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Posts Tagged ‘love stories’

As we continue on in our Valentine’s Day series, I will pick up from where Den left off with what makes or breaks a love story with my take on looove scenes.

First, a brief history of my own looove scene writing: during a grad class, I was given the exhilarating assignment to write not just a love scene, but a full on sexxx scene. The writing was to be confined to roughly 300 words, most importantly, it was to be taken seriously. Furthermore, we had one week to complete it and on that day we were to read them aloud! Those British and their sense of humor, man.

After overcoming the fear of reading something as personal as a sex scene aloud to a group of relative strangers, I discovered that a well-written love scene could do wonders to a story. Now I include love scenes in all of my writing! Outing at the zoo? Love scene. Political rally? Love scene. Dinner with boss? Love scene. (I’m lying.)

But while it’s easy to write a love scene, the difficulty comes in writing a good love scene. This, on the other hand, requires a balance of subtlety (but not too subtle!) and openness (but not too open!) and please, for all of our sake, free from metaphor. (I can only read one line of “her eyes were constellations” before putting the book down.) So, after writing and reading more love scenes, I have decided to browse my book collection to give you a brief list of what I find to be the things that work and don’t work. Here we go:

First, the good.

Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies (1930)

Key passage:

Adam undressed very quickly and got into bed; Nina more slowly arranged her clothes on the chair and fingering the ornaments on the chimney-piece with less than her usual self-possession. At last she put out the light.

            “Do you know,” she said, trembling slightly as she got into bed, “this is the first time this has happened to me?”

            “It’s great fun,” said Adam, “I promise you.”

            […]

            “Anyway, you’ve had some fun out of it, haven’t you… or haven’t you?” [said Adam]

            “Haven’t you?”

            “My dear, I never hated anything so much in my life… still, as long as you enjoyed it that’s something.”

Why it’s so good: Manages to show the typically hormone-driven anticipation of Adam in complete juxtaposition to the pure ennui Nina is feeling in preparation for the task. Furthermore, it’s compounded by her no-holds-bar admission that the entire act was repugnant. It is real and comical and perfect.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

Key passage:

There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room. […] I noticed, in the routine way you notice the color of somebody’s eyes, that Doreen’s breasts had popped out of her dress and were swinging out slightly like full brown melons as she circled belly-down on Lenny’s shoulder, thrashing her legs in the air and screeching, and then they both started to laugh and slow up, and Lenny was trying to bite Doreen’s hip through her skirt when I let myself out of the door before anything more could happen […]

Why it’s so good: The pure grit of a falsified, alcohol-induced potential lovemaking (or love flailing, for that matter) through the eyes of the observer, who happens to be the only observer. Oh, can you feel the awkwardness?

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (2010)

Key passage: (Eh, this one’s a bit more explicit. Children, cover your eyes!)

[Patty is married to Walter but finds herself helplessly in love with his best friend, Richard]

Her new plan called for her to try very hard to forget the night before and pretend it hadn’t happened.

            One thing the new plan can safely be said not to have included was leaving lunch half-eaten on the table and then finding her jeans on the floor and the crotch of her bathing suit wedged painfully to one side while he banged her into ecstasy against the innocently papered wall of Dorothy’s old living room, in full daylight and as wide awake as a human could be. […] This seemed to her, in any case, the first time in her life she’d properly had sex. A real eye-opener, as it were. She was henceforth done for, though it took some time to know this.

Why it’s so good: I’m a huge fan of some real, honest to goodness writing. Anywhere an author can say “banged her into ecstasy” instead of some evasive, wishy-washy, did-they-or-didn’t-they metaphor makes for much, much better writing in my book.

Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad (2010)

Key passage:

Afterward, they lay on the rug for a long time. The candles started to sputter. Sasha saw the prickly shape of the bonsai silhouetted against the window near her head. All her excitement had seeped way, leaving behind a terrible sadness, an emptiness that felt violent, as if she’d been gouged. She tottered to her feet, hoping Alex would leave soon. He still had his shirt on.

Why it’s so good: Oooh, the sting of the devastating after-ness of it all. Egan is amazing at her characterizations, and this passage is a perfect example. The reader can feel the emotion of Sasha, can be enveloped in the banality of her experience. Furthermore, ending the section on “He still had his shirt on” is, to me, the only way to end. How casual! How blatantly unromantic! How true-to-life depressing!

Now, the bad.

It should be noted that while I’ve read the following books, I have since given them away (I like to donate books that I know I will never in my lifetime read again), so I’m doing this on memory.

