When in doubt (or when in a writing rut) add a love story.
1. Everybody Gets It: As soon as we see two handsome people give each other that extra-long look we all know what’s coming: L-O-V-E or, let’s be honest, L-U-S-T. Not only do we immediately understand what’s up, but we also want it to work. Adding a large or small flirtation is a simple, exciting way to layer another level of tension and anticipation to your story. And we’re not talking just romantic comedies here–any story can benefit whether it's horror, bachelor comedy, thriller, or adventure. You don’t need a period costume drama, you just need people we care about and a little twinkle in their eye. A love story gives your plot one more thing for your audience to root for and connect to–plus its fun, sexy, and plays on everyone’s desires.
2. Everybody Wants It: Seriously. Whether it's the final kiss in a Jane Austen adaptation or a raucous sex scene after a tense bank heist, your audience wants it and wants it bad. But they can’t want it if you don’t set up the possibility. So throw in a wink, a kiss, or a more creative “come here often?” and we’ll thank you for it. Instead of an all-straight-male adventure, throw in a lady and watch your script sizzle with potential. The African Queen would be nothing if it were Two Dudes on a Boat. We want a well-matched pair, especially if the romance atypical, quirky, taboo, unlikely or goofy. We want a combination of true love winning out and straight up voyeurism. To fall into gender stereotypes – the ladies want violin music and an I-Love-You-kiss, and the boys want too see some skin and cleavage. Luckily, if you’re a good writer you can give us both and stay classy.
3. But We Want To Wait For It! Don’t give us too much too soon – boy, I sounds like my mother. The best part of a love story is the “almost,” the obstacles, the thrill of getting closer-but-not-quite, and having to really work for the other person. We want to wait –because if love is too easy, we don’t buy it; or if it happens too soon, we don’t care. You’ve got a whole story to tell, so don’t rush it (again, I sound like my mother). We want you to make it obvious that this couple belongs together, but make it hard on them – someone’s in the way (My Best Friend’s Wedding), they’re from two warring families (R&J), they’re on opposite sides of the law (Mr. And Mrs. Smith), one of them is kidnapped (Indiana Jones), one of them is slandered and betrayed (Othello), one of them is married (Casablanca)… to the comatose president (Dave)! Once you get them together, find every way to separate them and you’ll give your audience a journey to watch, not just a make out session.
4. But Don’t Leave Us Hanging: If you set up a love story, no matter how small, your audience wants some kind of resolution. The happy couple need not end up happy or a couple, but they should have some finality and understanding… or death, you can always kill off one of them and make us cry. The way to judge your options is to look at your genre – if it’s funny, we hope they to get together; if its drama, we expect they might not work out. But surprise us, twist the genre expectations and give us a shock.
5. Make Love, Make Great Characters: The feminist in me must insist that love stories aren’t just girly and idealistic, and sex scenes aren’t just manly and boob-focused. So break the mold and think of evermore creative ways for your characters to express their feelings – don’t give us just any kiss (SpiderMan2), sex scene (Monster’s Ball), proposal, date, etc. Have fun with our expectations - make us laugh (When Harry Met Sally), make us cringe (Meet The Parents), surprise us with circumstance (Gross Point Blank) or allegiance (Mr. And Mrs. Smith, again), or sexuality (Kissing Jessica Stein, Brokeback Mountain). There’s no need to cheapen a love story or the lovemaking by making it typical. Though even the most simple and classic flirtation will engage us for a while, don’t just toss in a boring romance when you can give us a character-defining romance.
Lauren is a NYC (by way of Atlanta) playwright, screenwriter, and short story author. MFA in Dramatic Writing at NYU/Tisch and is a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship working with science, art, and education. Her work has received national productions, development, and awards all over the country. Her play Emilie: Le Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life at the Petite Theatre at Cirey Tonight, will premiere at South Coast Rep April 24, 2009. She also received a Sloan Science Script Award for her screenplay Grand Unification. See more at www.LaurenGunderson.com.