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?