Netflix’s latest original, ‘Emily in Paris‘ has garnered a lot of attention, critique, and interest for its premise and fashion. The show is about a marketing executive Emily who relocates to Paris for an American takeover of a French marketing firm. Naive, innocent, and brightly dressed Emily convinces her boyfriend to be in a long-term relationship as she leaves him in Chicago and is excited to move to Paris. What follows is a tale of American arrogance, confidence, innocence, and Parisian drama.
Garish fashion moments aside, Emily In Paris has several lessons writers can learn if they pay attention. Let’s find out!
Learn the Culture
Writers often need to create worlds that either they are too intimate with or have no knowledge of. Like American writers brashly writing about stereotypes, it can be easy to ignore research or perpetuate racial, cultural, social, and gender stereotypes and cliches. Emily, for example, comes to Paris with no knowledge of French and keeps calling Parisian culture or things as ‘weird’ or ‘random.’ When she reaches her apartment which is on the fifth floor, she keeps counting the ground floor as the first, and hence barges into Gabriel’s apartment on the fourth floor. Of course, that is their meet-cute but please don’t be like Emily. Respect other cultures, and just because they are different from yours, doesn’t make them ‘strange.’ If you are writing about other communities, cities, or cultures, try to read about it or interview people who actually belong. Make some effort to build a world that your readers can relate to. Don’t pay superficial homage or mention something just for the sake of mentioning it.
Expand Your Worldview
As amazing as the city is, Emily in Paris painted such a small, overdone picture of Paris. The show didn’t offer anything new in terms of narrative or explore the city as much as it could. It was one dimensional which is a mistake many writers (including me) tend to make in our work. We project our beliefs, opinions, and assumptions on our characters, and forget to draw from reality or expand our horizons. Is your work based in a real city or place? What can you do to give your reader something unique about it? In shows like Sex and The City, Gossip Girl, and Younger, the city (New York) became a protagonist, each episode taking us to a part we haven’t discovered in the same way previously. The place you set your story or characters in shapes them. Have you avoided falling into the pit of cliches or mistakes? Why should I read your book or watch your film if it follows the same map as every movie/book ever made?
Flesh Your Characters Out
Emily is sweet, confident, sassy, and resourceful. But what drives her? Why does she jump at the chance of coming to Paris? Has she always wanted to be a marketing executive? What motivates Gabriel other than cooking? Why is Sylvie keen on never letting any man close enough? The lead characters don’t have enough meat. Their motivations and aspirations are vague, hastily built, and urgently summarized. It is the need to be light and breezy but flesh your characters, please! Talk to them. Why do they have a particular favorite song or a movie? In The Boys Season 2, we finally learn the reason behind Hughie’s obsession with Billy Joel and it gives you a connection, a moment of vulnerability, you understand him, and what fears he has. There is no such moment with Emily. Like Paris, she too is one dimensional. Create a character, a protagonist that the audience feels invested in, committed to, and relates to. How is your protagonist the way he/she is? What lead them here?
I have a lot to say about the fashion choices in the show but I digress. Writers need to research and watch existing shows to understand what works and what doesn’t. It is also a great exercise to rewrite existing shows, draft pitches, or screenplays as a way to test your skills. Many production houses appreciate when writers send them reworkings of an existing television show or movie, like fan fiction, to display their creativity.
This weekend, why don’t you rewrite Emily in Paris, try to avoid the pitfalls, and create something unique and one that is your version of it?
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