From the beginning, screenwriter Scott Neustadter said “(500) Days of Summer” was not a love story. To celebrate the movie’s opening in the UK, Scott penned an article this week for the Daily Mail titled, “Revenge is Writing a Film About the Girl Who Dumped You.” In it, he dishes about his failed relationship with Jenny Beckman. Remember the disclaimer in the opening credits? “Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you, Jenny Beckman. Bitch.” Scott is still pleading the fifth about whether or not his ex’s real name is Jenny Beckman. I hope for her sake, it’s not.
But something in his essay really struck me. He says that writing the movie, a thinly veiled account of his doomed relationship with Jenny, actually felt good.“Reliving every moment of my bitter-sweet, one-sided romance was a cathartic experience for me,” he says. “Thanks to this script and the process of writing it down, I was able to liberate myself from my own misery.”
His words made me stop and ask: Was this movie an act of self-therapy or an attempt at sympathy-seeking?
This got me thinking because, while there are many different ways to deal with the end of an important relationship (especially when you’ve been dumped), for me, my way of coping is the same as Scott’s—I write about it. And are my motivations always genuine? I have to admit that it didn’t really occur to me that I might be violating someone’s privacy until I wrote the piece “Is Soul Mate-ism Preventing Us From Finding True Love?” and my father called to ask if one guy in particular would be upset that I used his name. “I don’t give a crap what that jack wad thinks!” I shot back.
After the words came out of my mouth, I had an Oprah-worthy aha moment. I was writing about him for the wrong reason … revenge. I had mentioned his real name hoping he would read it and feel just a wee-bit bad. Ack. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be. So I decided right then that I needed to make some rules about writing about my exes.
- Wait to write about them until I no longer want sympathy and can be neutral in divulging the dirty details.
- If it’s someone I’m in contact with, let them know that I’m planning on writing about them beforehand.
- If it’s someone I’d rather eat dirt than talk to, change their name and identifying details, unless they are vital to the story.
- Present my story bumping up against theirs and refrain from judgment. Readers are smart—let them form their own opinions about the guy.
Here’s a funny anecdote from Scott’s essay. Turns out that after he wrote the screenplay, he got together with Jenny for the first time since their big breakup and gave her a copy of “(500) Days of Summer” to read. He says, “Some time later she wrote me a letter. She loved the story, she said. It had surprised and moved her because she really related to Tom. Yes, incredibly, Jenny hadn’t recognized herself as Summer at all.”
So what do you think? Is it OK to write about an ex for revenge?