I recently watched a movie about a woman whose estranged husband faked his and their son’s death—lost at sea during a storm. Fourteen years later she sees her husband on a friend’s vacation video with their son, now grown up. He runs a diving charter on a Caribbean island so she flies there to get her son back. There’s lots of good tension with the possibility of a hurricane hitting the island in a few days, trouble with the law because she doesn’t have a passport and has lied about losing it, and the fact that the husband and son are gone on a charter and may not be back in time before the law finds out she’s lying and/or the storm hits. To make matters worse she finds out that her husband is the most popular guy on the island—very generous with his time and always helping people out. People consider him a saint. Great set-up for the main character. She’s facing all sorts of problems and could even end up in jail. She only has an old photo of her son at age 3 as proof. She burned everything when she thought they had died. The husband comes back and then takes off alone for another island, leaving the son behind. Perfect chance for the mother to bond with the kid. By now the police have found out she lied about the passport. She tells the officer the truth and he forbids her to say anything to the kid while he checks out her story. But instead of checking it out, he calls the husband and leaves a message about the crazy woman. More tension. Now the husband will soon know she’s on the island. The husband gets the message and tells the kid they have to leave. He’s supposed to close up shop, empty the bank account and meet him on this deserted island. The kid obeys and leaves before hearing that the hurricane has changed course and will soon hit the island. The woman goes after them in a zodiac. Lots and lots of tension now. Will the storm hit before she reaches them? What will the husband do if she confronts him? Would he kill her to stop her from telling the son the truth? What will the son say when he learns his father lied and she’s his mother? Will he be so traumatized that he runs off and is vulnerable to the storm?
What do you think when I tell you that NOTHING HAPPENED?
She makes it to the island and confronts the husband. She takes a swing at him but he captures her wrists and she can’t even sock him in the nose. He deserved at least a good knee in the balls for what he put her through. The son hears the truth and he’s all “You’re my mother? Great.” and “I love you, Dad.” No trauma, no screaming or yelling, beyond the woman’s initial confrontation with the husband. The husband says, “I did a terrible thing but for all the right reasons. I didn’t want him growing up without me.” So it was okay for him to grow up without his mother because that was the lesser of two evils in your mind?
The police have sent a helicopter to pick them up to save them from the storm, but the wife gives the hubby the key to her zodiac so he can take off and not be arrested. I like to think that at least secretly she was hoping he’d die in the storm. No such luck. The film has a few shots of waves hitting a beach and that’s it for the storm. The next to the last scene shows the mother and son at the airport on the way home—all happy and smiley, and the very last scene shows the husband sitting on a rock looking forlornly out over the ocean, the zodiac upside down on the beach. It’s not clear whether he’s stranded on a deserted island or if he made it to a safe harbor through the storm. What I’d really like to know, though, is what the hell happened to the climax? How could the writer set all this up and then not pay off on anything? It blows my mind. Talk about a let down.
If you make promises in your story you better be ready to fulfill them. You can’t set up all this tension and then not have a confrontation. That’s wimpy writing. Don’t be a wimp. And don’t let your characters off lightly. Make them suffer the consequences of their actions.