The most basic desire in a person is to be loved, to feel as if another person’s life would be incomplete if we were not a part of it. That’s why movies and books about epic love are so popular. We want that sort of love in our lives. So we write about it or watch it or read about it.
A priest once told a story about a woman who, for seven years, visited her husband in the nursing home. She read to him, ate with him, and spent time with him. Her husband had Alzheimer’s. That meant there were days when he didn’t know who she was, perhaps even asked where was his wife, even though she was standing right in front of him. But she kept going back. Because she loved him. This is the plot of a novel in real life. We forget sometimes that this sort of love doesn’t exist only in fairy tales but it’s that longing for it to exist that makes it a story constantly being rewritten
I wonder if one of the most basic mistakes a writer can make is ignoring this most basic need in favor of writing epic plots involving governments and armies and spies. They go for the grandiose when the most simple thing in the world (love) is the most desired. A person will read a well-written love story even if the most interesting thing the characters did was go to the store and unexpectedly buy pistachio ice cream rather than chocolate.
People like to read what they wish to be a part of, what they wish they had in their own lives. If morning radio shows are any proof, then most people are trapped in relationships where they tolerate their partner at the most. They love them but they love them like most people love their old shoes: cuz they’re well-known, well-worn, and comfortable. But there’s something exciting about really loving someone in that breathtaking, can’t-live-without-you, epic, eternal way. It’s one of the reasons why Twilight is so popular: it’s a story about a love that never ends and which knows no bounds (though it’s also creepy and codependent but that’s a post for another day).
I don’t think I could write a story that didn’t involved love in some form, whether it be the unrequited love of a woman whose beloved doesn’t look at her twice, or if it’s familial love, or the love of two best friends. Love need not be always romantic. There are those who live their lives surrounded and uplifted by love but it isn’t the romantic kind. This is another thing I think some writers sometimes forget and that leads to the so-called “obligatory sex scene”.
We long for love, yes, but it isn’t necessarily romantic love. We can be an important, crucial part of someone’s life without it being sexual. How do you think parents love their children? We can write about that kind of love. We don’t need to feel obligated to put romantic, sexual love into stories. One of the most heartbreaking love stories I ever watched in a movie involved a family.
Writing is about telling the truth. And the truth of the matter is that love is important, it is integral, and I think it’s essential we show it in all its facets, not just in the bedroom. (In fact, I’d rather if we kept it out of the bedroom because some things are just sacred.) As I come down to the last third of my novel, I’ve been thinking about this more and more because my character has to learn about a certain facet of love: proper self-love.
Not the sort of self-love that’s really selfishness and vanity, but the self-love that leads to respect to oneself and seeing one’s worth. It’s amazing and sad that people go through their whole lives thinking they’re a steaming pile of crap on the sole of the world’s shoe. When, in reality, they are lovely, wonderful people. They just never see it because they were never shown it. I think an important story that doesn’t get told enough (or gets told but has tragic, twisted consequences) is the story of how to love oneself.
And in a world of anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation, I think this story is a crucial one. In order to be whole, in order for this world to get a little less horrible, we all need the surety of love, starting with loving ourselves.