So here we are. Last Friday I made a rather bold claim – that all novels are love stories. Since then, a few of you have chimed in with opinions and ponderable things relating to my claim.
Headless Mom (gotta love that name) wrote:
One could argue that regardless of topic, all novels are love stories: the love between the author and his/her words, the author’s love of the story.
Amber asked for examples.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Let’s be simple. Like if there were a great children’s story about a doggy wanting a bone and how the doggie hunted for the bone, would the love story be between the dog and the bone? What about the good stories that are just lust stories?
And then yesterday, Seth (who happens to be Amber’s husband) had all kinds of things to say about the claim, including these words:
Can’t an author delicately and intentionally pick words that convey a story that he does not love, but that he is compelled to tell?
I think that well constructed characters seem to write themselves and I hope that they can chose to move in a way that is beyond the author’s discretion. If so, can characters lack love? Can a situation, or entire string of them, be constructed without love being found within either central or peripheral proximity? Don’t characters and scenes move, from time to time, with hatred, violence–or worse, ambivalence–sometimes without redemption? And if that happens, a novel can be birthed devoid of love.
And also, these:
My point is this: sometimes a story should be allowed to write itself, much like life. If that removes love from the equation, so be it. If that requires love, so be it.
Okay. First of all, thanks to all who have weighed in on this (and will yet today, if you feel so compelled).
Let me begin with the first comment from Headless Mom. In a word, “yes.” This is one of the two reasons I believe all novels are love stories. Now, it needs to be said here (and below) that not all authors love their words or stories equally well. Some may love the act of writing – the discovery of it. Some may love every word they put on the page (don’t let these writers near an editor). Others just may love the dream of being a published author someday.
I believe Seth is right when he says it’s possible to write a story you don’t truly love, that you are “compelled to tell.” But why do you still write it then? Pure obligation? What is the compulsion? Couldn’t there still be a “love story” in there somewhere? Maybe it’s the “love of getting paid” or “a love for the way words sound” or could it be the “love of storytelling” itself?
This is where I segue into the second reason I believe the claim is true. But before I do that, allow me to clarify what I mean by “love story.” I am not suggesting that all novels include a character who falls in love with someone else and then they live happily (or not) ever after. While I think you’ll be surprised to discover just how many novels – in all genres – include this plot element to varying degrees, my definition is broader. For the sake of argument, I’ll use the horror genre to explain.
Consider a novel where evil and blood drip off of every page. Where is the love story? Well, in my broad definition, the love story may be found in the protagonist’s actions. Let’s presume for a moment that the protagonist is a Jack the Ripper style killer. He is in love with… inflicting pain, watching others suffer, and most likely, the color red. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What sort of love story is that?” Well, remember, I’m stretching the definition here.
“Okay,” you argue, “but what if he has no concept of love? What if he’s truly crazy?” Then let’s back up and look at the people trying to stop him. What drives their actions? Is it purely a sense of justice? Or are their actions ultimately driven by the love of life? If so, there’s your love story.
Seth made an excellent point about characters writing themselves. Let me take a moment to agree with Seth’s argument here: Always write, just write. Let the characters tell the story truthfully, according to how they’ve defined themselves.
Now, could some characters write themselves in such a way that they are devoid of love, devoid of any sort of redemption? Absolutely. And that means it is entirely possible you could end up with a loveless story filled entirely with loveless characters as written by a writer who is compelled by something other than love (obsession, maybe?) to put the words on the page. And if this is possible, then my claim is false. (Seth’s a lawyer. I could be 99 percent correct in my assumption, but I’m sure he’d be quick to tell me the claim as written is entirely false even if there’s only a 1 percent chance I’m wrong.)
If such a story exists (or even theoretically could exist), then I’d have to modify my statement to read: Most novels are essentially love stories.
Hmm…I like the way that reads better. I sure don’t want to be someone who denies characters their right to be loveless. Truth is fiction’s greatest ally, after all. So…yes, I think I will change my statement. Good discussions often lead to enlightenment, right? And I have no problem being wrong – especially when I learn something in the process.
However, let me add that, in practice, I can’t recall reading a novel that didn’t include some element of a “love story” either directly described or implied. Granted, sometimes they’ve been messy love stories, or misguided ones, or selfish ones – but they’ve been in there somewhere, driving the characters’ actions, propelling the plot forward. Love matters to storytellers and their stories.
Now it’s your turn. What say you about all this? Have you read a story that is completely void of any love at all? If so, tell us about it.
Oh, before I call it a night, I did want to say something about VenetianBlond’s comment. She wrote:
Meryl Streep said something to the effect that every utterance of “I love you” is actually a question.
This makes me think: Is it possible that a novel devoid of love could actually be asking the question, “do you love me”?
Okay. Have fun with all this. I’ve got to work on my novel now. It’s a love story. Really, it is.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Since today’s post is so philosophical, tomorrow’s is going to be pure fun. I’ve just come back from the future and brought with me a list of 7 upcoming fiction trends. You’ll have just enough time to write your book before the trends hit full stride. Thank me tomorrow, then thank me again when your book has usurped the entire front display in Barnes & Noble. See you tomorrow.