Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romancing the Story

The first writing class I ever attended was through my local community college - just on a  lark - long before I seriously thought about giving writing a try.  The class was taught by Phyllis Taylor Pianka and the price of the session included a copy of her book, “How to Write Romances.”  I didn’t usually read pure romance (although a little romance is a good thing) so my goal wasn’t to write that specific genre but it seemed like a good place to start.

In a few hours I learned the basic formula for plotting a romance, and it didn’t sound too difficult.  I put my hand to it and…fell flat.  As Mark Twain said to his wife when she tried to shock him with his own profanity, “You got the words right but you don’t know the tune.”  I could plot a novel and plug in the scenes, but I didn’t have the music to make the story sing.

Even though the stories we write may not fall into the romance category, we all appreciate when it’s a vital part of the books we read.  We’ve mentioned several of our favorite movie romances this week, such as You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. I’m not even the chick-flick type, but there are some beautiful love stories that have made it to the silver screen – sometimes besting the book versions.  And it’s not about the rippling six-packs or chiseled jaws or other stereotypes sometimes associated with romance. It’s about what people will give up for love, or how it changes them – or how they change themselves for it. It’s powerful and poignant and sometimes painful.  A true love story goes far beyond the romance to the point of sacrificing ourselves. It’s a dim reflection of the love our Father in Heaven has for us.

I’ve made a list of some love stories that were made into movies that may not be categorized as romances, but are about love at the core.  Some were books that were made into movie scripts:

My all-time favorite is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  I save it for a dreary autumn afternoon when there are no distractions.  I enjoyed the book, but felt that the movie version was better because there was more tension between the characters and the ending was more satisfying.  Natalie Wood plays her young daughter.  Sappy and wonderful. Sigh…

Another is Pride and Prejudice.  Very much a romance. (Especially when Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy)  The miniseries on A&E follows the book almost word for word, which is a wonderful thing.

I read The African Queen after I saw the movie and was disappointed that the romance between the main characters was downplayed in the book.  I will say that my edition has a slightly different ending because the publisher made a change that the author didn’t see before publication and the version I have is a re-issue with the original ending.  BTW, Humphrey Bogart’s character is still married to a first wife when he marries Katherine Hepburn’s character at the end of the book. Sheesh.

The Bishop’s Wife  is adapted from the book by Robert Nathan. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s available on Kindle and I would like to compare them.  Okay, I fall in love with Cary Grant every Christmas, but whatever.

Katy mentioned The Painted Veil.  I enjoyed both the movie and the book, although the book ended a bit differently.  This story of love, forgiveness and restoration is incredibly powerful and goes beyond a simple love story. 

I think I’m the only person who loves The Time Traveler’s Wife but hasn’t seen the movie.  Some have told me it wasn’t as good as the book, and I can see where it would be difficult to pull off without the use of subtitles or long-winded explanations of what’s happening. What do you think, those who have seen it?

Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel both depend on romance but are steeped in mystery.  Loved the books, but haven’t seen the movies in quite a while.  I remember a delicious creepiness factor that kept the stories from being sappy.

Casablanca is not adapted from a book, but I wanted to mention it because it’s a great love story.  I was disappointed to find that the last scene of the movie wasn’t shot until weeks after filming was completed because they didn’t know how to end it. They couldn’t decide who Ilsa would end up with!  They actually considered that she would leave her husband – the war hero – and run away with Rick.  I want to knock their heads together, the knuckleheads.

On the lighter side, I was surprised to find that Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile were adapted from books.  This adventure romance was a kick in the pants. I think I was first bitten by the writing bug when I was introduced to Joan Wilder. 

This list is not comprehensive, but I think it gives some good examples of how a romance can be simple or complex and layered.  What romance has left its mark on you?  Which one do you return to year after year? We’d love to know!


V. Gingerich said...

If I read a romance it is not for the lovey bits. Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are favorites for their setting and mystery. As a teenager, I read and reread The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Summer's Day is Done for their history. Never Let Me Go left me good-depressed for days and I still can't define the romance in that book.

In fact, sometimes it's much more romantic when the boy doesn't get the girl. Two favorite authors, Bess Streeter Aldrich and Willa Cather, excel at bittersweet, realistic love.

Oh, and a shout for O'Henry's short story, The Gift of the Magi, one of the simplest, sweetest love stories ever.

Megan Sayer said...

