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.