FML was pitched as Sliding Doors meets Can’t Hardly Wait. Anyone who’s seen Can’t Hardly Wait inevitably thinks of it when they hear the FML synopsis. Newly single girl, stupid boy who’s loved her from afar for way too long, a party during which stupid boy thinks he’ll finally win the heart of newly single girl. All it needs is Seth Green. (Everything could use a little Seth Green, now that I think about it).
But the truth is that FML has a lot more in common with Bridesmaids than it does with Can’t Hardly Wait.
The only contribution Sliding Doors made to FML was allowing me to borrow the split timelines conceit. And what a great conceit it is. Telling Simon Cross’s story twice allowed me to explore some areas that I think elevate this beyond a simple high school party story.
But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone to see Bridesmaids.
Here’s the thing about books and movies that most people don’t like to admit: predictability is essential. Readers expect certain things from their books. They expect their hero to get some kind of ever after…it may not always be happy (as in the case of Katniss), but it is an ever after. They expect that the ugly duckling will become a swan, that star-crossed loves will find a way(even if that way includes poison), that the bad guys will get their due. You can subvert those expectations some, but if you promise your reader a story with kissing, you’d damn well better deliver.
And that’s where Bridesmaids comes in. FML seems simple on the surface, but it was a difficult book to write. During the whole process, I worked hard to make sure that it didn’t sink into cliche. That it winked at the movies with which it shared a common ancestry, but didn’t parrot them. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, and I spent months with index cards and notes, banging my head against a wall to find a way to tell a story that was both familiar but unique.
One of the things Matt hates is when I guess how movies are going to end (or what’s going to happen next…sometimes even what the characters are going to say!). Some movies (and books) are that predictable. As I watched Bridesmaids, I began mentally writing the end of the script. I thought I knew how everything was going to play out.
I was wrong.
Not totally wrong. It’s still somewhat predictable (which, as I said earlier is kind of essential). Girl meets boy, girl screws things up with boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back. You expect the heroine to get her happy ending, and she does, just not in the way that you expect.
And that was the movie’s brilliance. It was still predictable, still formulaic at its most basic level. It didn’t try to be original by subverting my expectations, it was original by subverting the journey. And isn’t the journey the best part?
We don’t follow those boys in Stand By Me because we care about seeing the body. We follow them for all the things that happen along the way.
After watching Bridesmaids, I went home and wrote myself a note. It simply said: Be more like Bridesmaids. That didn’t mean I was going to rewrite my book as some zany buddy comedy. To me, it simply meant that I needed to look at every scene, every character interaction, every line of dialog, and see if it was expected. At every crossroad, I asked myself what people would expect to happen, and then I looked for a different way. I happen to think it transformed FML from a pretty decent book into a really special one.
Readers will still get the happy ending they expect to get. They’d have probably burned me at the stake otherwise. But it’s how Simon gets there and the things he learns about life and himself (in two timelines!), that make FML such a fun book.
FML isn’t going to be for everyone. There are actually people out there who don’t like Bridesmaids. I’m pretty sure those people were probably dropped on their heads as children, but I’m not here to judge. I do think a lot of people will relate to Simon and Cassie, Ben and Coop, and Stella and her blind dog Falcor. FML is funny and sweet and silly and romantic.
And, even if you know how it’s going to end from the very first page, I hope that you’ll enjoy the journey as much as I have.