All You Need Is Love! …Seriously

24 Feb

THIS IS NOT JUST FOR ROMANCE WRITERS

by Biljana Likic

~~~

If there’s anything I’ve learned from acting and studying drama, it’s that if you can’t find the love in the scene, it will be boring.

“But wait! What does acting have to do with writing?!”

More than you might think.

Actors, they say, are the ultimate explorers of the human condition. They study how people live and react, carefully reading over their scripts, sometimes coming up with whole histories to explain why a character might say something. They create lives out of a few words of text and put them on display for others to take in.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that sort of like what writers do? Don’t writers also create characters, tell us what they’re like; what they do? The only real difference, it seems, is that writers write it, and actors act it.

Going to an art school, studying drama, the most constant, most helpful piece of advice I got was, “Find the love in the scene.” Why love? Nothing creates more conflict than that one, often stupid, never dull emotion. Everybody at some point in their lives has been loved, or experienced love. Whether it is motherly care, crazed infatuation, or even just patriotism, love is a universal human trait that is biologically ingrained in us from the get-go.

“But it can’t be that important in writing!”

It is. Think about it; the man loves the woman, the woman is indifferent. Oh great, that’ll take you to about…page two. But. The man loves the woman, and the woman is not indifferent, and, in fact, loves him back, but pretends not to love him because he is forbidden…well, now. That is a story. And on stage, that woman would make little actions, do small motions to show the man that even though she’s not looking at him, she’s thinking about him constantly; and even though they’ll never be together, they’ll always have their subtle passing touches.

It is up to the writer to mimic this. Actors, put simply, imitate life. Writers, then, need to do their best to put that imitation into words: to show us body language through incredible imagination. We need to hear the voice, we need to see the movement; you can’t just relay what was said, you have to describe the reactions. You have to show how much they love each other and we have to realize that their hearts are breaking through a flush of embarrassment, a turn of a wrist, a sudden fascination with the texture of the floor. Find the love in the scene.

At this point, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “But why not hate?”

Because hate is narrow. There are so many places that love can take you that an emotion like hate never will. The reason is because love can be thwarted; hate can’t. You can live your whole life hating somebody, and all you’d have to do would be to either stay away from them, or kill them (preferably the former.) But to love takes a certain brand of courage or recklessness because nobody can guarantee that it’ll be requited. You can end up miserable for life.

On stage, the direction “to hate” is never better than “to love”. The question shouldn’t be what don’t you like but what do you like. What you don’t like will then come naturally. If a character loves being neat, you can assume that they’d hate being sloppy. Then, you can build on that by creating a slob of a romantic interest. And thus is conflict born.

So now that I feel like I’ve drilled that point in sufficiently, I thought I’d share some other things that I’ve learned in drama class that have helped me a lot with writing stories. These are some questions that actors usually ask themselves when they’re on stage. They can be, with some modifications, applied effectively to creative writing.

Here we go:

  1. What do you want? A character always wants something. If they don’t, they have no purpose, and the story becomes stale. What does the character want to happen? How can they make it happen? Think about real-life experiences, or even movies and plays that you’ve seen. Seriously, they can help.
  2. Why did you move? One of the biggest things in acting is action. (Go figure.) But there has to be a reason for action. Why did the character walk to the left instead of the right? Something that my drama teacher loves to say is that you’re either moving away from somebody, or towards somebody, depending on what you want. Don’t make your character do things without a reason.
  3. Why did you say that? If an actor doesn’t know why they said a line, it’ll be confusing for the audience as well. There has to always be a reason for dialogue. Even if it’s something the character blurts out, you as the author need to know why they did it; they’re nervous because they’re talking to a person they like, or they weren’t listening to what someone was saying and wanted to appear as if they were. Don’t put in a line of dialogue without knowing why it’s there.
  4. Find the love in the scene! I know, I know. Not a question. But I can’t stress this enough!

And this is my final plea: don’t shirk away from love just because it can be mushy. Embrace it, and there is no end to the stories that can happen. In fact, I challenge you, reader of this article, to find me a story that had zero love in it, written before today. And it has to be fiction. Don’t start telling me about how there’s no love in a chemistry textbook. I don’t like chemistry either, but I’m afraid that won’t cut it.

I’ll even raise the stakes. There will be a prize. One postcard from Toronto, Canada, addressed to you from me, expressing how humbled I feel to have been proven wrong. Or, you know, a couple chapters’ critique of a WIP of yours. Whichever.

Take care, everyone. Thanks for reading. And the winner of that challenge, if there is one, will leave me feeling deeply impressed.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.

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25 Responses to “All You Need Is Love! …Seriously”

  1. svonnah February 24, 2010 at 8:13 AM #

    I think you’ve discussed an ideal that I adore as a concept, but am far too lazy to actually follow in real life. I love the idea of actors needing to know why every single line is included in the play, but I’ve been thinking about how it applies to writing, and I think that because writing can communicate internal emotions more easily that our dialogue has less meaning, in some works.

    • gabydasilva February 24, 2010 at 11:03 AM #

      I agree to some point here – in narrative, dialogue carries less importance than it does in teather. However, as a teacher of mine would say, that means that we have to be careful not only about our dialogue but about every single word and sentence we write.

