The Love Express

First off, best wishes to all of you who are taking on NaNoWriMo! You are my heroes!

I stay away from politics here, but I can’t resist saying that if you’re old enough to vote, I hope you will.

And third. Last post I asked for words that make you cringe, and I relished reading your picks! How about words that you adore? I love palimpsest, both sound and meaning, which I’ve read is the favorite of many, possibly to the point of cliche. I’m wild about grok, which was invented by sci fi writer Robert Heinlein in his classic Stranger In A Strange Land (high school and up). Grok is a verb that means to understand fully, with all the nuance, complexity, and context that any situation can have.

On June 20, 2016, Martina wrote, I am kind of doing a retelling of the fairy tale “Manyfurs” and am mashing it with “Snow White.” My MC is very stubborn-minded, because in the story, when her father wants her to marry a preselected prince, she refuses. (Well, she accepts on the conditions of three impossible items being given to her.) My problem is, later on in the story, she promptly falls in love with another man, and he is instrumental in helping to rid her of the other prince. How can I make her love with the second man not seem forced or abrupt?

Christie V Powell weighed in with, I think that one of the big things in building a romantic relationship is that you focus on things beside romance. Sure, they’re attracted to each other, but just like any other relationship they also need friendship, trust, respect, fun (think sliding down banisters!), and especially selflessness. Pet peeve: romances where the guy is forceful and makes her do things. Sorry, that’s not love, that’s abuse.

One thing I’ve been playing with is the 5 love languages. Everyone speaks and hears love through different ways. My romance in my WIP hasn’t gone far yet (it was barely hinted at in the first book because I wanted the MC developed on her own first, then they’re just learning to be friends in the second), but when I get to the romance stage I’m planning on using all five of them, so it speaks to the reader no matter which the reader likes best. The five are: words of affection, giving gifts, quality time, service, and physical touch.

I agree! True love in fairy tales is usually inexplicable–or unpleasantly explained by beauty and power. I’d add to Christie V Powell’s five the sixth element she mentions in her first paragraph: fun. And a seventh or maybe part of the sixth, a sense of humor.

Here’s something else to consider in this particular fairy tale, if we want our MC to be sympathetic: the rejection of the first suitor. Our MC, and everyone in the real world, has or should have an absolute right to turn down a suitor. She doesn’t need a reason–but she will be more understandable and likable if she has one and the reader gets it.

I’m dealing with this in my WIP, Ogre Enchanted. Fee (short for Phoebe) says no to Wormy (short for Master Warwick) in the first scene. As I kept writing, I realized that even I didn’t like her, and part of the reason was that I identified with Wormy, who felt terrible, and she caused his unhappiness. So I worked on him and made him less appealing.

Now, because I’m embracing complexity, I’ve doubled back and made him more appealing again, although I’m hoping her reasons will still be clear.

So, if we’re dealing with two romantic prospects, we want the reader to understand our MC’s choice.

I do believe in love that comes on pretty fast, if not quite at first sight. I met my husband when I was just eighteen, and he was the first boy I felt totally comfortable talking to. I didn’t yet know I was a word person, but I think that clinched it–along with his other sterling qualities, especially of kindness, sensitivity, and humor.

And I’ve seen it happen with friends. Something in this one hooks into something in that one, like jigsaw pieces. There’s a shared recognition.

So abruptness may work, but not forced-ness. The reader has to get the reason for the romance–and will be able to if we open up our MC’s emotions and thoughts. I think the inner life of our MC is the key. Narrative distance can’t bring love to life.

Not that it always happens fast. Many years ago–I think we were in our thirties–a friend told me about his ambivalence regarding his girlfriend. I was mad at him and probably told him he should go all in or all out. He married her, and, near the end of his life, I reminded him of our conversation, which he didn’t recall. He said that marrying her was the best decision he’d ever made. But it came on slowly.

We know this MC is stubborn. We can use that characteristic to make a speedy connection believable. Maybe something in him can connect to that stubbornness. He may be compliant, and she may think, At last, here’s someone who isn’t always giving me an argument. Or, he can be stubborn, too, and they can enjoy bumping up against each other. We can think about the other traits that we can give each one that will help them fit together, some that are in opposition and some that are complementary.

