Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I just called to say....

I was reading James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers (a great book for reading on the pot...but don't tell Mr. Bell please) and came across this gem: you should try to avoid having characters say "I love you." James (can I call him Jim, perhaps?) says your characters should show they love each other rather than every saying it.

Immediately my mind scanned my WIP, which I've been revising for many moons now. Let's see...dee dee dee...yep, oh man, shoot. Right there. Look:

“I have to go,” she said. ....
He stepped forward to pull her against him again. “I love you."
“I love you, too,” she said, meeting his lips. And she did love him. Marrying him might not be the worst thing in the world.

GAH! This is disgusting! This is terrible dialogue and they sound so wooden. He tells her he loves her to stop her from leaving, and she falls for it and volleys it right back like it's nothing. So I changed it to:

“I have to go,” she said. ....
He pulled her against him again. She met his lips and reveled in the chill that danced across her neck as he wound his hand through her hair. Marrying him might not be the worst thing in the world.

To me, this is better because now there's a question as to whether he loves her, and there's opportunity for her to find out whether he does or not. Now, she's thinking about what his status is, and that works for the story well.

Then I skittered ahead to the next questionable part-- the climactic event when my two lovebirds, apart for so long and after overcoming numerous obstacles, have finally met without hindrance. And, oh gross, it's just as bad. My male lead says:

“And anyway,” he said, “this is not really his moment. It’s ours. And barring any further ridiculously stupid interruptions, I’d like to tell you finally how very, very much I find myself in love with you.” 

Ugh! There's no mystery to that! I've just told you everything. Story over. Close the book! It's just boring to read. Not to mention melodramatic. When I removed it, things got much better, fast. Check it:

“And anyway,” he said, “this is not really his moment. It’s ours. And I want to be here with you.”

Then lots of smooching and other fluttery action happens, which demonstrates the characters' growing awareness of their feelings, and realizations of each other's feelings. It just worked so much better. If it didn't work better, well then I guess I would be saying "Ha! Ha, James - Jim - Scott Bell!" but you know that totally wouldn't happen, because that guy is a writing advice genius.

Think about it: isn't it way nicer when your loved one does something to demonstrate how much he or she loves you, rather than just saying it? Mr. Sierra, for example, listens to me. Listens to me! I know because he remembers things I say even when I don't. There are so many nice, loving, considerate things he does for me. He's a great demonstrator of love, but he doesn't say it a lot.

So, agree, disagree? Do your love interests say the words?


MJones said...

I like it when they don't, but some chapters call for really mushy moments when nothing but the words will do. I agree that too much is just ridiculous. I get much more pleasure from showing that two people love each other than having them say it.

Nicole Ducleroir said...

I couldn't agree more, and your personal excerpts prove it. Especially that first one -- damn, it's SO much better without the 'I love you/ I love you back' dialogue. Bravo!

Cathryn Leigh said...

I happen to be one who says "I love you" a lot. Probably my up brining. It's an intriguing thought to not use the phrase in a book.

I'll certainly ponder it while working on my trilogy. Love is a central theme and the word 'love' appears many places (half the time because he calls her 'my love'). 'I love you' appears about five times, and I feel those are cases wehn only the words will do (like MJones pointed out).

Yes, so long as the words are used sparingly and the actions back (or don't back, as the case might be) them up, it's probably good.

:} Cathryn

JEM said...

I LOVE the subtle I love yous (no pun intended) (okay fine pun intended). It's so much more interesting and way sexier when it comes about as a surprise through the things they say and do. Like "wait, did he just admit that he would choose hanging out with me over watching baseball? LOVE!"

Sarah Allen said...

Interesting! I actually don't think they do. For some reason I've always been against it in my writing, and now I know why. That seems like a great book to read.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

DL Hammons said...

In REAL have to say the words! It doesn't matter how much you demonstrate your love, it doesn't mean squat unless you say the words. I understand the writing point, but you can actually do both. :)

Travener said...

Can I quote this guy when the spousal unit demands to know why I don't say "I love you"?

When they took off his hood in the van that was taking him home, the first thing he saw was Julia looking up into his eyes.
He took her hand and pressed it to his lips.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you, too," she said.

Sorry, I like it. In context, it's not gooey. Both these characters were emotional train wrecks. The fact that they can aspirate the words "I love you" means something.

Call me a hopeless romantic.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

I myself am not a sayer of those words. After nearly 10 years with my now-wife, I can occasionally spit it out to her. But that's neither here nor there....

I really like both of the changes you made, Sierra, because they illustrate so well how less can be more in our writing.

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