Melissa Kantor on Learning From Shakespeare

Melissa Kantor is the author of The Darlings in Love, her sequel to The Darlings Are Forever. The books feature a trio of tight-knit BFF’s (nicknamed “The Darlings”) who roam New York City as they navigate their different high schools. In The Darlings in Love, the Darlings attempt to decode boys’ cryptic language, interpret mixed signals, and find the boys of their dreams. We sat down with Melissa and asked her: how do you write a convincing love story? The advice she gives comes from one of the masters of love.

In general, I tend to shy away from giving advice to writers. After all, my secret weapon might be your kryptonite. But if you’re a writer who’s looking for help, why not go to the man who gave us some of the greatest love stories ever told (Romeo and Juliet, anyone)? That’s right. The Bard himself can help you write your next novel.

The course of true love never did run smooth. There’s a talent to finding plausible, frustrating things that keep apart (at least for a few hundred pages) people who are destined to be together. What could separate your lovers? Well, pretty much anything. He has a girlfriend. She has a girlfriend. She’s moving to Paupa New Ginea with her anthropologist mother. He’s a vampire. You get the idea. The trick is to bring two people together long enough for them to fall for each other and then brutally yank them apart (for a while at least). Your readers will thank you for it.

Love is blind. And so is your main character! Maybe the guy she’s falling for is a jerk, only she can’t see it. Or maybe he’s clearly into her, only she doesn’t realize it. If the reader knows (or senses) something your narrator’s clueless about, it can create exciting tension (English teachers call this “dramatic irony”). Just don’t make the narrator a complete dolt, or it’s über annoying.

Friendship is constant in all other things/Save in the office and affairs of love. Your main character’s BFF doesn’t have to make a pass at her crush for them to have tension over him. Exploring how love affects the main character’s other relationships (with her friends—are they jealous?; her parents—are they overprotective?; her siblings—is the guy a friend of her brother’s?) is an important part of telling your story.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/Are of imagination all compact. In other words, passion makes people crazy. And you don’t have to write a novel full of explicit sex scenes to capture the madness of desire—a lingering glance (if it’s well written) can be as effective as full frontal nudity. But if I don’t feel the passion between your lovers, if your hero or heroine isn’t out of his or her mind with the need to have this other person (or vampire or alien or whatever), I’m not going to keep reading your book.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. While I personally love a happy ending, not every great love story has one. Romeo and Juliet. Scarlett and Rhett. Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchannan. If you’re struggling to get your lovers to happily ever after, maybe it’s time to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s always possible that what your story needs to be epic is an unhappy ending—after all, Love Story sold over twenty million copies and (spoiler alert) she dies in the end!

Ultimately, whether your passionate couple head to the prom, die in one another’s arms or decide they’re better off as friends, remember: you should always write a story you’d want to read. Because in writing as in life, the most crucial piece of advice is also Shakespeare’s. This above all: To thine own self be true.

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