      Why did I write that? How important is it? Does this really need to be explained? Does this merit a paragraph, or should it be explained in a sentence, or a few words?
      Why did I use this word? This verb? This adjective? Why did I write these words in this order, what effect would altering the usual order have?

      It’s tiring. Very much, and I can’t say I did it for every line in my novel – but I get the feeling that many of our greatest authors do. A good place to see this is minimalist fiction – Raymond Carver, for instance.

      • svonnah February 24, 2010 at 11:36 AM #

        I’m a huge fan of minimalism but I feel so young and inexperienced so as to not be capable of that. My hope right now is that I can develop as a writer to a point where I can carry off that minimalism with as much elegance as the greats. Excellent comment.

      • Biljana February 24, 2010 at 12:34 PM #

        I agree with both of you. I think you can, in narrative be a little lazy about dialogue, but I do think that, especially in short stories and shorter novels where you only have so much space to slam your point home it’s extremely important to be picky and thorough. In an epic though, you have a lot more space. If you can answer all the questions gabydasilva mentioned, then WOW you’ve done your research, and it’s bound to be phenomenal, but if you can just answer most, then it should still be okay.

  2. Armith-Greenleaf February 24, 2010 at 10:54 AM #

    Hello!

    Actually, I do this already. I always found it kind of weird, to be fair, that I seem to act the character in my head before writing it. Sometimes I even unconsciously move as if I’m doing what they’re doing (this is when I’m in the planning stage of whatever work I’m doing at the moment), and for that reason I never get stuck when I’m writing their particular scene. I get into the character myself- for real.

    The only possible drawback is when I’m not sure whose pov a scene belongs to; but after I figure this out, I’m good to go.

    And now that I think about it, no one else knows I do this. Hmm…

    Teehee, good luck with that challenge. I don’t have anything to suggest, because I mainly read stories about love itself. =P

    Best Wishes from AG

    • svonnah February 24, 2010 at 11:36 AM #

      Haha, alot of the LTWF contributors act out their work! I know for a fact that Sarah does, and I have some non-LTWF contributors that act out entire scenes before they write them.

      • Rachel S February 24, 2010 at 1:37 PM #

        I also act more work and its usually in totally public places like coffee shops. LOL! I think it really helps get into character and understand the exact motions. 🙂

    • Biljana February 24, 2010 at 12:39 PM #

      It makes things so much easier! I make weird faces when I write, apparently, depending on what’s going on 😛

      And stories about love are totally the most interesting. Like I said, I’ll be SO impressed and somewhat saddened if someone finds me a story without it.

      • Vanessa February 24, 2010 at 5:23 PM #

        I have the habit of sometimes saying things out loud – sometimes before, and sometimes after I write. For the most part I tend to say certain parts of dialogue out loud, but other times, especially if I’m writing in first person, I’ll also say out loud narrative lines.

        I think it helps a lot when I do that!

  3. Rowenna February 24, 2010 at 10:58 AM #

    So true–and love isn’t a narrowly defined emotion that only means “romance.” This going to sound soooo uber-cheesy, but I believe that every life is a love story, in one sense or another. So of course fiction is a love story, too. Not necessarily a romance–romance isn’t the same thing as a love story in my book (or, er, manuscript lol!).

    Gosh, I’m trying to think of a decent work of fiction that isn’t a love story, now that I’ve expanded that definition so much. Maybe All Quiet on the Western Front; but it’s a love story of camaraderie and loss. The Picture of Dorian Grey? Narcissistic self-love. This is fun! And hard! Farenheit 451…but there’s a love of books and knowledge and truth, isn’t there? And a strange infatuation with the girl he speaks to once.

    Ok, I have to do work now…must stop reminiscing about great books and their hidden love stories!

    • svonnah February 24, 2010 at 11:37 AM #

      Oh, Rowenna, I love that: “Every life is a love story… not necessarily a romance.” I think that is so true.

    • Biljana February 24, 2010 at 12:45 PM #

      Hahaha it is hard isn’t it? I was thinking about it for weeks and I haven’t thought of anything yet. Granted I haven’t read everything out there but I don’t know if others will have any luck. I wonder, if somebody does, if it’ll be good.

      And that’s a sweet concept, of every life being a love story. There’s a lot of truth in that.

      • Caitlin February 26, 2010 at 2:35 PM #

        This is something I feel your article is actually lacking, you talk about love a lot but mostly only one kind. I can find you stories lacking that kind of love, but without love of some sort there is no motivation. I wish you’d taken a few more sentences and mentioned familial love, love of a hobby or subject. Ender’s Game is a story with love for humanity as a whole, Hot Fuzz (the movie) is the best break-up movie ever, but it still has a little bro-mance going on, not to mention a love for things being executed properly, order, and an incredibly misplaced love of accolades. Even Darkness at Noon has love for a cause in it. Where the Wilds Things are has that special Mother-son bond in the end when she feeds him the soup and all.

        I’ll see if I can find you a story completely devoid of love, but assuming you’re including all forms of love it’s going to be incredibly difficult. (If you think about it even textbooks are the labor of love of their authors, my BICH book has a picture of one of the authors’ golden retriever in the back.)

