Thursday, January 6, 2011

Paper romance

Mostly, the Washington Post offers news of the right-now, whether politics, tragedies, or entertainment. But there are stories of regular people's lives there, too: in the obituaries (as I noted before) and in its relationship sections, specifically Date Lab in the Washington Post Magazine and OnLove in its Sunday Arts and Style section.

As a former reporter, I should poo-poo this increasing trend of focusing so much news ink on tales of dates and nuptials.  But as a fiction writer, I love being able to peer into people's lives every week, to see what makes relationships click or not, to hear what men and women regard as romance or dating disasters.

To be perfectly honest, a lot of people in the D.C. region are pretty dull. They're smart and well-educated, for the most part, but from a fiction writer's perspective, many of their lives are already on a similar, manifest trajectory: graduate degree, well-paying job, marriage, house in the suburbs in a good school district, children. With so few surprises, there's not a lot of (obvious) potential for a story there. And their stories often sound alike. In OnLove, the men often pop the question to their future wives by getting on one knee in a beautiful locale; the couple then has a dream wedding and goes off to an island honeymoon. They meet because they work in the same workplace, or are introduced by friends. Yawn (and gag).

But then there are the occasional exceptions, the stories of unusual proposals, unexpected matches, or stories of people who are struggling to be together. There have been straight and gay couples who marry, despite one of them having a terminal illness (e.g., "Make sure you do today what you can't do tomorrow"); poignant and unusual stories a fiction writer would be hard-pressed to come up with*; the people who find love a second or third time around (e.g., There's Nothing Like Older, More Mature Love).

And then there are moments that are hard to categorize (from Nuptials,  Jan. 1, 2011):
Shortly before New Year's last year, Mike proposed at home in a low-key moment: After pausing the film "Pineapple Express," he offered Erika an anniversary gift - a ring from Tiffany's. 

(If I were leading a fiction writers' workshop, I would ask the class to describe the scene in further detail, or to write about this couple five years in the future....)

* I wanted to find examples of stories like this, which I've read in the past, but the search engine won't let me find them.

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