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940)

Why it sucks: My experience with this book was that on the whole I didn’t dig it, but the love scenes were particularly bad. They followed the rules of precisely the things I don’t like: most particularly, evasiveness. JUST GET TO THE POINT. The passage that sticks out in my mind the most is this moment when Robert Jordan and the young fling, Maria, find themselves in a sleeping bag outside of the cave/compound/thing. They are freezing (because it’s snowing, and they are lying in it) so Robert Jordan gets this girl to snuggle with him (probably nakey), thought nothing is really said of what they are doing, more or less implied. This is even more frustrating because of Robert Jordan’s incessant gloating of his sexual prowess throughout most of the initial pages (initial being the first 300 pages; this is Hemingway, after all). Points for getting the girl into your sleeping bag in a snowstorm instead of the much dryer, much more practical cave, Robert Jordan, you devil.

How it can be improved: Less dancey-dance, more to the point. Just tell us what’s going on. We’re all adults here.

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)

(I know I’ll get some shit for this, let me say that I didn’t hate the novel, and I see where the feminist principles in it lie and yes it was ahead of its time etc., etc.)

Why it sucks: The scene I recall for this purpose is directly after Mr. Rochester throws himself into a state of marriage proposal to Jane, despite having just told her of his betrothed status to a one Blache Ingram. My issue is the language used in the scene and directly after, where while we as the reader are sure that nothing actually happens between the two, Brontë uses language as a tool for seduction. I would find this more effective if the obvious thing actually had occurred. Observe the following key lines as examples. Emphasis made on the most euphemistic. They are all taken from the same scene:

“Come to me—come to me entirely now,” said he; and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, “Make my happiness—I will make yours.”

And if I had loved him less I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage; but, sitting by him, roused from the nightmare of parting— called to the paradise of union—I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow. Again and again he said, “Are you happy, Jane?” And again and again I answered, “Yes.”

But what had befallen the night? The moon was not yet set, and we were all inshadow: I could scarcely see my master’s face, near as I was. And what ailed the chestnut tree? It writhed and groaned; while wind roared in the laurel walk, and came sweeping over us.

“Hasten to take off your wet things,” said he; “and before you go, good-night—good-night, my darling!”

Mr. Rochester came thrice to my door in the course of it, to ask if I was safe and tranquil: and that was comfort, that was strength for anything.

How it can be improved: Either tantalize me with words and have some sort of actual love scene, or don’t do it at all. Plus, it’s borderline metaphorical / symbolic. How you lead me on, Ms. Brontë!

Stephanie Meyer, Twilight: Breaking Dawn (2008)

Why it sucks: My frustration with this has nothing to do with Bella falling for a vampire (I encourage dating outside of one’s race!) and everything to do with Meyer’s frustrating insistence that Bella and Edward mustn’t have “relations” before they’re married, so much so that when it finally does happen, the author uses blatant agenda pushing themes at how beyond wonderful the whole thing is.

How it can be improved: Make it a bit more realistic? If the two are going to wait until marriage, fine, but at least let’s discuss the overall awkwardness and their more than likely incompatible sexual chemistry, instead of impossibly over-the-top metaphors. I realize this is a vampire story, but sex is still sex.

Every Romance Novel Ever Created

Why it sucks: This goes without saying based on what I’ve already mentioned I hate about bad love scenes. Metaphorical? Check. Symbolism? Check. Fabio-type of man dressed as a Native American set to pose as the sex symbol meant to get our loins warm? Check, check, check, and check.

How it can be improved: I offer no reasonable suggestion. People love this stuff.

If you’ve stuck with me until the end of this, I thank you. My opinions are in no way concrete facts nor should they be the way you choose to write your own love scenes. If you agree with me, however, you’re a gem.

Alisha, a.k.a. HettieJones, is a writer living in Philadelphia, PA. Look for her short story, “The Letter,” in the upcoming Anthology Philly. You can follow her @alishakathryn. All reasons as to why she was wrong in the above post can be left below in the comment section.

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The Greatest Love

Story Ever Told

(in My Opinion)

by Dennis Finocchiaro

Love stories come and go. Most anyone can say they cried reading The Notebook. And let’s face it, The Princess Bride is probably the actual greatest love story ever told, or we can at least agree to disagree. But whenever I think of true love, I think of a small segment of my favorite book of all time, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Of course, these days, everyone has heard of the book because it’s now a movie, or they’re just finding out the movie is based on a book as they read these words. Surprise! (This surprise is only for the misinformed, and I doubt that includes people who end up on this blog). But no, while this book is about the love between a mother and son and in no way romantic, a story within the story is the absolute purest form of love ever created.

I am writing about, of course, the fairy tale Oscar’s dad tells him, of The Sixth Borough.