I’ve said this before, but I will again: We can look for romantic models among happy couples and even happy friendships we know. What makes the two people click? We can set two pairs side-by-side and consider the different ways they make their relationships work.

I read or heard on the radio a while back that relationships that last don’t bury their irritations. That dish left in the sink or that unicorn left ungroomed will rankle if it’s never discussed. Eventually, the dish will sail across the kitchen and the unicorn will be driven over a cliff and the love will corrode. Dire. So I’d add one more element to Christie V Powell’s list: arguing–in a good way.

Anger is also lively. Just billing and cooing gets dull. A little squawking on the page will wake up a scene.

Here are four prompts:

∙ Your romantic duo meet in a prisoner-of-war camp run by the dread Sir Mank. They fall in love plotting their escape. By day, they help each other survive the awful conditions; by night, they plan. Each brings a set of skills to the mix, and they become a mutual admiration society. The escape goes flawlessly. They reach the safety of their own forces and now have to find a way to be together when they’re not in danger. Write a scene from the time they’re imprisoned together and one from the time after. Figure out a way for them to stay in love without outside opposition.

∙ Rewrite the second scene and have them split up.

∙ Write the happily ever after of a fairy tale. Snow White and her prince, for example, are married. The evil queen is dead or permanently imprisoned. Write a scene. You can keep them happy or make them miserable.

∙ She’s a groom in the castle stables. He’s the prince who rides his unicorn daily, leaves it in the stall on his return without even putting out a pail of water for the poor thing. She’s furious. She thinks he’s worthless. Make them fall in love.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Hi Mrs, Levine! I really enjoyed reading this post…I had a feeling that you would ask what our favorite words were, after all the cringe-words.
    I love “beagle” “poodle” and “Llama.” I’m not a huge animal person, but something about those words appeal to me (especially since Llama has two L’s!)
    I also love “Lackadaisical” and “Chinchilla”. They look really weird when you see them on paper, but if you say them out loud, it sounds like music!

    I also have a question about quarrels. In my WIP, my MC’s (who are married to each other) have two
    falling-outs, the first one because the guy wandered and left his wife alone in a dangerous place, and the second because the wife wouldn’t trust her husband when he told her not to go into battle.
    How do I make them stay mad at each other long enough so that it doesn’t feels rushed when they make up, but not so long that it’s frustrating to the reader?
    As always, thanks in advance for comments! : )

    • Jenalyn Barton says:

      I’m not sure how to keep them mad at each other long enough, but I can tell you this: when people argue, they rarely argue about what they’re truly angry about right at first. For example, a married couple might be arguing about the dirty socks that the husband left in the floor next to the hamper. But the argument isn’t really about dirty socks — deep down, the wife is angry because she feels like her husband is expecting her to be his mother and do everything the way his mother did, while the husband is angry because he feels that she expects too much of him at home when he works hard at his job all day. Things like that. Basically, when people are angry with each other, they will rarely blow up over the real thing first, and will instead find little things as ammunition in their argument. They may have several of these arguments before the return of the matter finally comes out. Hope that helps.

  2. Thanks for another awesome post Mrs. Levine! Near the end when you said “Anger is also lively. Just billing and cooing gets dull. A little squawking on the page will wake up the scene.” I immediately thought of Mary and Matthew’s relationship on the amazing TV show Downton Abbey. They butted heads so much at first that I never thought they’d end up together, but along the way I couldn’t help but notice how truly perfect they were for each other. I love relationships like that!

    Here are twenty of my favorite words in both sound and meaning:
    -solidaster (a type of flower)
    -paracosm (look this one up!)

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Thanks for the words! I didn’t know more than one. When I looked up lethologica, I discovered a situation I know well and wanted a word for so much I made one up: amcept–AM for amnesia and CEPT for concept. But there was a word all along! Let me just mention another of my invented words, and someone can tell me if it already exists, too: lethescriptosis, which means forgetting an idea before one has a chance to write it down, which can happen to me in an instant. If it doesn’t exist, and you find it useful, please use it, and maybe it will enter the language–which may already be happening. I just googled it and two mentions popped up. You can help! Keep it going.

      For those of you who are also looking the words up, I couldn’t find paracosm in a dictionary, but I found it on Wikipedia.