Debbie you're not the only person who loves TTTW but hasn't seen the movie - I'm with you. I refused, on the grounds that I loved the book so much, and movies always do things wrong! For me if you love the book too much you just can't watch the movie.
I realised, after a bit of thought, that that feeling stemmed from a completely inappropriate casting decision for one of my favourite books of all-time, Ruth Park's "Playing Beatie Bow" - an MG/YA/?? time-travel historical romance adventure. BRILLIANT book. I have most of it committed to memory I've read it that many times, and I'll still read it again soon. I've never thought about it as a romance until tonight, because it's so not a typical one, Wanderer mentioned...she doesn't get the boy, and the story is sweeter and more perfect because of it.

Jennifer Major said...

I LOVED Amy Irving and Peter Reigert in Crossing Delancy, about two Jewish New Yorkers who fall for each other. Oh wait, HE falls for HER, she is too uptight that he is a pickle vendor. She is in love with a...wait for it...a writer! Lovely, sweet movie. And the Bubbie is awesome.

Another personal favourite is Last of the Mohicans. When Duncan sacrifices himself for Cora, it is his competition who must shorten Duncan's suffering and get Cora to safety. When Magua (INCOMPARABLE performance by Wes Studi-he stole this movie)take Alice, Uncas does what he can to save her. Definitely 5 stars for romance, sacrifice, musical score and copious use of fake blood. Copious amounts. And knives. And long rifles. And fake blood. Did I mention the fake blood?

Suzy Parish said...

P.S. I Love You is one of my favorite movies. It was really well written and the characters were adorable.

Suzy Parish said...

P.S. I Love You is one of my favorite movies. It was really well written and the characters were adorable.

Suzy Parish said...

P.S. I Love You is one of my favorite movies. It was really well written and the characters were adorable.

Dina Sleiman said...

I would just like to add to the whole romance conversation that a lot of my close friends write formula romance, and I think that's it's own special talent. I've tried, and mine fell flat. I think it's important to honor each others gifts and honor the unique call God puts on each author's life.

Pamela King Cable said...

Jamie and Claire in Outlander. Diana Gabaldon's epic story that spans several books, holds me captive for hours.

I like what you said, Debbie, that the story may not fall into the Romance category, but it's a vital part of the books we read. For me as a writer, that is especially true.

Kudos to those who can write formula romance and make it sing.

But writing great romance into any story is a gift.

Cherry Odelberg said...

"Even though the stories we write may not fall into the romance category, we all appreciate when it’s a vital part of the books we read." Very helpful point, thank you.
What do I return to year after year? The Marquis' Secret by George MacDonald. And I love the Maisie Dobbs series by Jaqueline Winspear - not really romances, but in the the first book and the last where it does occur for the lead character, it is profound.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Mornin' ladies
Wanderer: I LOVED The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Well-told and A worthwhile premise. And I forgot Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The newer Jane Eyre movie was exceptional, I think. I'm revisiting classics since I've found them free for Kindle.
Megan: Yes, I heard the movie was a bit disappointing and didn't want to spoil a good thing. Maybe someday...
Jennifer: You've sold me on the Last of the Mohicans. Does it follow closely with the book?
Suzy: I haven't seen P.S I Love You, but I'll keep my Kleenex handy if I do. It reminds me of Always or Ghost.
Dina: I agree that we shouldn't dismiss a particular genre because we don't read it. It's what makes me so angry when I read Amazon reviews. If you don't read it, don't review it!
Pamela: I haven't read Outlander. I wonder how long it took the writer to step away from the story/characters when the story was done? That must be hard.
Cherry: Will check it out on Kindle :)
There is one book series I wished had been made into a movie: The Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. The thread of romance weaves through five books. My copy of the last book is dog-eared and split in the middle. I think the marriage of romance and adventure is the most fun.

Samantha Bennett said...

Debbie, just read your above comment, and I adore Elizabeth Peters! One of my favorite authors! Hmmm, one romance I really enjoyed was The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly.

Bonnie Grove said...

I haven't seen the new Jane Eyre movie. Really want to! I saw the trailer and it looks wonderful (captures the book in spirit, I think).

I liked Wuthering Heights, but I was so young when I saw it the first time--confused me awful. I had to read the novel when I was older to understand the power of the story.

TTW the Movie isn't worth the time. I watched it on an airplane. They missed the point entirely and it became a movie about whining.

