Think back over romance novels you’ve loved or the genre-defining books that drive our industry. The most unforgettable stories and characters spring from crushing opposition. What we remember about romance novels is the darkness that drives them. Three hundred pages of folks being happy together makes for a hefty sleeping pill, but three hundred pages of a couple finding a way to be happy in the face of impossible odds makes our hearts soar. In darkness, we are all alone.
So don’t just make love, make anguish for your characters. As you structure a story, don’t satisfy your hero’s desires, thwart them. Make sure your solutions create new problems. Nurture your characters doubts and despair. Make them earn the happy ending they want, even better…make them deserve it. Delay and disappointment charge situations and validate character growth. Misery accompanies love. It’s no accident that many of the stories we think of as timeless romances in Western Literature are fiercely tragic: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Cupid and Psyche… the pain in them drags us back again and again, hoping that this time we’ll find a way out of the dark.
Only if you let your characters get lost will we get lost in them. And that, more than anything else, is what romance can and should do for its protagonists and its readers: lead us through the labyrinth, skirt the monstrous despair roaming its halls, and find our way into daylight.
Jack Nicholson photographed at his home by Arthur Schatz, 1969.
Photo by Piet Biniek
"Modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving."
Naming Uruguay the country of the year in 2013, the Economist may very well have described the rising nation’s head of state, President José “Pepe” Mujica.
Known for his unusual frankness, fiery oration and bold leadership to turn ideas into action, the 78-year-old leader possesses and practices the very characteristics that many world leaders fail to emulate. He has also garnered international acclaim for his progressive policies, down-to-earth personality and simple presentation, which has earned him a reputation as “the world’s poorest president.”