May 1st, 2009

Writing Exercise: Romantic Traffic

I’m reading reading reading student stories this week, and they are *good*! I’m exhausted, but intrigued, and thrilled by all I’m learning (and, sigh, wishing I’d emphasized how dialogue tags worked a little better). One thing I’m learning is that kids write the storylines everyone else does, and they care about what everyone else cares about–a lot of these are love stories, and even the ones that aren’t have love interests in them. They aren’t getting every detail of how grown-ups couple *quite* accurately, but actually, they aren’t that bad, probably because things actually *don’t* change that much, post-high-school.

One thing they all seem to know, and to relate with such consistency that I’m worried that they actually heard it in a Guidance class (better than my Guidance class, which mainly taught us about chlamydia) is that if someone is right for you, it’s easy to talk to them. I’ve seen over and over, “the conversation was so easy and natural,” “they could tell each other anything,” “they talked about everything as if they had known each other forever.” I, of course, am writing in the margin, “I’d love to read this conversation,” “Would be nice to read what they say,” “Show a bit of this!!”

Show, don’t tell, central tenet of creative writing classes everywhere. And really, what’s more fun than flirtation? Why *don’t* they want to write about it? As soon as that thought strikes, it becomes pretty obvious–because it’s *hard* to write that stuff, or at least hard to do well, so that a reader can feel the frisson that the characters are supposed to be feeling.

Think about the last time your own companion went to the bathroom in a restaurant and left you eavesdropping on the couple at the next table (I’m not even going to pretend there are people in the world who don’t listen). So often, they’re enjoying each other, charmed and delighted and intrigued by each new comment and insight, and I’m…a little bored? Happy for them, of course, but not really getting it when he simpers, “Wow, that’s so right, what you told that prick. I’m so proud of you,” or she squawks, “Oh, my god, that’s the funniest thing I ever heard. Hah ha HAH!”

Flirting can be pretty inane if you aren’t a participant, and even when people are “confiding their deepest secrets” it might not roll along punchily; one girl’s deepest secret is another’s boring angst.

So how do you write romantic banter that people will actually want to read? Obviously, it’s been done, but it’s hard!! I’ve been working on it for a while now!

So today’s exercise is–one “I’m so into you” conversation that is neither dull nor nauseating. Situate it at any point in the relationship’s trajectory that works for the characters: meet cute, first date, post-coital, whatever. Just make’em like each other, and make that charm evident to the reader. I’ll post mine when I manage to write it. This is really harder than it sounds, even if you aren’t 15.

She’d already taken all of the dye out of her hair

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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