I, too, have a stack of "go-to" movies that I will watch when I'm 1) alone (I love my husband but he giggles at the kissy parts and spoils it) and 2) sick (I don't know why, but when I'm sick seems to be the only time I get to watch these.

Love Actually
The Philadelphia Story
It Happened One Night
He's Just Not that Into You
Down with Love (campy good fun)
Devil Wears Prada (I don't know why, is it a romance?)
Our Town
Singing in the Rain (usually watch this with my little girl)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Pleasantville (brilliant. must watch if you haven't seen it)
Praire Home Companion.

Okay, I'd better stop.

Sharon K. Souza said...

What a great list of movies in books, all in one place! Debbie, you especially sold me on the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. I look forward to reading them. Great post, Debbie. As always!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I can't believe I left out Philadelphia Story. Another movie where Cary Grant is adorable (even better in funny roles). AND Jimmy Stewart. AND Katherine Hepburn. Wow.
When I was in 8th grade, I talked my mother into letting me see Romeo and Juliet. (had a 'bedroom scene' with partial nudity - laughable now) I cried, bought the poster, memorized the soundtrack...

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Sorry - that delete was just me.
Just a disclaimer - some of these books are general market. Hope they don't offend anyone.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oh, Oh! My very favorite romance of all time is "Wuthering Heights"! Does that say something about me?

Jennifer Major said...

Hello Debbie, LOTM follows the book but makes a few changes. Originally, Hawkeye's name was Natty Bumpo. Not so "woooo babe!" as Hawkeye. A few characters are moved around, but the acting and location is superb. The music is incredible and I was utterly terrified whenever Magua was on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent in this, as was Madeleine Stowe and Russell Means. But Wes Studi owned that film.

Has anyone mentioned Drew Barrymore's "Everafter"?? Charming and sweet and a great ending.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Susie: I just read it again (Kindle freebie). It's amazing how a book can change for you depending on your age/situation when you read it. It was as if I'd never read it before.
Jennifer: I meant to include Everafter. What Cinderella should be!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Debbie, you are so right! I first read it in high school and like it okay. Then in college, when I was dating my very own Heathcliff. Then, recently. This time I realized that dating a Heathcliff is kind of unhealthy. :)

Now I have my very own Mr. Wonderful. I've never been able to find a fictional character that comes close to my hubby.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

For all you fantasy loves out there the LOTR movies did the romance bit sooooooo much better than the books. Tolkien didn't have much touch for women.
How 'bout the Princess Bride? Stardust?

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Yes, Henrietta, Tolkien missed the boat on that one! Princess Bride should also be included.

Bonnie Grove said...

I meant to say Princess Bride.

My whole family can quote the movie, pretty much line by line.

Don't judge me.

I'm no one to be trifled with.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

As you wish... :)

Jennifer Major said...

"My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!"

Bonnie Grove said...

I'm having place mats done up with that saying.

Think of the reaction from dinner guests!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

"Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something." Ah, what girl wouldn't fall for that?

Sharon K. Souza said...

"I've been mostly dead all day." I laughed for days after hearing that line the first time I saw Princess Bride. Love that movie. I'm generating a great movie and book list from this post.

Jennifer Major said...

Room With a View-Helena Bonham Carter and some guy I can't remember. Maggie Smith was in it. LOVE her!!

Bonnie Grove said...

I don't know what film did before Maggie Smith. Seriously. I can't believe she isn't in everything.

Jennifer Major said...

Bonnie, are you a Downton Abbey fan? When they were all meeting the distant relative who would ruin their lives and he described that he'd planned to work during the week and come home on the weekends. And Maggie Smith's Darling Dowager looks around in utter confusion and says "what is a week-end?" Brilliant writing and total deadpan delivery!!

And she was in Sister Act. Love her.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Jennifer, I have become a fan of Downton Abbey. Can's wait to see Shirley McLane's character and Maggie Smith's meet up.
A catching up on it right now...

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Oops! MacLaine.

Bonnie Grove said...

I haven't see Downtown Abbey, but it's been heartily recommended to me. I don't watch TV pretty much at all, but I do like having a series on DVD I can pop in whenever I like. Is it available on Netflix, or DVD?

I loved her in Sister Act, as well. She's lovely and everything an actor should be. Also interesting wrinkled like Cloris Leachman. I love her face.