      • I’ve heard lethescriptosis used by someone here before, and I remember the first time I read it I was so happy to find a word that described the horrible sensation of forgetting something before getting the chance to write it down. I love your word!

  3. Jenalyn Barton says:

    Thank you, Gail! This post came at just the right time, as my WIP for NaNoWriMo is going to deliberately include a romance for the first time. I’ve usually avoided writing about romance directly, instead including people that may end up being compatible without my actually writing their romance. But this time I felt that my MC needs to find love to help her heal from her PTSD and from the loss of her toddler son, so I’m attempting something I’ve never done before. So your post is really helpful. I’m still having the romance only be the B-story, but I want to approach it in a way that it doesn’t seem forced or clichéd.

    As for words I like, here are a few: petrichor, akimbo, defenestrate.

  4. I like saying the words thou, and shall. It makes me feel sophisticated. I also like the word sophisticated.
    Words that I like to say & read:
    Hearty (it reminds me of warm potato soup, and laughter.)
    I like a lot of other words, but those are the only one’s I could think of.

  5. I heard a good analogy the other day comparing lovers to braided roses. First, you have to show your reader why each person is a rose, then they poke at each other.

  6. Veralidaine Sarrasri says:

    I like the word ambidextrous. It just rolls right of the tongue. I also like the words with long s sounds, like dress, or process. Those make me think of a snake’s way of talking.
    Also, thanks for the post, Mrs. Levine. I’ve lately been trying to introduce romance into my WIP, and this post really helped.

  7. The Florid Sword says:

    Is it necessary to heave a “story format” for your novel? Like to have a set starting point and defined rising action and all that? Or does it just kind of naturally make its way in and then come to a head at some point? I don’t know if this makes sense at all, but if you understand what I’m saying and you can help, I’d appreciate any feedback!

    • I’ve never plotted things out that specifically. Then again, I’ve had more success with shorts than novels, so take that input with as many grains of salt as you’d like. 🙂

    • I do some story structure when plotting, especially since I’m working on a six book series and I want them to have a similar structure. The first three chapters introduce the main character on a “mini-mission” that manages to bring out the world-building and overall plot, and includes a limited number of main characters. Then three to six chapters where the other important characters are introduced and the main plot is set up. From there I build toward the climax. I also like to look at each chapter as a miniature story: they start with some build up, and escalate toward a climax just like the main book does. The main difference is that the resolution for the whole story gets its own chapter, while the resolution for the chapter usually waits for the first few paragraphs of the next one, so that I end on a better hook– not always a cliffhanger, but with something important left unanswered.

    • It’s a little late to comment, but anyway, I highly recommend reading “Structuring Your Novel” by K.M. Weiland. I’ve probably recommended it here before, but it has really helped me understand story structure and the importance of it. What I usually do is let the first draft take me where it wants to go. Of course, I have an outline of some sort, plenty of notes, and character questionnaires ready to go, but on the first draft I don’t worry too much about story structure. I let my instinct take over. Once draft 1 is complete, however, I go through it looking for structural holes and I fill them. That’s when I make sure the structure, or format, is how it’s supposed to be, with all the points in place. Keep in mind that all writers have an instinct of how a story should go. We’ve read stories, watched movies and TV shows, and experienced stories in general all throughout our lives, so we subconsciously know how a story is supposed to flow. Consciously studying story structure helped me sharpen those instincts that were already there, as well as clarify to me how I should build a story.

  8. I need some advice. This is my first year of participating in NaNoWriMo, and I’m a little intimidated. I’m having a hard time figuring out a good word count, and I could really use some advice from others who have done NaNoWriMo before. What are the secrets of NaNoWriMo, how do you prep, and what are some tips for finding time to write even in a hectic schedule?

    • The Florid Sword says:

      I’m nervous about it too. The thing is to just WRITE whenever you have five minutes. That’s how I did it this summer for Camp NaNoWriMo, and it works. As for word count: set something you think is doable, but still challenges you. I did 50K in June which was nuts, but I did it.

