Unless you’re writing a bedtime tale, every good story has to have its falling and rising action, its complications and cliffhangers. So when you meet the man of your dreams through a writing group and get married in a bookstore, you have to brace yourself for the extra punch that is bound to find its way into your love story.
I’m a big believer in Jack Bickham’s story structure. He tells us good narratives are built when each scene contains a goal, an obstacle to the goal, and a disaster that carries us into the next goal. So here is our wedding day story, told Bickham style, with all the disasters perfectly in place.
We begin with Scene #1.
Goal: To meet friends and family in Central Park for a laid-back gathering the morning of the wedding day.
Obstacle 1: Our hero couple is late. Kurt runs ahead to meet with everyone.
Obstacle 2: Ten-year-old daughter Elizabeth suddenly starts feeling very bad on Fifth Avenue. She has a headache and starts crying.
Disaster: They can’t even make it into the park, as she starts turning sort of gray. She has epilepsy and may be starting the wedding day with a seizure in Central Park. And who has the medicine? Kurt.
That worked, right? You are hooked in the story. I wish it were fiction, but this is how the day begins. So let’s move to the next scene.
Goal: To get Elizabeth her medicine before she gets any worse.
Obstacle 1: Kurt has already run into the park. So Deanna calls him. He starts heading back.
Obstacle 2: It’s really noisy and difficult with construction near the park entrance. Elizabeth and Deanna start moving, one bench at a time, into the park. Elizabeth can’t really move more than a few yards at a time, clutching her mom.
Disaster: Kurt arrives, and the panicked couple realizes they didn’t pack any meds in his backpack.
You see how this day is going. Wedding is in 7 hours and we have a full-blown crisis on our hands. Now for Scene #3.
Obstacle: They’re in Central Park with no idea where a drug store is. Kurt asks for directions. CVS is five blocks away. He takes off running.
Disaster: When he gets there, they don’t have anything he recognizes as something that would help. He calls, but Deanna is intent on Elizabeth and doesn’t even hear it buzz.
Ticking clock. All essential story elements. But the hero is on his way.
Goal: Kurt: to bring something that will help. Deanna: to get Elizabeth closer to friends and family should they need support if she seizes.
Obstacle: Kurt starts heading back, hoping one of the three things he bought will work. Deanna keeps moving Elizabeth one bench at a time toward the group, and they all finally converge at the Alice in Wonderland statue.
Resolution: Elizabeth manages to take some dissolve tabs and perks up. Within half an hour, she is running all over the park and climbing rocks with the other kids.
So you think the wedding day will go on normally now, right? You would be so very wrong. Before leaving this chapter, we have to get you another cliffhanger to ensure you keep reading. No problem.
Goal: Deanna has to get to the salon to start the preparations. She says goodbye to everyone and heads up Fifth Avenue, managing to locate a taxi and get back to her apartment.
Obstacle: The salon is not far from where she is staying, so she thinks she will walk. She also thinks she knows where she is going.
Disaster: She gets lost. And it starts to rain. Seriously. Rain. If this were fiction, the editors would cross this out. Cliché, they would say. Nix it. But it’s really raining.
Deanna is not one for pity parties, but it’s been enough of a day already, and after crossing Houston St. three times (foreshadowing for the future Houston St. crossing from hell!), her cell phone failing to connect to the salon for help, she sort of leans against the brick wall of a random building and busts out crying. But of course, she has to have a new goal. One can’t stand on a corner and cry all day. The narrative must move forward.
Goal: To find the $#%* salon. She pulls out the printout of the appointment confirmation to try the number again and sees that they do have a picture of the entrance to the salon.
Obstacle: She knows she’s on the block, but there are several doors exactly like this one, all locked, all with buzzers to apartments. She buzzes one. An annoyed random New Yorker tells her to keep walking. Finally, she sees that there is a 10-inch sticker on one pane of one door that says the name of the salon. She goes in and reaches in her bag for all the stuff she needs for the appointment.
Disaster: No fascinator. No hair style print outs.
When compared with the other disasters, a little thing like this is really nothing. They get on the computer, the stylist tells Deanna everything she likes is dated, and sits down to do whatever she likes. Deanna tries to call someone to fetch the fascinator, but everyone’s in museums and sightseeing, so she just lets it be.
