Photo from my wedding by Matt Mason Photography 2018
We’ve all seen wedding movies. Some focus on the bride, like Bride Wars. Others, the best friend, like Bridesmaids or My Best Friend’s Wedding. Even other family members get to star, like Father of the Bride. In some the wedding ends as planned, with a married couple. In others, the bride or groom is whisked away, in love with someone else. But if you’re writing a wedding story and never planned a wedding, there are some key aspects you’ll miss. Especially if your research is to watch wedding movies, because it’s not like that in real life!
I planned a wedding in 2017/2018, and it went off with just a few tiny hitches. Here are my top tips for writing about weddings.
1. The Entire Bridal Party Doesn't Live Nearby.
Whether it’s the bride’s cousin, the groom’s brother, or friends from college, the entire wedding party is unlikely to live in the same city—let alone state!—as the couple. And this can actually make writing the bridal party easier.
For example, rather than a scene where you introduce five new women at once, you can break it up. Two local, one close enough for bigger planning moments, and two we only see at the shower, bachelorette party, and wedding only. Much more manageable in terms of cast for you to write, and for your reader to keep track of. And more realistic anyway! It’s a three-way-win.
2. Budget Consistency is the Key to Realism
If your bride has to work overtime hours to afford the barn venue she wants, she’s certainly not going to have the eaves dripping in orchids. And if she can afford the trendy downtown loft, she’s not going to only be able to afford a few daisies. Your readers will pick up on this type of strange juxtaposition and it will be distracting. Wedding planning websites like The Knot and Zola have calculators where you enter a budget and it gives you a breakdown of what amount of money is typical to spend for every item. This can help you maintain a consistent budget throughout this fake wedding and give you insight into some of the planning problems you hadn’t considered for your characters to wrangle.
3. The Legal Matters Matter
Something many wedding movies and books fail to address is the marriage license. It varies state to state, even county to county, so look up the laws for your characters’ venue. Yes, the venue location, not where they actually reside. For an international wedding, rules may vary. But often, you need to have that all tied up seven days before the ceremony for things to actually be legal. Including the name of your officiant, in some cases! So, before you decide to have your bride and groom lose their rabbi at the airport, make sure you’ve looked into if this would invalidate the license. Another place for wedding shenanigans is that many licenses require seeing the birth certificates or certified copies of the birth certificates to issue the license. Haven’t seen that played up in a story, but it’s ripe for comedy. Just saying.
4. Trends: To Include or Not To Include
Pinterest is always ready to tell you what’s hot for weddings this year. And next year. And what’s so over. The information is usually conflicting. I’ve seen posts lauding donut walls as God’s gift to weddings. And other posts claiming those donut walls are crawling with germs and the trend can die now. So, do you include a trend in your wedding story? It could date it, but like any contemporary story, it’s bound to be dated by something anyway. What you actually need to consider is if your characters would participate in the latest trends. And if the groom and bride are on opposite sides, who would win? It’s not always the bride, and it’s not always the most assertive person, either. It’s whoever cares more about that particular thing. The groom won’t care about the bridesmaids’ dresses matching or just being in the same color story. But the bride might care less about the types of beer served at the open bar. As you write, you’ll have to figure out who would compromise—or not compromise—and when. Just be sure the wedding reflects the couple’s personalities, to make your wedding story unique!
5. Know the Clichés and Find a New Twist
The bride’s car breaks down on the way to the venue and she’s late! But someone in a quirky vehicle picks her and the bridesmaids up and delivers them. Or maybe the groom is having trouble with his boutonniere but everyone thinks he has cold feet. What a mix up!
No. If it can be fixed with a cell phone, it’s cliché not to fix it with a cell phone. A bridesmaid would order an Uber/Lyft/etc. The groom would text the bride. Honestly, there’s probably a wedding party group chat in which these updates are happening. Any communication snafu better have a really solid reason behind it. And dead cell phones all around—too convenient to ever happen.
Apply this logic to the other wedding story clichés. The cake getting destroyed. The wedding dress is too tight. The bridesmaid and groomsman hooking up in a closet. Whatever you’ve seen in a movie or book before, do it in a new, modern way. Throw the cliché on its head. There will still be chaos, that’s a trope in a wedding story, not a cliché. (The difference being the trope is expected to be there for the genre, but it’s always done in a different way. A cliché is done the same way every time and is no longer exciting.)
6. Watch Out for Dated Traditions
Haven’t planned a wedding in a decade or more? Only seen older movies but never planned on yourself? It’s important to know that a lot of things have changed about how you do things.
Wedding websites are big, they have links to registries, venue info, and guests can even RSVP there. Physical invites usually still go out, but the wedding website has all the info guests need. And photos of the couple too.
Many registries are set up online. Sure, stores still have those fun gun things where you go around and boop items to add them. But Amazon is also extremely popular for registries. The last wedding I attended that didn’t have an Amazon registry happened when I was twelve. Spoiler alert, that’s over a decade ago.
There are lots of great bridesmaids dress websites. From renting to owning, matching to same-color-different-dress to coordinating-colors-and-fabrics-but-no-matching, most of it can be done online. Sure, David’s Bridal is still kind of around (they filed for Bankruptcy last I heard.) I’m sure there’s also an equivalent for groomsmen, although Men’s Warehouse is a solid in-store option.
There will always be that traditional bride and groom who do things old-school, but most modern couples will not do everything exactly how it was done in 1999.
7. Fake-Plan a Wedding
The obvious advice would be to pretend to plan a wedding using The Knot, Zola, or Pinterest. And that’s all well and good. You’ll get lots of great inspiration, see trends, and even get a sense of prices. Read reviews left by real brides on those planning websites to get a sense of what goes wrong. However, this can often be a rabbit hole and may be much more information than you need to write a convincing wedding. Don’t let planning prevent you from getting to the writing.
8. The Stress is Real
Your character is going to stress about the planning process. Most of all the bride, but also the groom. No longer do guests expect every aspect of the wedding to be planned by the bride, so the groom will feel the pressure too. Time limits, finding relatives’ addresses (who has an address book anymore?), items arriving off the internet not matching their descriptions, bridesmaids getting their dresses on time, groomsmen remembering to get fitted, coordinating vendors, and the stress of just making any decision at all. This can spread to anyone helping or anyone in the bridal party who has responsibilities to prep for. There’s a lot of pressure to be Instagram/Pinterest perfect, and older relatives can often make comments too.
Don’t forget to show the stress in how the characters act, not just tell the reader/viewer what’s gone wrong.
Did this help with your wedding themed manuscript or screenplay? Any more advice? Let's talk about it in the comments!