of them apart. Noah: She was such a strong woman. Now he knew where Allie got it from.

Jen's dog ears perk up. "R'uh?"


The Movie: Noah confronts Allie.

The Book: Noah sits quietly knowing Allie needs some Allie-alone time.


The Movie:

Allie: I don't know what I'm going to do.

Noah: Are we back there again you neurotic woman?!"

The Book: Allie approaches Noah.

Allie: I'm so sorry.

Noah: Don't be sorry, we both knew this was coming.


The Movie:

Noah: You can't go back to him! The last two days happened, you know?!

Allie: But he gave me a ring and I gave him my word!

Noah: And your word is shot to hell now, don't you think?!

The Book:

Allie: This is so hard.

Noah: I know. Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?


Jen, listening: WTF?!


The Movie:

Noah: If you go back to him, it's about his money!

Allie: I hate you!

Noah: I hate you more!

The Book:

Noah: What are you going to do?

Allie: I guess it depends on Lon. I mean, he may not even know anything. Maybe I can just go back and he'll never know.

Noah: *stomach tightens* but he endures it with manly pride intact. Well, sorta.


The Movie:

Allie: _)&(&$%^*()_+)(_*&^#%$^(*&#)*(_)!!!!!!!!!! You bastard!

Noah: +_)(*&^%&^*(*)(+)(*&^&%$%&^*()(+)_)(*&^%%&^*()(_)+_()*&^!!!! You're a pain in the ass!


The Book:

Allie: I keep thinking I want two things. I love YOU, but I also want a life where I'm not hurting anyone anymore. If I stay, it will hurt so many people. (Jen: Like Noah, maybe?)

Noah: You're not going to tell him are you?

Allie: I don't know.

Much angst ensues. Jen thinks Noah may have tears in his beer by now.

The Movie:

Allie: Why stay? All we do is fight!

Noah: That's what we do! You tell me when I'm being a smug son-of-a-bitch and I tell you when you're being a pain in the ass! Which is most of the time!

The Book:

Allie: I do love him, Noah. And I love my family. Staying here would be betraying all of them.

Noah: You can't live your life for other people. You have to do what's right for you. People will get hurt, but you can't do anything about that.

Allie: I know that, but _I_ have to live with my decision. (Jen: Whoa. It's all about Allie, Allie, Allie.) I have to be able to go forward and not look back anymore. Can you understand that?

Noah: Not really. Not if it means losing you again. Could you really leave me without looking back?

Allie: I don't know. Would it be fair to Lon if I did?

The Movie:

Noah: GO! If that's what you want, GO! I can lose you again if that's what you want!

The Book:

Noah: It doesn't have to be like this. We're adults. *pout* We have choices! *stamps foot* We're meant to be together—we always have been! I don't want to dream about you for the rest of my life and what might've been! Stay with me, Allie!

(Jen: OMG. He's begging. Not in a manly type of way, but in a sniveling school boy way.)

Allie: I don't know if I can.
(Jen: Can't says I blame ya, girlfriend. This boy is a bit of a pansy)

The Movie:

Allie: No matter what I do, someone will get hurt!

Noah: Stop thinking about what I want, what your parents want. What do YOU want? DAMMIT. What do you want?!

The Book:

Noah: You can stay! I can't live my life happily knowing you're with someone else. This is rare—too beautiful to just throw away.

Noah stares her down

Noah: You're not going to stay are you? You want to, but you can't.

Allie: Oh Noah. Try to understand!

Noah shakes his head.

Noah: I know what you're trying to say. But I don't want to understand…I don't want it to end this way. To end at all. If you leave, we'll never see each other again.

Allie cries. Noah tries to suck in his lower lip.

Noah: I'll never forget these last couple of days. I've been dreaming about you for years.

They kiss, and much wiping away of tears occurs.


The Movie:

Allie: I have to go.

She drives off in a rush while Noah stands there, shell shocked, but still…surprisingly…manly. Hmm.

The Book:

Allie lets go first.

Allie: I have to get my things.

Noah rocks on the front porch while Allie gathers her things.

Allie: Here, Noah. I made this painting for you.

