No wedding goes off without a hitch. And in your story, no protagonist’s journey should go along smoothly. Ever. Think of all the conflicts that a bride and groom endure on their long trip to the altar. Same holds true for your characters when trying to achieve their goals in the story.
Joseph Hancock, Pastor at the Gulf Coast Fellowship, Palm Harbor, FL has presided over enough weddings to know that anything can go wrong during the wedding nuptials. When he marries a couple, he does his best to have a perfectly run ceremony. But he still must come prepared for anything, right down keeping a spare hanky in his pocket.
Inevitably, the groom, or one of his groomsmen, will need it. The groom tends to get real nervous, and it shows, from clammy palms to a big bead of sweat hanging from the tip of his nose.
“The guy is also the one who tends to pass out. He locks his knees while standing rigid, and boom, down he goes. You need to shift your weight to keep from passing out,” explains Hancock. “And everyone should eat during the day.”
As for the bride, she often faces a wardrobe malfunction. Hancock explained how one poor bride's strap to her gown snapped in the middle of the wedding. She had to keep her shoulder cocked at an awkward angle for the rest of the ceremony so her gown wouldn't fall.
Another bride chose a song that was too short for her wedding march. Halfway through her grand stroll down the aisle, the music ended. She had to walk in awkward silence and all the drama was gone. By the time she reached the altar, the silent pressure got to be so great, the fragile bride burst into tears.
Don’t forget the bad behavior of the wedding party. The words “Save Me” written on the bottoms of the groom’s shoes for the entire church to see when he kneels is popular. Or the rowdy groomsmen donning dark sunglasses, against the wishes of the bride. Don't forget the bridesmaid who thinks it's "her" wedding day.
Another challenge? Stairs. A bride and groom, as well as their wedding party, need to have solid footing at all times. This can be a challenge when negotiating steps. Be sure to step on a full step…or else.
Don’t forget the vows. What if you mess them up? Does it count? Are you officially married? What if you don’t kiss? Does that mean you didn’t seal the deal? What if you said, “Yes,” but not “I do” the way you planned? Are you still married? Does it count?
“Yes,” Hancock says with a laugh. “It counts.”
So what can a writer learn from wedding snafus such as these? Besides being good material for stories, the lesson here is that conflicts abound. In your story, you can (and probably should) have several conflicts on many levels.
Try having conflict in a situation, from extenuating circumstances to the weather. Have conflicts between people. Family dynamics and volatile friendships are often tested during a big event like a wedding. Brides having temper tantrums. Grooms behaving badly. Wedding parties lashing out. Family members throwing their weight around, asserting their authority. Even a wedding planner can make trouble bossing everyone around.
When it comes to conflict, think: man against man, man against nature, and man against himself.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at the conflicts that can stem from one simple (fictional) wedding where emotions and tensions run high...
The wedding is about to start. The best man is trying to stop the groom from marrying the bride because he’s in love with her. The bride is a mess because she had drunken sex with the best man last night, who happens to be engaged to her sister. The bride feels unworthy of marriage. Does she even love the groom? But given her delicate condition, what choice does she have but to marry him? The mother is determined to see this marriage through because it means she’ll finally climb the social ladder and be part of a powerful family. The father begs the bride not to go through with it because he doesn’t want to be left alone with his gold digging wife. Besides, he caught her with the best man last night and threatens to tell if she goes through with the wedding. Meanwhile, a storm brews outside, threatening to ruin the outdoor wedding festivities.
Is this so farfetched? Not really. Think back to all the conflicts with the wedding of Charles and Diana. Think about the conflicts during a wedding in your own life. So remember, just like a wedding, a good story comes with its share of conflicts. And just like a wedding, a story has a beginning, middle, and an end…with a “promise” of happily ever after.
But before the “happily ever after” comes, you have the problems, the obstacles, the threats to happiness, and the fears that these story people might not turn out okay in the end. This is what makes the reader worry. It’s what keeps the reader up all night, turning the page. Will these people survive the ordeal? Will they get out of this alive?
After hundreds of pages of making life difficult for these story people, after taking away their options and throwing huge obstacles at them, will they get their just rewards in the end? It’s completely up to you and the kind of story you tell. At the very least, even if your story doesn’t have a proverbial happy ending, make sure it is a satisfying one.