If you decide to write about love, you’re at the slight disadvantage of being in a line that’s five-thousand years long. Thousands of writers have written about love, and now you want to do it too?
The competition is enough to make anyone pale. A recent search on Amazon for the keywords “romance” and “love” returned 264,298 results. What can you hope to say that hasn’t already been said?
You can take that attitude, but it could be applied to any subject you might write about, not just love. It’s also true that love can be difficult to write without relying on the same old tired clichés. What you write isn’t as important as how you write it. Arguably, it’s all been said before. But the number of ways it can be said are inexhaustible. We’re as intrigued about the mysteries of love as much today as the Babylonians were five thousand years ago.
Sentiment vs. Sentimentality
There’s a big difference, though, between creating sentiment as opposed to sentimentality. Both have their place, but a love story that tries to be unique should depend on sentiment.
“But Mike, what’s the difference?”
Sentiment is honest emotion. Sentimentality is pre-packaged emotion. A sentimental work borrows feelings from stock. Rather than create characters or events that generate unique feelings, the sentimentalist merely relies on stock characters and events that already come with their emotions included. But a sincere work—a work of sentiment—generates its own power.
How to Avoid Sentimentality
Sentimentality is subjective. The sentimentalist writes about the subject of love, rather than creating a story in which the unique relationship between writer and subject evokes genuine sentiment.
What sentimentality does is rely on the reader’s experience rather than the fictional experience created by the writer. The reader fills in the blanks. The reader remembers what it’s like. The reader, not the writer, does the work.
We never feel so alive as when we’re emotionally aroused. It’s not easy to accomplish that in writing, but when we take a short-cut by faking these emotions—by building them into more than what they are—we’re guilty of sentimentality. Sentimentality is the result of exaggerating any emotion beyond what the context of the moment can express.
Sentiment, on the other hand, comes from context. With sentiment, you have the portrayal of real people and real situations. Sentiment becomes objective. It relates to objects (people, places, and things) in the story rather than generalized emotions.
But that’s not the whole story…
This is the story I tell when people ask me how I wrote a romance. But there’s so much more to it.
The experience of finding love is both mysterious and practical. It takes effort but also seems to simply happen to you at times. What I’ve come to understand is that finding love is more of a path than a plan: it involves unexpected twists and turns that at times look like accidents but actually are a part of the process.
Everyone, I think, is searching for love, for something to satisfy their deepest desires. I believe that “something” is actually love. What does that mean? To me, love means the reason you were born. It’s that thing you were meant to do.
And finding it is never as simple or as easy as we’d like it to be.
What I Learned
When I began working on my new book The Romance of Eowain, I thought I knew what the process of finding love looked like, but what I learned surprised me.
Discovering love, it turns out, isn’t quite so simple. The journey looks different for everyone, but there are also common themes that tend to appear.
So I had a thought: Can two people in an arranged marriage find love?
And for the last year, I’ve been trying to answer that question. After five drafts, and reflecting more honestly on my own story, here’s what I’ve learned:
- You can’t find love on your own. You need help.
- You have to practice. It won’t be easy. If you want to discover love, you have to fight for it.
- You won’t “just know.” Discovery happens in stages and clarity will come with action. The most important thing you can do is take the next step.
In the book, I feature “real” people, characters with real problems, characters who don’t have all the answers and don’t know what love really looks like, and that was intentional. I wanted to communicate that love is not sentimental, but a strong and deeply-felt sentiment. Love isn’t something for “chosen ones,” but for everyone. And in this seemingly ordinary story, I think we understand our own loves a little better.
At times, I think we all feel like our own love-stories are a little too ordinary for our liking. But what if in that ordinariness, there’s something extraordinary we could tap into? That’s the idea of the book.
The Romance of Eowain explores questions such as:
- What is love?
- Can love be won?
- Is love merely an unimportant emotion, and not something that should necessarily be looked for in an arranged marriage?
I hope you enjoy it!
What happened when you discovered something about yourself that surprised you? Share in the Comments.