What makes a love story worth telling? What makes us want to read it? Is it a feeling of acceptance and connection that we long for? Is it the thrill of sexual tension? Is a romantic story just another way to experience an adventure, or to explore our culture's social constructions?
I often ask myself these questions, as a writer. While I enjoy a well-written, tumultuous romantic story, both in books and on the screen, I often question the need for another romantic story if I'm the one writing it. Is this story worth telling? I ask myself.
In all honesty, I feel that our culture fetishizes sex and romance in ways that make us a little lop-sided in love. We expect to give up so much of ourselves for another. We expect a partner whose love obliterates our problems. We expect sexy, perfectly choreographed love scenes in the bedroom and a perfect dance of domestic bliss in all the other rooms.
It's a fun fantasy, to be sure, and there's certainly nothing wrong with indulging in books and movies that feature these kinds of relationships.
But that's not what I want to write about. If I'm going to write about love, I want it to mean something. I want it to be real.
I'm not the kind of writer who wants women to fall in love with her male protagonists. At least, not in the usual way. I want my characters to be both achingly beautiful and completely wrecked. I want their laziness to be out there for the world to see. I want their grasping desperation visible to my readers. I want their weakness to be fully seen. I want it to be hard to love them, but also impossible not to.
Oafish, sometimes thoughtless Crue and his innate aggression that is occasionally put to good use. Responsible Dan who keeps everyone at arm's length. And Simon, prone to bouts of obsession and desperation that threaten his mental and emotional equilibrium.
The Poison Box was born for one reason: to tell Mary's story. I didn't sit down to write a love story. Despite all that, I found myself getting pulled into the very passionate stories of every character in the book, whether those stories included a romantic/sexual entanglement or not. By the time the book was finished, I felt it had evolved into a beautiful tapestry of love stories that all helped to tell the stories of the women in the book: from Mary to Ema, from Olivia to Ruth.
The second installment of this series, however, has evolved into something I didn't quite expect: a blatant love story. It is still Mary's story - it will always be her story - but this time, the story that is asking to be told is her journey into, around, through, over, and into again, a romantic relationship. Don't get me wrong - it's no Nicholas Sparks novel. Mary, my dark maiden, would never condone that. It's just not who she is.
And if you know Mary - hell, if you know me - you know she won't be riding into the sunset with her lover at the end of the book. To me, there's little beauty or satisfaction in that. I want to see the struggles. I want to know my characters have faced their shadows and that they're willing to face those shadows again and again, just as we do in real life. Sometimes, I find it even more romantic when people fail at love than when they succeed.
It's not pretty or stylized. It's not sexy or glamorous. It's just two ordinary people finding a peace between them even in all their mess. To me, that's sexy.
But is it worth writing? I still ask myself. What's the point of a book or movie or TV show that's mostly about a romantic relationship? Is that a subject worthy of our attention?
I'd say yes in most cases, having enjoyed my share of romantic stories. If it's my own story, I'd also say yes. I felt entirely comfortable sharing a snapshot of my last relationship in The Paris Diaries. I feel that anything that breaks our hearts and exposes us to another human being's deep passion strengthens and enlivens us.
So, yes. If that's what we get from a love story, then yes, it's worth sharing. If we can find ourselves in someone else's self-discovery (which is inevitable in a romantic relationship), then it's worth it. If our own passionate nature is heightened by a romantic story, then it's worth it. If our hearts break open, even just a little bit, by reading or watching someone stumble through the landmines of the heart, then it's worth it.What's the value of a love story?