We pick up our story again at Deanna’s parents’ apartment. She has carefully packed everyone’s things. She’s calmly sewing the straps to her back-up wedding dress in case the bustle on the train to her primary dress doesn’t seem to be holding (it fell when they tested it), so she can dance in the second dress without tripping. Kurt delivers the girls safely to her and leaves to get ready. We’re about to head into the tight-timeline of the last two hours, exacerbated by the make up artist being overbooked. Elizabeth gets her hair done, and Deanna glances in the mirror to notice that her $250 hairdo has already started to fall.
Goal: To get makeup artist to help with hair problem.
Obstacle: Makeup artist is late.
Obstacle: Deanna has to start reversing the order of things to leave time for the makeup artist, and packs up wedding dress for move to the venue. Can’t find shoes.
Obstacle: Every time she moves, her hair falls more. Her mom orders her to sit. Mom has pretty shaky hands and can’t fix it herself. Dad starts the search for the five-inch platforms that are essential for the dress, which will drag the ground otherwise.
Disaster: Makeup artist calls but keeps getting disconnected. Says she’s outside the door but can’t get in. But she’s not there.
Deanna is really trying to laugh about everything. They finally get through to the makeup girl, and she’s two blocks away, banging on the wrong door. They are crowded in the apartment now, with a videographer, a photographer, two kids, two parents, a bride, and a makeup artist. And no booze in the house. (That should be a disaster right there.) But Leora fixes the hair with hair pins donated from the photographer, who goes above and beyond the call of duty by taking her own hair down for the bride’s. Makeup commences. Dad finds shoes. But boy, is everything late. Let’s move on to the next series.
Goal: To get to the bookstore on time.
Obstacle. Dear reader, just start laughing now. Because the way things are about to go…yes, just laugh now.
Obstacle: Nasty mean taxi driver. He doesn’t know where Housing Works is. He doesn’t know Crosby Street. Deanna explains that it is near Houston and Lafayette. She has no idea what he’s about to do.
Obstacle: Traffic is horrible, sometimes causing a 10-minute wait at an intersection. Deanna was supposed to be setting up the tables ten minutes ago, and dressing now. It’s 20 minutes until the wedding, and she’s in a taxi and not dressed.
Obstacle: He stops many blocks away from the venue. Deanna has two giant boxes of books and decorations, a wedding dress bag, a ten-year-old, and a mom who can’t walk more than about a block without assistance. She tells him they have to get closer. He circles the block, which takes ten more minutes. Deanna is supposed to have the tables set up, be in her dress, and should be sipping white wine out of view while people arrive. Instead she is in a taxi four blocks away with everything for the wedding in it.
Obstacle: The taxi driver says, “This is it,” and puts it in park. They can see Housing Works, but it is far. Across the enormous Houston Street, which has a walking signal barely long enough for regular people to cross in time, and they have all the wedding stuff, a child, and a mom who has left her walker back at the apartment.
Disaster: They get out anyway.
Now I can tell you are probably either laughing or upset at what’s gone on. And honestly, when we got out of the car with all those boxes and bags, and really no way to carry them, I didn’t see what we would do. I gave the wedding dress to Elizabeth, my bride bag to mom, and I carried the two stacked boxes in front of my face as we set across this crazy street full of traffic, about 50 yards across. For you Austin people, it would be like crossing I-35, if the highway had a red light in it, one that serves more as a suggestion than an actual traffic stop.
Goal: To get to the wedding without dropping everything.
Obstacle: Halfway across this mega-street, Deanna simply cannot carry the boxes any further. The light changes, and they are trapped by a low concrete construction barrier. They stand near it. Deanna sets the boxes on the barrier, knowing that if she doesn’t hang on, they will fall into some utility construction pit. Her arms are screaming, and she knows she is going to be feeling the pain for some time (and five days, later, they still hurt.) Mom is gamely holding on to the barrier. Traffic is whizzing on either side of the trio.
I honest-to-God start looking around for someone to pay to help us carry these things. I see no way we can get the rest of the way across this road. But New Yorkers go on their merry way, the light changes, and people start moving.
I tell Elizabeth she has to help, and I give her the lighter box. Mom gets the wedding dress. I carry the box full of books and know we simply have to do this.
Obstacle: The light turns while we cross.
Screw it. At this point I’m ready to get run over.
With about 10 minutes until the wedding, Deanna sits Elizabeth and Mom on concrete steps next to some random interesting looking characters and makes a mad dash down the street to the venue. They are waiting, probably wondering exactly how to start a wedding with no bride. They hurry down to fetch the boxes and help the others to the bookstore. Deanna goes inside and realizes:
Disaster: We also have no groom.
