Hurts so Good: Anatomy of the Grovel
What is it that’s so satisfying about a good grovel?
That moment when the hero, usually, but sometimes the heroine, acknowledges they’ve gotten it wrong, mucked up, blown it, and realise it’s all on them to make things right.
It’s that last ditch, bended knee, prostrate moment where the stakes are spectacularly high and the act of I’m sorry please forgive me, plays out from the depths of despair, with serious consequences for the happy ever after.
Think the final scene of When Harry Met Sally, when Harry expounds on what he loves about Sally and she responds with, “I hate you,” and she so clearly doesn’t. Or Pat’s letter to Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook where he makes her cry in the middle of the street. Or Patrick singing Can’t take my eyes off of you to Katarina in 10 Things I Hate About You.
The grovel happens at the very point in the story when the couple is done for, their relationship ripped apart, their chance of making it dashed.
It’s the moment we almost drop the book in the bath, fling the e-reader at a wall, out of sheer frustration, because this is it. The entire weight of the story comes down to the effectiveness of the grovel.
Of course it’s also the moment where you can’t stop reading because you have to know how it’s going to go, and a grovel gone wrong means the whole story is doomed.
It’s the pre-grovel moment where the reader’s heart is most at risk. And not because you know the grovel is coming, but because of the innate fear it won’t be good enough. It can’t be some weak namby-pamby I’m sorry. It can’t be some half hearted why don’t we give it a second shot.
It has to be Jack Colton’s and his big boat parked outside Joan Wilder’s apartment in Romancing the Stone, Edward Lewis in the open top of his limo in serenading Vivian Ward on her fire escape in Pretty Woman, or Jerry McGuire with his “You complete me,” to Dorothy Boyd.
It has to have us at hello.
Which is another way of saying it has to be heroic. A perfect combination of self awareness and soul bearing delivered at exactly the right pitch, in the most trying circumstances. At the point of grovel there is a huge chasm of loss over which the party in the wrong throws a bridge made of all the deepest, most painful truths to the wronged party and then hopes like hell they’ll cross it.
It might be done with humour, with anger, with tender reluctance or hopeless fatalism. And with no expectation of success. Whatever the emotion, it’s in full flight, because only the most passionate appeal has any chance of making it.
The very worst thing one of my beta readers can say to me is that I’ve mucked up the grovel. Because if I get a make him work harder, comment back then I know I’ve loused up the most important heartbeat of the whole story. Here are some snippets of grovels I hopefully didn’t muck up.
In Detained, billionaire Will Parker uses journalist Darcy Campbell to keep a secret that could ruin his reputation. It’s a secret that could make Darcy’s career. She figures out what’s going on, but by that stage she’s fallen for him.
“He’s a deceiving, rotten, duplicitous bastard. He tricked me into doing this.”
“That would be my brother you’re talking about.”
“That would be the man I love. How much trouble is he in now?”
Will was in a lot of trouble and he needed A class grovelling from inside a police interview room.
Will turned back to face her. “I used to be at my fighting weight when I was alone.” He had one hand shoved in his coat pocket, the other fisted at his side, keeping them still while he stirred the air with his words. “That’s how I did best, when I was accountable to no one but myself and Pete. It was a very good life. But you screwed with that.” He stepped towards her, and it took all her energy to hold her ground.
“You got in my head, and you made me dream about different things, not ore and steel and making money, but acceptance and laughter and love. And you. Always you, when I didn’t even understand what I was dreaming.”
She sighed as understanding blossomed
“And if that’s not ruin enough, you’ve wrecked my desire to play maverick. I’m going to do this right and the setting is, well for us, it’s perfect.” He went down on one knee.
In Floored, undercover cop, Sean and chauffeur Cait, fight about her role helping in a police sting. Sean warns her off, but no one tells Cait what to do. Furious, Sean storms off. His dramatic grovel takes place in the form of a one man hostage rescue operation during which he takes a bullet and nearly loses his life.
There was movement amongst the bikers and then she saw him in the faint filtered light from the verandah. Sean. Alone. Feet planted wide, arms open to show he had no weapon. He was utterly surrounded. Defenceless. He was going to get himself killed.
Sean has to do some minor grovelling about that before the story ends.
He pulled himself together enough to take her hand and put it over his heart. “We’ll always be here,” then move their joined hands to her heart. “And here.” She sighed and he caught it on his tongue before he went on. “When it’s good, when it’s bad, when it’s forty-four flavours in between. You’re going to love me when I forget to be considerate, and I’m going to love you when you forget to trust me and that’s for always.”
In Getting Real and Hooked on a Feeling, it’s the heroines who do the grovelling. Getting Real’s Rielle Mainline is a rock star with a bad attitude who skipped out on her romance with roadie Jake Reed. When she comes back to town having sorted her life out, Jake doesn’t want to know her. She’s forced to carve out her heart in front of him to get him to accept an apology.
Rielle opened her eyes and stepped forward. Jake was right there in front of her. He was real, not a memory. She could touch his beautiful body again. She spread her hand gently across his ribs and accepted his flinch as a reprimand.
“You told me and you showed me, you loved me totally, completely.” She thought he might step away again but he held her eyes. “And I did the most fucked up thing I’ve ever done in my adult life. I threw that love in your face and I ran and I did it because I thought I was doing right by you.”
In Hooked on a Feeling, Gayle rejects Ray’s offer of marriage. It’s 1975 and she’s not ready to settle into a new marriage so soon after the failure of her last one. She wants to explore being free and independent. Except she realises Ray and his daughter Kim are the best things that have ever happened to her and her son, Dean.
Gayle bares her heart and her hopes to Ray in a desperate attempt to cool his anger towards her and get a second chance at love:
She let a breath out; let a wish in. “I love you, Ray. I love you so much it scared me. I’ve never felt this way. I didn’t trust it, thought it was only physical. What happened at the quarry was an excuse to push you away. I should’ve trusted you, talked to you.”
He shook his head, his arm slapping against his side in frustration. “I don’t understand.”
“I want another chance for us.” She wanted to fuse her life with his.
“What does that mean?
It meant everything, but it was in his hands. “I don’t know. I hurt you.”
Ray was still, his head down, while all around them was suburban chaos. Nev was lighting shells and the kids were lining up to chase down the green plastic army man with his white parachute. That’s what she needed now from Ray, a parachute, a softer landing. It was the best she could hope for.
He jerked his chin up, his first real smile emerged. “I’ve had worse.”
What is it that’s so satisfying about a good grovel? It’s the heroic nature of a clash between the ideals and expectations of two different characters. It’s the hurts so good heart of a great romance. The point at which the only thing that matters is the love of the other person, and the only way to get it is total honesty at the risk of utter failure. No wonder it’s addictive.
May all your reads have great grovel.