      • Biljana February 26, 2010 at 3:43 PM #

        That was actually one thing I had misgivings about. The reasons I focussed on that particular kind of love though was because that’s the kind that people can be afraid of because they’re trying to avoid melodrama or cheesiness. Another reason was because I felt that if I talked about all the different kinds I’d be writing a 5k essay. I focussed on the one I felt was most interesting, because of how much it inovolves relationships with other people. I thought about doing a little blurb about the types of love, but because I elaborated so much on only the one, I felt like I wouldn’t be doing them justice.

        Yes, love of study is definiely in there. Good catch.

  4. Angela February 24, 2010 at 6:00 PM #

    Oh, wow. Interesting. I never really thought that every story has a little bit of love in it. I’ll never look at a story the same way again. I’ll probably be searching for the love in it. lol

    I never really thought that other writers act out the scenes in their head, but now I know that I’m not the only one who does that. To a certain point, I try to visualize the really important scenes.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Biljana February 24, 2010 at 10:01 PM #

      That’s awesome, that this has made you think so much :).

      I think a lot of writers are afraid to say what’s going on in their heads so that people don’t think they’re crazy. I mean, more than they already are ;).

  5. priscillashay February 24, 2010 at 11:13 PM #

    I have to feel the emotion when I write it. If I read it and I’m not able to feel exactly how the character is feeling, then I scrap it and start over.

    Although, there are times when I have to force myself to write just to have something on the page and that’s when you can tell my work is uninspired.

    Haha, I’m currently taking a Structure of Modern English course and it’s all about the meaning and function of each word in a sentence (the 8 parts of speech). It can be boring, but me..being the crazy person who talks to 20 different people in her head…enjoys it 🙂

    • Biljana February 25, 2010 at 2:01 AM #

      I’m the same, with the emotion. If I’m not feeling it, I’ll just splurge random stuff and go back when I’m more inspired.

      Oh wow that course sounds rigorous. At the same time it must be fascinating to see how much thought goes into sentence structure, whether conscious or unconscious.

      By the way, completely missed this comment! Sorry about the late reply!

  6. Myra February 24, 2010 at 11:14 PM #

    You know, this is one of the aspects I’ve never considered about writing, and I’m so glad you blogged about it! I know that conflict and goals drive stories, but you are so right in that books need love, and not just romantic love. I can’t think of a single book that doesn’t contain love–love from a for one’s child, or between siblings, or friends, or romantic… I don’t know, I think it’s impossible to write a book without love.

    Even, for example, L’Étranger–we’re reading the book in my French lit class–where people think Meursault is a heartless emotionless person. But you see that, even when he describes things without attachment or emotion, he does love. He just doesn’t know how to show it.

    So really, I’m at a loss. I’ll honestly be surprised if someone finds a book without love in it. (And, honestly, I also think it would be a bit boring. A book fuelled only by hate? Probably wouldn’t interest many people.)

    • priscillashay February 24, 2010 at 11:16 PM #

      If you think about it…even if you tried to write a book fueled completely by hate…the reader will still find some romance in it because that’s just the world we live in, especially since love growing out of hate is a major cliche.

      (or..it might just be me…)

      • gabydasilva February 24, 2010 at 11:36 PM #

        And then, we can say that hate is but a shade of love – we hate those who don’t love us, or those who don’t love what we do.

        And sometimes, hate can be confused with love. I’m thinking of Les Miserables, when Javert has caught Valjean again… Valjean promises to accompany Javert as soon as Marcus is safe, but Javert not only helps Valjean, he lets him go free.
        In one small moment, Javert goes from hating Valjean (he’s a criminal) to love him (he risked his life to save Javert and Marcus’s) and then hates him again for making him love an ex-criminal.
        Beautiful, huh?
        And not one drop of romance! (unless you’re into slash.) Just many shades of the same emotion!

      • Biljana February 24, 2010 at 11:39 PM #

        Guys, these discussions are awesome. I completely agree with everything you three said.

        Yes, yes, yes! The stories that exist about hate that are good always have a hidden underlying denial of love. Really breaks your heart.

  7. Nandi February 25, 2010 at 1:45 AM #

    What this article inspired me to do, since I already can’t right without some love already in it was to write a one-shot without dialogue. It was acutely strange, since I usually rely heavily on dialogue but it made me think about how much more important what these characters do is compared to whats coming out of their mouth. If he looks across the room or not, if she stands flat footed, on her toes, trips… sometimes full scenes can happen under the dialogue scene, no?

    • Biljana February 25, 2010 at 1:50 AM #

      Wooo!!! That’s so awesome that you were inspired! Send if over, if you want!! Or if you posted it somewhere, totally link me!!

      Yes, very true about dialogue. If you can get an internal dialogue going through actions, it can be fantastic :).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why a Writer’s Favourite Animal should be a Goat « Let The Words Flow - June 10, 2010

    […] some of our past articles, two of which include Kat’s “Finding the Hate” and Biljana’s “Finding the Love”. Tactics are what’s at the core of the actions your characters take in order to pursue and […]

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