Weddings, funerals, and ritual

From Writer Unboxed: Weddings, funerals, and your novel.

Rituals can hold deep significance in our lives, which is why they can be so powerful in stories. Because weddings and funerals can indicate an important moment of change, many novels open or end with them. The emotional nature of such moments in real life can result in the misperception that the reader will be automatically moved by the inclusion of any such ritual. … [but often] on the page, the wedding … will be of zero interest to your readers

The author of this post is arguing that moving ceremonies, if presented in cliched or overly familiar terms, will bore your readers. This seems partly reasonable to me. The fictional weddings I like have often involved unfamiliar ceremonies that are therefore more interesting (Wrapt in Crystal) or else they have involved excitement and perhaps battles (Kate Daniels). However, for me, familiarity with the characters and emotional investment in their lives also works (Cassandra and Kaoren), which somewhat pushes back against the argument being made in the linked post. For me, a more familiar type of wedding probably wouldn’t work as well at the beginning of a novel or series, whereas at the end, that can work fine.

All right, if you click through to the linked post, you’ll find all the examples are drawn from literary novels. None of this strikes me as especially relevant to anything I want to write (or read). However, the final paragraph of the post still seems like it might contain an idea worth considering:

Don’t let the emotional potential of weddings, funerals, childbirth, or any other scene fool you.  If you mine them for story and find nothing that moves your major characters along their arcs of inner change, there is no need to include them. This is true even if you lead readers to think there will be story, as Amy Poeppel did during the lengthy preparations for the nuptials of an octogenarian couple at the end of her novel Musical Chairs, in which it turned out the preparation was the story. If you write the scene and find no story, skip the wedding and pick up at the reception, as Poeppel did, or at the next important story point.

Maybe? How about in an epilogue, and now I’m thinking of AKH’s Gratuitous Epilogue, obviously. That worked for me. Did that wedding move Cassandra or Kaoren or both along an “arc of inner change?” You know, maybe it did, in a way. A quiet way, not a gosh-wow way, but still.

The question about weddings and how (and whether) to put them in novels has been on my mind a bit. Should I or shouldn’t I put a wedding at the end of SILVER CIRCLE? I mean, provided the relevant characters survive. Wouldn’t want to hand out a plot-spoiling guarantee about anybody for sure living to the end.

I do know pretty much who is definitely going to survive for sure. What I’m less certain about is whether any weddings, if one or more occurs, should take place in SILVER CIRCLE, in an epilogue, or off stage. I don’t have to decide that till I get there, and I probably won’t.

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6 thoughts on “Weddings, funerals, and ritual”

  1. What I found most engaging about Cassandra and Kaoren’s wedding was mostly related to the children: the adoption, how Ys liked her dress, how Sen reacted to her siblings being official. Also the preparation: how it developed Cass’ relationship with her mother-in-law, and how Rye got overwhelmed and got help. So I think it was relevant to the development of the characters and their relationships, just in the low key way that is appropriate to an epilogue.

    I also enjoyed the wedding in Wrapt in Crystal for its unique traditions.

    The funerals in the LMB’s world of the 5 gods are always interesting because of the animals and what they reveal about the dead character.

  2. Obviously there’s no way of ending the series without including the long-anticipated wedding of Grayson and Raichlen!

  3. You know when a character in a book is supposed to be a really good poet or songwriter, and then some lines from a poem/song are included, and it’s actually kind of a bad poem/song, and then you cringe and get thrown out of the story a little?

    I think wedding scenes can easily go like that – there’s a skill to designing poignant rituals and ceremonies, and it’s a little different from regular prose story telling. Most of the failed wedding scenes I can think of didn’t work because the scene was supposed to be serious and moving but it just wasn’t a very good wedding. In real life, I might still be emotionally moved by a mediocre ceremony because of my emotional connection to the people getting married, but in a book, that threshold is higher, and I don’t want to spend time on the details of the ceremony unless it’s actually a good ceremony.

  4. Kate, that’s a really good comparison! I will try to appreciate the poem or song, though, because as a reader I really like poems and songs in novels.

  5. I always enjoy the part of Rachel’s books where the king is pronouncing judgement, or giving rewards— it’s always formal, always moving, and always satisfying. I agree, sometimes weddings can be disappointing. Kaoren and Cassandra’s wedding was not, but the wedding at the end of Four Kings was pretty lame, in my opinion. That whole book missed the mark, for me.
    Mira Lyn Kelly wrote a contemporary romance novel called ‘May the Best Man Win’ and the romance is centered around a bunch of weddings. Not all of her books are great, but that one really is.

  6. Thank you, Alison!

    I fear that the wedding at the end of Four Kings felt like a complete afterthought to me. Also, alas, but yes, the first book was far more satisfying for me than the second, though I still did like the second.

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