    • This is m first year participating in NaNoWriMo too! I’ve done some research and have found some helpful things, so I’ll share them with you. In order to meet the 50,000 word goal at the end of November you have to write 1,667 words every day for 30 days. My plan is to write that many words a day and keep a daily count by writing down the number of words I had at the beginning of the day and adding 1,667 to it so I’ll know what number I have to reach by the end of the day. I’ve also heard of things you can get for your computer that keep track of your word count for you but I’m not sure which ones are best or how they work. I’ve also scheduled my makeup day to be Sunday, which is the day of the week I have the most free time. Every Sunday I’ll try to write all the words I missed. I highly recommend going to, because the author of that blog is doing a short series of posts on what to do to prep for NaNoWriMo. Christie V Powell gave me some advice in the comment section of the last blog post, and here’s what she said:

      “For me, preparing for NaNoWriMo means having a bit of an outline and getting household things done like crafting Christmas presents and getting ready for baby (yeah, I might be insane, but I’m expecting a baby AND a novel this November).
      Technically, you don’t have to do anything except write 50,000 words. You’re “supposed” to begin with your very first draft and have words #49,999 and 50,000 be “the end”. Last year (my first), I took a half-written story and finished it for NaNo. The hardest part was going back and adding after I wrote “the end” and had 10k words still to go. On the other hand, editing and drafting are completely different animals, and it seems like it would be a lot harder to count the number of words if you were editing something unless you buried your first draft in a drawer and started your second draft from scratch, and later compare the two. Natalie Goldberg suggests that method in “Writing Down the Bones”, though she’s more a poet than novelist.”

      Great advice, Christie, and good luck Mary E. Norton! That’s all the advice I can give because I’m not yet a veteran. I’ll wish you luck and you can wish me luck.

  9. Hi guys! Sorry I was gone for a while, I was busy with school and college apps, NaNo prep, and sending out my very first queries (eep!). Who else here is doing NaNoWriMo? (If you aren’t familiar, click here: My username is cattus, if anyone wants to add me.

    Imlove the word banana, simply because it sounds so fun. I’m quite partial quaff too, thanks to Terry Pratchett. And gossamer.

    On the topic of love, I just want to say that contrary to popular belief in the book review sphere, I do believe that instalove is realistic, because I’ve experienced it myself. A timeline of my mindset when I watched The Maze Runner movie can be prety much summarized as: ho hum, I’ve already read the book…*Newt comes on screen for the first time* OMG who is that?…Don’t die Newt!…his name is Thomas Brodie Sangster and he has a Twitter! It may be shallow, but that feeling of instalove based on appearance (and some fictional actions) is very real and very strong for me. Would it have lasted in the long run? Probably not without knowing more about his personality. But it was certainly enough to get my attention.

    In a more real life contex though, another thing I noticed was that a simple act of kindness is really, really effective for getting me to notice someone. Even if it’s something as simple as holding a door, or giving me a smile, if somebody goes a little bit out of their way to be nice to me, I notice and I remember. It’s like in Ella Enchanted when Char comforts her at her mother’s funeral. For example, just recently, I had a cute boy in French class offer to let me copy his homework when he saw me struggling with it five minutes before class started. (Just a PSA, this is a very bad idea. I’m sharing this because I can’t think of any better examples at the moment, but don’t try is at home.) even though I politely declined, it still stucj out to me because even though I met him only a few weeks earlier, he 1.cared about me enough to bother to help, and 2. Trusted me enough to offer when I could very well have snitched on him. But even though tis might’ve not meant anything to him, it still stuck out to me.

    From this experience, I’m planning to put something similar in one of my novels. A simple helpful act on a NYC subway leads to something more.

  10. Hello! I have a random question for you all: have you ever had something humorous or interesting happen to your character, and later something similar happened to you?

    • Remember the anthrax scare a while back, where people found white powder in the mail? I was writing Between Worlds at the time, and the villains were poisoning people via white powder in the mail. I changed that really quickly!

    • Before I had any jobs at all, my MC got part time babysitting and housecleaning jobs. Several years down the road, while still working on the same story, I realized that I also was working part time babysitting and housecleaning jobs.

  11. The Florid Sword says:

    Does anyone have any kind of opinion about dystopias for YA? Are they overdone, and is it possible to get them published? Thanks!

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Lately, I’ve heard more than one editor and agent be less than enthusiastic about them. However, as always, a great story well told will win both groups over, no matter what the latest trend is.