In this tale, there was once a sixth borough of New York, an island that nobody remembers. Every year they had a big party, the climax being when a man famous for jumping would jump the small amount of water between NYC and this sixth borough. Once year, he finds he can’t make it across. And the next, he jumps and lands in deeper water. At first, the people think the logical: the jumped is getting old. But he insists he has not lost any of his jump (haha) and so they measure the distance only to find that the island is moving away from New York City.

And, of course, this doesn’t sound romantic at all, does it? The story continues past this celebration to two children, a boy and a girl, who are in love. The boy lives in the sixth borough and the girl across the small amount of water. They chat through cups on a string, which of course is absolutely adorable in and of itself. But as the island escapes the mainland, they have to keep adding to the line.

The string from his yo-yo.

The pull from her talking baby doll.

The list goes on. The two kids slowly destroy everything they love just so that they continue talking until, one day, they realize it’s going to end. The boy asks the girl to say “I love you” into her can and captures the words on his end, sealing the cup and placing it on a shelf so that, to this day, as the sixth borough has ended up in Antartica, “On a frozen shelf, in a closet frozen shut, is a can with a voice inside it.”

Why do I think this is the greatest love story of all time? Maybe I don’t, maybe I just absolutely adore it and couldn’t think of another story that gave me the same feeling as this one. But whenever I think of the sixth borough, I get chills. I even went to NYC once and took pictures that reminded me of the tale. Jonathan Safran Foer told a hell of a story in ELIC, but he also made up this fairy tale that made me fall in love with New York and the romantic side of the city. The purity of the love between these two children is described with the diction of a master, and hell, maybe I just have a soft spot for fairy tales.

But then again, there’s always those terrible moments in novels, and let’s face it, not everyone can write a good love story. Vonnegut, for instance, is without a doubt one of my favorite writers. But his stories tended to sway from romance, which was smart. He knew his genre and what worked with his stories; but one of his greatest unrecognized traits was that he avoided what he knew didn’t work. Brilliant. But not everyone is as intelligent as that; ask anyone who reads the Twilight books.

They are my example of romance that doesn’t work for me. And trust me, it’s not the teen angst aspect of the story, I eat that shit up when it’s well-written. But those books were just plain terrible. I know it’s become cliché to make fun of them, but the writing isn’t even any good. Many people ask me how I can love Harry Potter but hate Twilight, and that’s so simple: it’s the writing. J.K. Rowling is one hell of a writer. Her imagery creates moments in my mind out of things that are purely fiction. Like I know what a thestral is, right? But her words describe it and I imagine it. That’s what’s missing from all of the scenes, not just the love scenes, in the Twilight saga.

I can willingly admit I am a fan of a romantic novel. Nick Hornby has written a few that I love. Caprice Crane has, too. But they are artists, working words into stories that grab the reader and pull them in. Twilight just didn’t do that for me. I could never understand Bella’s love for a vampire, nor could I see the attraction. And trust me, I’ve even admittedly read books like The Notebook and A Walk to Remember (would anyone believe me if I claimed they were read for a class?), and as embarrassing as it is, I will admit that I fell in love with the characters. Jamie Sullivan from the latter was written with such a love of life and a purity that I couldn’t help but adore her.

That’s what was missing with Bella Swan and her boys. There was no real reason to care about them, to connect with them or to even want Bella to clearly be with either Jacob or Edward. Readers chose a side with no real reason. Or because they thought one actor was cuter than the other.

So there you have it; I admit, I enjoy a nice, mushy, well-written love story sometimes, but it has to have some literary merit. Is there anything wrong with that?

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Ahh, February. The month of looove. For some, it’s that special time when you curl up with the one you care about (or a book) and whisper sweet nothings to him or her (or it, a book), take him or her out to dinner (or it, the book, though I’ll say, it need not be a special occasion for me to take my book out to dinner). For others, it’s just another month in the long stretch of winter when we’re forced to plan our immediate futures and more importantly, spring shopping, around a groundhog. In some cases, it’s both. (Come onnn February, how can I possibly sit through an extra day of you this year?)

Whether you love it or you hate it, February holds that key day that has the ability to be somewhat fun, but mostly very annoying, all at the same time. You’ve guessed it: it’s Valentine’s Day. In honor of the special looove day, Den and I have teamed up to present something special to you. No, it’s not flowers, or chocolate, or lingerie. Though we thought about it.

Instead, we present to you our first-and-probably-last-ever-edition of: What It Takes To Write A Really Freakin’ Good Love Story (Or Scene), And How (Unfortunately) Possible It Is To Really Suck At It.

Check back Monday and Tuesday for Parts 1 and 2 of our series, as Den tackles the beautiful, sappy, mushy love, and I go in for, well, the other stuff.

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