Noah: Oh great…a booby prize. I'll treasure it forever! (Jen: OMG. I just know he's gonna start crying again.) Thank you!!! *smile falters*

They walk to Allie's car. And yes, Noah is crying.

Noah: I love you!

Allie: I love you, too!

*much kissing*

Allie starts the car for like, forever. Noah keeps touching her, mouthing the words, "Stay with me."

Allie drives away – slowly. Snail pace. Noah watches for about…10 minutes. He's dizzy, disbelieving…and oh so sad. "Don't go!" he wants to shout as he watches the car leave.

*car is still leaving*

Noah: Please don't go!

*car…yeah, it's still leaving*

Jen: Dude, like Dierks, Noah would settle for a slowdown, Allie!

And the scene ends with one more creepy mother analogy. When Allie finally drives out of sight – and no, there was no glow of the brake lights—Noah thinks: And like her mother, she never looked back.

Okay, now that I've mangled it, here's the movie version in all its glory! Enjoy. J

Can I get an unofficial show of hands? Which version honestly grabs you more? I hope you forgive the artistic license I took with both versions of this story. I did it to illustrate my point.

The book version of this scene is….sweet…sentimental…romantic and…SAFE. And maybe a little—forgive me—boring. Can't you just see their life together? I picture it as one big snuggle session in front of a perfect fire that never needs rekindling. Lounging in a hot bubble bath that never becomes tepid. A lifetime of:

Noah: I love you. Allie: I love you, MORE. Noah: No way…I love you more! *tears to show he's sincere*

In short, a bit of a snore-fest.

The movie version, on the other hand, has FIRE. Passion. Anger. Hurt feelings. Desire. All of the things that make their relationship great. They're crazy about each other, and you just know all of the things keeping them apart are the things that make them perfect for one another. If the movie versions of Allie and Noah stay together, their life is going to be full of arguments and a lot of make-up sex. Allie burning Noah's dinner and him teasing her mercilessly and then kissing away her tears of frustration. Winters spent huddled together in the cold because Noah wasn't able to fix the furnace—something Allie will never let him live down. A life where shit happens and there isn't always a happy ending.

The latter is the story I want to read. It has characters that are flawed—who don't have the perfect answers to every question. Ones who make mistakes and regret them. Ones who can piss each other off and still love each other the next morning.

I don't want perfection. I don't want nicey-nice. I want arguments, and betrayal, and hurt feelings, and passionate make-up scenes. I want, in short, FIRE.

It's what I strive to write. It's real.

I'll take salty over sweet any day.

What about you?

As a fun treat, here are Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling at the MTV Movie Awards, reenacting The Kiss. …sigh, they're so damn cute!


  1. VERY nice demonstration of the point, Jen! Believe it or not I still haven't seen that movie- I keep meaning to. The clip from the movie- ehh, out of context it didn't do much for me.

    But... uh... the MTV awards kiss? Holy smokes! When I finished watching that I looked up for a second and I couldn't remember where I was (wg). That alone is enough to demonstrate the power of putting passion behind your characters.

  2. LMAO, Jen! And an excellent point you make. There are times in a book when a quiet, gentle tone is called for; a moment of introspection for the characters, for example, or simply a place for the reader to catch their breath and take stock. But for pete's sake, NOT in the middle of a heart-rending, this-is-the-last-goodbye-forever scene! I've seen the movie. I wasn't looking forward to it, having heard that the book ... well, sucked. (g) But I loved the film, even though it's not the sort of movie I usually go for. I HAD to find out what happened to these two characters, and that was because the screenplay kept the tension ramped up and the fireworks going off in all the right places. So yeah, that's a vote for "salty" from me! (g)

  3. He's chewing gum! Ryan Gosling, I mean. Ick!

    I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but from the way you describe it Jen, I definitely prefer the movie version (and that rarely happens to me). Good grief, do I really want an introspective "she's just like her mother" at the heartrending ending? And I don't buy all that "I love you" nonsense while she's getting in the car. Dude, if you love him, then stay. You can't blab about love to the guy you're leaving when he knows you're leaving him for another guy. Sheesh! Er, by the way, what era is this and what's her job? Why is she so dependent on her family?
    Ah well, I guess it's all kinda spoiled for me now - but look, I'm asking questions about the characters! There must be something to the story... I'll definitely take the salty version anyday - I love the way it implies both excitement and tears.

