I’m a devoted “women’s fiction” reader. And occasionally, I’ll dabble in YA. So I like to consider myself a literary love expert. That is, I recognize when it’s about to develop, between whom, when the inevitable split will happen, and when they’ll make up. I’m not shortchanging this formula. I actually used something very similar for my own book.
The reason most love stories use this is because it works.
People will often, and loudly, try and discredit something the moment it becomes popular. Sure, we all kind of make fun of romantic comedies, and sure, “Chick Lit” and the like gets a beating as well. But do you think authors would keep using the boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love-screws-up-makes-right equation if readers didn’t fall for it each and every time?
But what I’m looking at today is what authors do differently when it comes to love stories. Primarily, how they show two characters falling in love. Unlike movies, where we can watch the sideways glances and looks of utter adoration, novels only give us dialogue and narrative pieces.
It’s interesting, though. Oftentimes, the reader infers the love. Take the Twilight saga for example. We really don’t see (and by see, I mean read) Edward and Bella getting to know each other, going on dates, and having the many other firsts that couples go through. Instead, Meyers tells us that they’re instantly drawn to each other, and Edward is basically high on Bella’s scent, which comes down to them being in love. They have the one date in the restaurant, before she knows he’s a vampire, and then once he admits it, they’re already in love. But why? How?
How can readers possibly believe this when there was really no context—no scenes of them interacting beyond angsty frustration? But then again, what are “scenes of two people falling in love”?
Then there’s Nicholas Sparks. I’ve only read two of his novels, one of which is “The Lucky One”. As far as showing the development of love, Sparks soared over Meyers. Logan has already begun falling before he even meets Beth, since he credits her photo to saving his life while at war. To me, this is a believable reason to be drawn to someone, and if said person is attractive, love could easily be around the corner.
But the reader gets more interaction between Beth and Logan, like every-day mundane conversations, which never really feel mundane when you’re attracted to someone. Logan sees Beth often while he works at the dog kennel, and he sees her in her natural environment, working as a mother and a dutiful daughter to her mother. He’s seeing her life. Again, the reader then infers that what he’s doing at the same time is falling in love with her.
So writers, how do you show two people falling in love? Do you describe multiple dates? Do you jump into the characters’ heads and tell the reader that they’re falling in love? Do you show it physically?
Here’s another example. I recently read the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series. Since it started out as Twilight fanfiction, there are many similarities, one of which is the implied love. The most you get is Ana’s reaction every time she sees Christian, but because it’s first person, you never really know what Christian is thinking, only what Ana assumes. They go on a couple dates that really act more as business negotiations, and before you know it, Ana is head over heels with “her fifty.” And as a reader, I assumed Christian felt the same way about Ana, even if he didn’t say it. I assumed because he was sticking around. He wasn’t off with other women. He was always where Ana wanted him to be. Is this literary love?
How other authors showed love:
Jodi Picoult “Keeping Faith”:
Mom falls in love with the t.v. host. I know this because she lets him see aspects of her life no one else gets to witness, she trusts him around her child, and she confides in him. He loves her because he sacrifices aspects of his career to protect her, trusts her with his own guarded secrets, and goes out of his way to help her win custody of her child.
Stephanie Kallos “Broken for You”:
The main character is almost constantly mentally disheveled. The man walks her to her car every night, in routine. He gives her “looks” she misinterprets. He takes care of her after a car accident, waits idly by while she figures out what she wants, and he builds her a damn elevator!
Sara Gruen “Water for Elephants” (Easily in my top 3 most-beloved novels):
Jacob is instantly attracted to Marlena (a factor to falling in love). He’s captivated by her performances and lusts after her—until he sees August’s (Marlena’s husband) violent streak—then it all changes. He does everything he can to protect her, putting his own life at risk, congruently, he does the same for Rosie the elephant. Consequently, Marlena sees Jacob’s loving behavior toward the elephant, and she sees all the qualities that August lacks: compassion, love, and understanding.
What do you want to show your readers? If the love story is at the heart of your novel, how do you want to convey it? Depending on the POV, you can let the characters’ reactions to each other tell the reader. You can simply say, “They’re inexplicably drawn to each other.” You can show them going on multiple dates and slowly getting to know each other.
Ultimately, what’s amazing with novels is that readers don’t need a lot of handholding. When they interpret a story, it’s usually spot on with the author’s message. If it’s supposed to be a love story, the reader will know that, and they’ll read into every look and sexually frustrating moment in a way that will progress the characters forward without you having to say “and now they’re in love.”
Fiction is just that—fiction. Readers are more easily willing to believe that two people are meant to be based on one scene than they would be in their usually skeptical lives. But as the author, show the reader respect by giving her some context, something to point to and say “Why yes, I would fall in love if someone did that/was that way for me, too.”