It’s moving swiftly now, isn’t it? Moving into that climax! Bickham would be pleased with our structure!
Deanna’s Goal: Decorate tables, put on dress, get FREAKING UPSTAIRS TO HER GLASS OF WINE! Thankfully, The staff was all ready, so after some quick instructions, they got the tables done and she dashes to the bathroom to put on her dress.
Kurt’s Goal: To get to the venue.
Now Kurt was dealing with similar obstacles as far as traffic. He had Emily and the bride’s Dad. But they were unencumbered, so when they got a few blocks away, they hopped out and headed toward the venue, where many of the guests were all gathered, waiting to be allowed in since Deanna was still having the tables set up.
Disaster: But as Kurt approached the crowd of people, he remembered he didn’t have the black hair tie Deanna had made for him. It was in his backpack…which wasn’t on his shoulder. He turns around, shocked at himself. He has left his backpack in the taxi. And it wasn’t just holding his hair ribbon. But Deanna’s $3000 professional camera that she uses for work.
We should stop here, right? I mean, that’s a hell of a disaster for a groom, right? How does he tell his bride, five minutes before their wedding, that her livelihood just drove off into a sea of yellow? But we must go on with our tale, take it to its conclusion.
Goal: To find the *^&% taxi with the backpack in it. Kurt gathers a few people and they rush in the direction of the taxis, which are all blending together.
Obstacle: There are hundreds of them. They are looking in windows, trying to find the one with the backpack.
Disaster: They fail.
Blake Snyder (RIP, Blake!) talks about the “Long dark night of the soul.” In every story, there is a moment where there seems there is no way out. No way to solve the problem at hand. We’re there.
Goal: Kurt is trying to recover from what has just happened. The people who know decide to keep it from Deanna until after the ceremony.
Now, during all this, Deanna is upstairs, gulping wine and wondering why everyone is still being held outside. The tables are ready. She calls down to tell them to open the door and asks a friend how Kurt is doing. Nervous, she is told. Figures. It had been a tough day.
The wedding coordinator comes up. It’s 45 minutes past the wedding start time. Deanna is shrugging. It’ll happen. They suggest we go ahead and start.
The officiant called Deanna the wrong name twice, and she finally spoke up, asking Kurt, “Is that the name of your other girlfriend?”
The bakery neglected to inform us that the top layer of our book cake was actually fondant-covered cardboard. So we sawed through it for several minutes before realizing it could not be cut.
Otherwise, spot on perfect. Vows. Music. Cocktail hour with gloriously delicious appetizers. Photos. Four-course dinner. A lovely blessing by Deanna’s Dad. A sweet message from Kurt’s mom. A hilarious toast by friend Audrey. Then waltzing.
We roll to the conclusion of our wedding story as we approach that time when Deanna must be told about the camera. Their marriage is three hours old.
Goal: Kurt wants to wait until they are in the limo.
Obstacle: Deanna is puzzled why the venue is giving them vodka and champagne when they have vodka and champagne in the backpack. She suddenly remembers the backpack. Where is it? she asks Kurt.
Realize that at this moment, the limo is in the street, the driver waiting by the open door. Everyone at the wedding is standing outside the bookstore holding white rose petals.
Obstacle: The wedding coordinator arrives with a paper. They have filed a claim with the taxi company for the contents of Kurt’s backpack. Deanna realizes what has happened.
Kurt tries to launch into a “I didn’t want to tell you” spiel, but Deanna already knows all that. She would have done the same thing. It’s just a camera. An expensive one, sure, but just a piece of equipment. That can be replaced.
She does know this: What they can’t get back, can never get back, is this moment, walking out of their wedding, friends and family ready to send them off, showering them with petals. She tells him to put it from his mind, and they walk out into the New York Street, and everyone cheers, and petals waft through the air, and they duck into a black limousine and on to the rest of their lives.
The camera has never been found.
And a bigger disaster unfolded over the next few days: our marriage license was unsigned and unwitnessed. Emails with the officiant went very badly and by Monday we were certain we’d have to go to City Hall and have a second ceremony to make our marriage legal. Kurt played the hero again, intervening after some rather difficult and unpleasant correspondence between Deanna and the officiant, and met the woman to get the license signed.
We are safely home now (despite United Airlines doing their best to keep us from getting here.) We try to laugh about the disasters of the day, and do take to heart what everyone says—today’s difficulties are tomorrow’s great stories.
Thank you for reading ours.