  4. Okay, I admit, I never read the book, but boy did I love the movie. Wahh! I cried like a baby. Other movies vs. books that have this same exact problem: Stardust. Book doesn't have HALF the zing! OR Robert DeNero (who was freaking brilliant!) A Room With A View -the book Lucy is a prig and I didn't like her -plus no naked men, frolicking in bucolic splendor. :)

  5. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!

    You put a lot of work into making a great point, and one that hit home with me personally. Like everybody else who is writing, I've created a MC who is absolutely the greatest, and I want everyone to fall in love with her. So I find myself making her polite. Snore. Snore. Snore. Now I don't do it on purpose, but I do find myself creating dialog comparable to that in your post, because isn't that the way "nice" people talk? BORING.

    Claire, Deniz: Hie thee to the nearest DVD rental centers in thy respective countries and get this movie. It's terrific! All three women residing in my home love it, which doesn't happen often. Rachel McAdam is gorgeous and Ryan Gosling is.... beyond words.

  6. Claire -- you must rent it! You go now, in fact! :)

    And yeah, McAdams and Gosling. WHOOOboy. No idea if they're still together, but they SHOULD be. Erm, have I mentioned she's my ideal Madison? Yep. Love her.


  7. Rachel! Whoot whoo for Salty! :) Yeah, the movie is great--didn't know that I would like it either, but the fire between Allie and Noah was AWESOME. I wanted to watch simply to find out who would get angry first and why. (g) Fun stuff, that movie. And of course, *sniffle*.. I seriously think screenwriters are gods. After taking a screenwriting class this fall, I'm SO pumped to try my hand at it. Now....what to write...


  8. Oh, Deniz...that kiss was HOT! Gum...who cares? (g) At least his breath was minty fresh.

    The Notebook is around WWII era... she's a debutante, basically. Relying on the kindness of strangers...erm, her family, I mean. (g)

    And no, no, no...the movie was NOT spoiled. YOU MUST WATCH. There's so much more to it.

    Go forth and rent! :)


  9. Kristen! Bwhaha. Excellent examples. I think one of the worst ones for me as of late was RUNAWAY JURY by John Grisham. LOVED the movie -- had this great intensity and a cause that I could sorta get around. I.e. gun control, and an attempt to stop mass killings. In the book, it was about cigarettes???!!! (r'uh?) Somehow it lost its zing...its immediacy. SO glad the screenwriter changed that particular angle. MUCH better. Oh man, there's a whole host of movies/books that I take issue with lately -- even LOTR. *ducks and runs from Deniz*


  10. Stephanie,

    Glad you found it useful! :) And I know what you mean about the nice factor. I wanted people to like my characters, too...but found if I wrote them with too much nice--first, I found them boring. And I knew if that happened, others would too.

    Thankfully I haven't had a big issue with the snore factor--at least with FI. Maddy came out of the gate with a foul mouth and one seriously grumpy attitude. (G) I mean, for the love of Pete, she talks about telling someone to f*ck off on the first page. That's Maddy--love her or hate her. But the MEN...oh man, trying to strike the balance between insensitive clod and man of every woman's dreams is HARD. I want them to have feelings,etc. but I don't want them to be pansies. I will have none of this "what can I do to make it easier for you" crap. Nope. Won't do it. :) They wouldn't have it either, come to think of it. (g)

    One things for sure, tho. Once you loosen up your hold on "nice", sooooo many possibilities open up. You can take your characters _anywhere_.


  11. Claire - I haven't seen The Notebook either, although after the two clips (and Jen's excellent summary *vbg*) I'm thinking I'll have to.

    Deniz/Jen - I'm with Deniz. Fresh breath is good, but chewing gum is GROSS. I would not want to kiss a guy who still had gum in his mouth.

  12. What a great post. I never saw the movie (or read the book), but wow, what a difference. I wonder if Sparks was mad at the way they changed it, or inspired to do better? (g)

  13. Beth,

    Thanks! :)

    Yeah, the difference between the two is startling. I couldn't believe they were the same story, quite honestly. LOL. And re Sparks -- no idea.. I HOPE so. All I know is that I won't be going back to that particular well for a while. :)