So how do you plot a Mail Order Bride story?
Wanted: A single woman who is willing to walk away from the life she knows to travel across the country or even around the world and marry a stranger. She must be willing to bear his children and take care of their home, all while causing him to grow in his affection for her.
The Mail Order Bride plotline is typically one in which a man living in a Western country, most commonly in the Western United States, marries a woman from a depressed or oppressed country or from the male-deprived East, sight unseen. Personal advertisements for matrimony served as the link between Mail Order Brides and the men who sent for them.
In Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, author Chris Enss retells the stories of real women who responded to the ads of bachelors who had followed the call of land, gold, or the railway out West and found themselves in need of a wife. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan is one of the most popular examples using the Mail Order Bride plotline in fiction. Papa lost his wife and placed an ad in the newspaper. Easterner Sarah Elizabeth Wheaton responded, setting her adventure in the West with the widower and his two children in motion. The classic tale began as a children’s novel and emerged as a popular Hallmark television movie.
Yes, the Mail Order Bride plotline is most commonly seen in nonfiction recordings of history and in historical fiction, but don’t discount its usability for plotting a contemporary story. The 1993 movie, “Sleepless in Seattle,” offered a twist on the classic story template. A motherless boy desperate to help his father find a new wife called into a radio show and told his father’s story of loss and loneliness. Letters flooded his father’s mailbox opening the door to a compelling and heart-warming romance.
My historical novel, Two Brides Too Many, had been in the marketplace less than a week when I received a note from a reader who said she loves Mail Order Bride stories, and that’s what drew her to my story about two sisters who placed ads in a Colorado newspaper. What pulls us as writers and readers toward such a scenario?
Mail Order Brides represent a stalwart breed of women who exude courage, strength, and a sense of adventure. They are women seeking a new beginning, opportunities, and financial security.
You begin with a gutsy woman, young or old, who has a need to be married, but doesn’t have any promising prospects in her current circumstances. Connect her to a possible mate through a response to some sort of advertisement. Then have fun with “what if’s.”
The fellow placing the ad or responding to an ad may end up being the one your heroine marries, but what if he isn’t? What if he isn’t who he purported to be? Or maybe it’s her who wears a façade. Why? And where does the misleading and misgivings take your characters?
In Two Brides Too Many, two of the Sinclair sisters from Portland, Maine arrive at the depot in Cripple Creek, Colorado expecting to meet their intendeds and neither of the men show up to greet them. One eventually marries the man with whom she’d corresponded, but her sister weds another man. What if it’s a third party who initiates the ad as did the son in “Sleepless in Seattle?”
Play with the clash of expectations and reality. And think up twists and turns at every intersection.
Mona Hodgson is the author of Two Brides Too Many, her debut historical novel available exclusively at Walmart Stores until May 2010.
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