  12. Thanks so much for all the advice!! I just have one small question about my own story. I’m writing a book about a girl MC who has to work for a guy along with some other girls, and if anyone tries to escape, they die. MC comes up with a brilliant escape plan, but knows the guy thinks through everything, and needs to make sure the plan is safe. So, she pretends to fall in love with the guy. But then she actually falls in love with him. How can I make my reader start out hating the guy, and end up liking him? I don’t want the readers mad at my MC.

    • Good question. Well since the story is following your MC’s perspective, whether or not it is in 1st or 3rd person, if we care about her then we will at least have to consider why she is falling in love with him. In other words, her opinion of him should sway our opinion of him, whether for good or for bad.
      A great example of your situation (probably the best example) is Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”. At first we see the cold, stuck up, rude gentleman Elizabeth sees, but along the way, we learn things about him that make us reconsider our first impression. His true character especially shows when he comes to the Bennett family’s aid and pays a large sum of money to the man he hates just so their family reputation won’t be ruined. After that happens, we all fall in love with him. Why? Because that’s how much he cares about Elizabeth (MC) and her family.
      So I’d suggest revealing things, big or small, along the way that show this guy’s true character and therefore change your readers’ opinions about him. Maybe he doesn’t think twice about jumping in front of a car to save a little kid. Maybe he has secretly donated a lot of money to the orphanage he was put in as a child. Maybe he really likes to read sonnets. Something that softens him in our eyes, or makes us do a double take on our original opinion of him. That, I think, is the biggest way to make your readers dislike him in the beginning and do a 180 by the end.

      • Thanks so much. And it was a really good idea to use Pride and Prejudice, maybe because I know it by heart, but also because it’s a great connection.

    • The Hunger Games also seems similar, in that Katniss at first doesn’t trust Peeta but has to pretend to love him. In her case you can tell by his actions that he’s a nice guy, but because of the harsh environment that Katniss has been raised in she constantly questions his motives.

  13. Bejoy4theworld says:

    Hi Mrs. Levine!
    In my story, I have three MCs going back in time to get Johannes Gutenberg to invent the printing press. The problem is, I have no idea how to get my characters to time-travel without seeming completely unrealistic! Any suggestions?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I think in any time travel story, readers know they have to suspend their disbelief. You might look at how other writers have solved the problem.

      I’m adding your question to my list, but I’m going to expand it to making the impossible believable.

    • There have been so many creative ways writers have used time travel! One of my personal favorites is the time turner in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Look it up if you’re not familiar with it, because it’s very interesting and isn’t your standard time traveling device.
      As far as time traveling seeming unrealistic, that would depend on your story. If your story is set in a world with a form of magic, such as Harry Potter, you may not have to worry about it being unrealistic as much as if your story is set in real, modern society. Also, if your story is more science fiction based, you would most likely use a form of machine or gadget to time travel, whereas if your story is a high fantasy, you might have your characters time travel by using a form of wizardry.
      If you explained your story genre and setting I’m sure I could give you some specific ideas. My advice right now would be to research different methods of time travel used in literature, and specifically in the genre your story is in to get an idea of what is realistic for your story.

    • A couple of interesting time travel methods I’ve read – Charlotte Sometimes, in which two characters switch every night because of sleeping in a particular bed in a particular room in two different eras. And – Tom’s Midnight Garden, in which Tom somehow slips into the realm of his elderly landlady’s memories.

      Time travel intrigues me and usually takes my logic for a really loopy ride. Some time travel is inconsequential, as in someone shows up, has a bunch of weird experiences, and returns. And some, like the ones above have that whole circular reasoning thing going on, like “it happened because it happened.” The switching occurred because Charlotte got the bed; but Charlotte got the bed because the switching happened.

  14. A made-up word I love – mirthquake. It’s a verb my brother and his classmates coined when they were in about fifth grade. It means to shake with silent laughter.

    About love languages – I totally agree about “fun” being one of them. It’s closely related to what one of my friends and I have said for a while, that teasing is a love language (teasing, which is nearly the opposite of mocking). We grew up in large families, and have come to know that if someone starts teasing, it means they like you and are comfortable around you.

    • I agree. When my sister (third of eleven) brought home a boyfriend, she told him, “It’s a good sign if they tease you. That means they like you.” Totally true, because if you don’t trust or like someone you’re too worried that they’d take it the wrong way and you’d ruin their day or mess everything up.

      I love mirthquake! Might have to use that one!

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