Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ingredients to Create an Unforgettable Scene by Karen Rock



When asked how I would define my style as a writer, the first word that comes to mind is emotional. I’m always drawn to characters and stories where there are opportunities to peel back layers and move readers. These are the kinds of moments in love stories where you can practically feel your heart melt. How do writers achieve such unforgettable scenes? I can’t speak for all, but am excited to share with you the qualities I value most in such moving scenes.

Authenticity: A deeply romantic scene works beautifully when the dialogue sounds real rather than forced.  We’ve all heard bad pick up lines, trite lyrics that give us tooth cavities, and Hallmark cards that could be poured over pancakes. No matter how flowery the language, it doesn’t touch our hearts because it doesn’t sound real. The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks has great authentic dialogue that feels natural and organic. In a scene in which Noah, the male lead character, is reunited with his long, lost love, Ali, their realistic and compelling conversation goes like this: Noah: “You’re different.” Ali: “What do you mean?” Noah: “Just the way you look. Everything.” Ali: “You look different too, but in a good way.” Noah: “You know, you’re kinda the same though.” This simple exchange in a row boat is so powerful for what is said and isn’t said. You can feel the characters grappling, in real ways, with how to deal with the return of their long denied emotions.

Vulnerability: There is nothing more powerful when two characters open up to each other. Saying “I love you” is scary… and it does make the characters vulnerable. But a strong romance writer knows to go further and strip away the walls the couple has put up to protect themselves. A scene that melts my heart usually has an almost confessional feel to it. The man and woman trust in each other completely and let down their guard. Vulnerability means that in a ‘melt your heart’ scene, a character should admit to mistakes, flaws, and regrets. And we love them all the more for owning their past. Jane Austin did an amazing job with this when she wrote the unforgettable proposal scene where Mr. Darcy tells Miss Elizabeth Bennett that although he’s tried, he can no longer resist and must admit his love for her, even though, by doing so, it goes against the expectations of his family, society, and even himself. If only his heartfelt confession had moved Elizabeth! However, we wouldn’t have had the wonderful story of Pride and Prejudice if she’d believed that quickly. Television writers also do a wonderful job in creating such moments for their characters. For example, The Gossip Girls’ main characters, Chuck and Blair have an interaction that moved me to tears. Chuck to Blair: “I’m sorry for losing my temper the night you told me Louis proposed to you. I’m sorry for treating you like property. I’m sorry for not waiting longer on the Empire State Building. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I loved you when I knew I did. Most of all, I’m sorry I gave up on us and you never did.” Wow. MELT.


Honesty: Billy Joel devoted an entire song to it. His lyrics are simple and straightforward and say it all. Honesty, he sings, is mostly what people need to hear and in the case of romance, that means our readers. Heartfelt scenes are sincere and create chances for characters to speak the truth. There is nothing more powerful than hearing a couple stop misleading each other, or themselves, and reveal how they actually feel. No sugar-coating. Here’s an example from one of my favorite movies, As Good as It Gets. In it, a man with OCD, Melvin, breaks out of his comfort zone to woo a stressed single mother and waitress, Carol, who’s dealing with her son’s emotional challenges. Melvin: I’ve got a really great compliment for you, and it’s true. Carol: I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful. Melvin: Don’t be pessimistic, it’s not your style. Okay. Here I go: Clearly, a mistake. I’ve got this, what- ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I *hate* pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I’m using the word “hate” here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that the night when you came over and told me that you would never… all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills. Carol: I don’t quite get how that’s a compliment to me. Melvin: You make me want to be a better man. Carol:…that may be the compliment of my life. Melvin: Well, maybe I overshot  a little, because I was aiming at just enough to keep you from walking out. This emotionally honest scene melted every moviegoer’s heart and won Jack Nicholson an academy award for Best Actor for this heart-tugging performance.
What qualities make a scene unforgettable to you? 

18 comments:

  1. I love 'As Good As It Gets'. Your discussion reminds me of whatever is said is rarely what is meant. The two only match in these lovely, revealing scenes. Great post, Karen!

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    1. Thanks so much! I adore this movie and the unconventional romance :)

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  2. Great post, Karen! I can't even count the number of times I've watched AS GOOD AS IT GETS...definitely one of my all-time favorite movies.

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    1. Thanks, Jill :) I always thought this was one of my favorite romances because it was so different, unexpected and real!

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  3. The three traits you've talked about really nail it, Karen. Without them, neither scenes nor characters themselves can truly connect with readers. And great examples of each here! Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, Janice :) I'm so glad you liked it!

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  5. Daniel Day-Lewis, Last of the Mohicans, in the midst of a waterfall "I will come back for you!" sends chills up my spine every time. All the senses are present in that scene.

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    1. Ooooooohhhhh! That one still gives me chills. What a powerful, romantic moment. Thanks for sharing it :)

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  6. Yes, those three traits come together rarely in life, and that's whey when they do their so special. I especially love it when a strong-but-silent type confesses his or her real feelings and becomes vulnerable.

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    1. Oh, me, too! When the tough guy finally breaks down, and you see the one tear down his cheek. SNIFF.

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  7. Excellent post, Karen! You mentioned some of my absolute favorite scenes/lines. I got a lump in my throat just reading your post.

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  8. I agree with Beth Carpenter. I love to see strong men exhibiting vulnerability. Bonus when they're really handsome. (Sorry for being superficial, but it's just movies, right?) As I've mentioned in prior posts, the movie The Best of Me makes me cry every....single.....time. I think it's the hero's vulnerability. And kindness.
    The kindness of the hero (I'm not sure what else to call the male lead in this instance) in the movie Labor Day also stirs my emotions every time I watch it. And wait, definitely his honesty too.
    And I have to mention You've Got Mail for Tom Hanks's character's honesty and kindness. I can watch each of those movies over and over again.

    Thanks for this informative post Karen. It got me thinking about some unforgettable scenes.

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    1. You're so welcome, Laurie and thanks for sharing the reminder about You've Got Mail! I love that movie and the chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan was incredible in it. The honesty and kindness go so far with me. I'm not so crazy about the mean alpha type of guys. Strong men, yes, but also kind- gentlemen--they get me every time!

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  9. I agree so about You've got Mail--such a sweetness to the end. Does anyone remember the comic timing that Tim Daly and Crystal Bernard had on that old sitcom, Wings. After a few seasons of build up their characters finally get together, with a proposal in an elevator. After some arguing and banter she finally says yes, but not exactly. She more or less shrugs and says, "Oh, what the heck." I laughed out loud. It worked, because from day one it was totally inevitable. I saw that show in reruns--probably long after they'd moved on to other things, but for some reason the whole thing hung together.

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  10. Thanks for this post, Karen. I love all of your examples. "As Good As It Gets" was such a sweet story, really unique, too. Not your typical love story. Personally, I get chills and cry sloppy tears EVERY single time Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin tells Meg Ryan as Annie Reed "We better go" after the Empire State Building security guard clears his throat. Then he adds, "Shall we?" and holds out his hand. She takes his hand and he puts his thumb over her hand. Such a simple and sweet yet POWERFUL gesture. My top 3 romantic movies are: When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping and of course, Sleepless in Seattle.

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  11. Love these examples. I have.got.to.watch As Good as it gets! My favorites: While You Were Sleeping, Return to Me, and I love Holiday with Jude Law.

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