What Would the Boss Do?
TO WIN, DARLING, WE MUST BREAK
I was working on a chapter in my scene writing book about how to avoid cliches and I was thinking about how much I hate it when a story brings the most obvious next thing.
If I am listening to a bad rock song, I want to bang my head, when I hear a moment like this in the lyrics:
Tonight, tonight, baby, you are going to make me feel...
Hmm? What could possibly be the next word? "...that my creative talent is slight"?
We listen to stories -- and yes, I rock songs are stories -- because we want to be surprised. Without creativity, change and surprise, we might as well all just plug our headphones into a metronome. Variable speed, of course.
There is a really simple song from Working on a Dream, Bruce's last album, a three-chord rocker called My Lucky Day.
It starts out with these two lines:
In a room where fortune falls
On a day when chance is all
And the chorus includes:
When I've lost all the other bets I've made, Honey, you're my lucky day
Later, a verse begins with these lines:
I've seen strong hearts give way
To the burdens of the day
And later, a line begins like this
But to win, darling, we must ...
The final word rhymes with "day," right? We have been talking about gambling and relationships as a game of chance, right? So the final word must be "play," Right?
EEEEHHNNNNT (my onomatopoeic sound for a buzzer to signify a wrong guess)
It could be that. We can expect that. But Bruce breaks the cliche and completes the line with a twist:
To win, darling we must PAY.
It's surprising. And it plays off our expectation and comes organically from the set up arena of gambling and games.
And it brings us a new thematic strand. The clever reversal -- that subtracts one letter from the cliche -- takes us from looking at relationships as a product of luck and chance to that idea that they are actually the product of hard work.
If you see The Fighter, checkout how much power and meaning it creates merely by twisting sports movie cliches.
Here is My Lucky Day: