Thursday, September 11, 2014

Love: The Prime Motivator

Oh, I don’t care much for romance.”

Those are words that romance writers – and readers – often hear. The funny thing is, it’s hard to find a good story without it.

Last night my husband and I watched a classic ghost story, “The Uninvited.” A man and his sister move into a haunted house. Sort of an unusual domestic arrangement. Why are they brother and sister? So the brother is able to become romantically involved with Stella, the young woman who’s the target of the spirits in the house.

Why is that? Because storytellers recognize that most of us are driven by the need for romantic love. A story may not be billed as a “romance,” but you’ll find romance at the heart of most stories.

Think of the classics, and you’ll find that the desire for romantic love is usually a prime motivator for the characters, even if that pursuit is misguided. In “The Great Gatsby,” the title character builds a new life for, and is finally destroyed by, the pursuit of love. In “Casablanca,” the story hinges on the lost love between Rick and Ilsa. “Gone with the Wind” without the passion of Scarlett and Rhett? I don’t think so.

What about action films? Let’s talk “Spiderman.” In the 2002 film, Peter Parker tells us in the opening narration: “Let me assure you, this, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl.” How about film noir? The leading man in “Double Indemnity” may be motivated by lust rather than love … but he’s built it up into something pretty important by the time he’s willing to kill a guy for it. In horror, the mummy is after his lost mate, and all the Frankenstein monster really wants is a bride. Comedy? Even in something as light, silly and just-for-fun as the “Anchorman” films, Ron Burgundy’s gotta get the girl (or get her back).

Love – the need for it or the lack of it – makes everything more important. It raises the stakes. It’s something we all want. Storytellers, readers and moviegoers are instinctively drawn to it, whether they realize it or not.

Most romance readers and writers simply recognize that need more consciously, so we go after it more directly. Someone may be getting killed, something may be getting stolen, a career may be at stake … but whatever our characters think they’re after, we can be darned sure there’s a happily-ever-after at the end of it.

And that’s a story worth telling.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weird Al, We Salute You!

Champions of good spelling, grammar and punctuation have a new hero: Weird Al Yankovic.

At the risk of making Weird Al cringe: Who’da thunk it?

The biggest media attention-getter from Weird Al’s newest album, “Mandatory Fun,” has been “Tacky” (his parody of Pharell Williams' “Happy”). But meanwhile, my fellow writer friends on Facebook are geeking out over “Word Crimes” (set to the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”). I’ve seen it re-posted about a dozen times in the past two days.

You can watch it here.

It’s wonderful. The guy who’s made us laugh for 30-plus years now has English language fans hooting as he shares our agonies over the misspellings and horrible punctuation that populate the Internet. Al shows his smarts about less versus fewer, whom versus who and the Oxford comma (although he'll let you slide on that one). He even tries to educate the masses about the correct use of the word it’s.

It may be a hopeless cause, and I know a ton of people hearing the song are saying, “HUH?”

But for the grammar geeks out there, it’s 3 minutes and 45 seconds of “Amen!”

Thanks, Al.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fact vs. Fiction

"Oh! So THAT's how you two met!"

When I told people that my first novel was a romance set at a radio station, I got that reaction a lot. Yes, my husband is a disc jockey; yes, we did work at the same radio station together for seven years. But that happened after we were married.

I borrow from my life. I freely admit it. My stories are filled with first and last names borrowed from family members and friends. The afghan my aunt crocheted for me is in the first chapter of "Love on the Air." And that radio station is filled with small items and incidents from the station where I worked. We really did have a CD player we had to stick a butter knife into to rescue a disc that got stuck. And a break room where there was always danger of coming around the corner and crashing into someone (a perfect accident for my hero and heroine!).

I plant pieces of myself into my stories, and I love it.

But if people were to assume that everything in my books really happened to me ... brrr! That could open a can of worms. If my next hero were an auto mechanic, what if people started thinking I had eyes for the guy who fixes my car? Come to think of it, we have been seeing a lot more of each other lately, as my car gets older.... See? Instant gossip!

I wonder if people who write murder mysteries run into the same reaction. Do people realize it's fiction, since there are no bodies turning up on the author's doorstep? Or do friends start eying them uneasily, wondering if a character who resembles them might turn up as a victim in the next book?

Of course, no one ever said writing fiction was for the faint of heart.

The beauty of writing, as with reading, is that we get to escape into another world and experience it vicariously. Writing can have a tremendous advantage because we control this universe. On the other hand, sometimes it sends us down blind alleys or requires us to cause pain for those characters we love so much.

When I'm doing my job right, I experience the story every bit as much as my readers do. There's great joy in taking just a pinch of my favorite things, a dash of personal experience, and stirring it into a great big bowl of fantasy.

So, if any of you notice a good-looking grocery checker in my next book, why, pay it no mind.