Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plot Happens in Vegas...

A few days ago, I promised to write about the Get-Drunk-and-Wake-Up-Married storyline, or as I call it, the Vegas Plot.

My new WIP is set primarily in Vegas, and for the longest time I didn't connect my love of cheesy strangers-getting-married-plots to my need to set the book there. After all, my hero and heroine already know each other before traveling to Sin City (they don't like each other, but they know each other). Given their reasons for visiting Vegas, I doubt they'll be hitting the craps tables and winding up at an all-night wedding chapel. And yet...

And yet, when you want to take two all-business characters and force them to get a little freaky, there's no better spot to set your story than Vegas. And not just in books or movies, as the perennial appearance of flicks like What Happens in Vegas or The Hangover prove. This year's summer pop hit (Katy Perry's "That's What you Get For Waking up in Vegas") bears a striking resemblance to last year's summer pop hit (Carrie Underwood's "I Don't Even Know His Last Name").

To bring things back to the realm of literature, Vegas operates in our cultural mythology like the forest in a Shakespearean comedy. In plays like As You Like It and (most notably) A Midsummer Night's Dream, characters leave the city and enter the forest, where they don disguises and alternate identities, where they experiment with different lovers and try on new relationships, where they reorder their place in world. It's an experience at turns jarring, confusing, exhilerating, freeing, and confining. When the characters leave the forest--after one long night or several long years--they return to their accustomed places in society and resume their usual relationships. But they bring something of their experience in the forest with them--a sense of the possibilities for anarchy and change that exist even in the most ossified institutions and rigid identities.

Doesn't that sound just like Vegas in 21st-century America? A confined and separate place where constrained and contained people can give free rein to the elements of themselves unallowable in their ordinary lives. A place where the promise that "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" allows for the kind of role playing the hero or heroine of a Shakespearean comedy would recognize as his or her birthright.

Of course, for contemporary writers, the real interest comes not with the loosening of morals in the secret, sacred space of Vegas. We can see unrestrained ids on display every night of the week on reality tv. For us, the more interesting question is, "What Happens When Vegas Doesn't Stay Put?" When the Forest of Arden invades the court? Or when you wake up married in Vegas and have to go back to work in Cincinnati?

And then there's the biggest benefit of all to the Vegas-set story: Research trips!

If you're a writer-- what locations inspire you most? And since we're all readers-- do you love stories set on cruises? In European locations? In small towns? What kind of setting grabs you...and why?


Kate Diamond said...

Vegas as Shakespearean forest = awesome. Love it!

As for settings, I'm not sure. The only "big city" setting I tend to love is London. I rarely enjoy a contemporary set in, say, New York City. I think this has less to do with the setting, though, and more to do with the character relationship. (As previously discussed, I love second chances romances. I also love any romance where they have some sort of prior relationship, even if it's just as friends... and those kinds of romances don't tend to be set in big cities.)

Shelli Stevens said...

What Happens in Vegas is one of my fave movies. And the Hangover was a riot. I love the wakeup married plots. They're a lot of fun!