Or, Falling in love is easier than writing about it
I saw Love Potion No. 9 for the first time in probably 15 years recently (it’s been making the programming rounds on HBO and is one of their free movies on demand this month). I remembered the movie as being very romantic and having a real true love sort of feel. That was how I felt seeing it at 12. Seeing it as an adult, I feel differently. It relied on the power of the montage to show us up front why the two colleagues were “perfect” for each other and then once they realize that to show us how happy they were together. There was really no process of falling in love; simply, they were male and female versions of the same person, and once they realized it, they were madly in love.
Forget for just a moment any realistic points you might want to bring up about how being with someone who likes exactly the same things you do and is basically the same person as you are would be endlessly boring. What annoyed me was that the movie just showed them laughing, talking, in bed together in quick flashes of moment with no words and no detail. We weren’t privy to the conversations, we didn’t get to hear the words binding them together, we didn’t get to see the special moments that made them fall in love.
And this a problem I see a lot in romance writing. Either the plot is contracted into a short period of time, and we are expected to believe the hero and heroine fall in love in a week (when we see every moment they spend together), or we are told and not shown most of the process of falling in love via a summary like “he called on her nearly every day for a month, and they spoke on everything from favorite tarts to international politics” and then only get the big moments in detail.
I am guilty of this, because I find myself drawn to characters who have a past history with one another–probably because it eases some of the burden on the process of falling in love to have people who already know the basic tenants of one another’s character. It’s sort of a shortcut to be able to say, they already know and understand one another, so all they have to do is figure out they can’t live without each other.
I think it’s very hard to show all the moments that add up to falling for someone. Every offhand comment that says to the heroine “his point of view of the world is compatible with mine” even though she might not consciously notice it. Every time she shows up when she says she would, right on time, and in doing so tells him that she can be relied upon, even though he would only notice the absence of reliability. Those moments are just as important, maybe more important, than the moments which create memories that will last forever–the first kiss, driving out to a bridge in the middle of the night just to watch the river in moonlight, traveling to a resort in Mexico. The big moments are fun, they are romantic and memorable and beautiful, but they are not really the backbone of a relationship. They create memories, but they do not (necessarily) create trust and caring and compatibility.
Hence the problem of the romance writer. How do you show the infinite small moments upon which a lifetime’s worth of trust is built and yet still have room for the big moments that make good stories and memorable, sigh-worthy scenes?