Tough Love: Six Gritty Love Stories

In Dreamless, the second novel in Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed series, Helen Hamilton finds herself drawn to Orion, a funny and brave guy who helps her forget Lucas, the boy she loves despite herself … and despite the curse that’s ruled their families for centuries. Helen may be the star of a great love triangle (she’s not named after Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman of the ancient world, for nothing), but she’s got more than romance to deal with right now—like trying to survive the Underworld.

Every night as she sleeps, Helen descends into the treacherous, nightmarish landscape. Every night, she tries to defeat the Furies, the vicious beings whose thirst for revenge is threatening to destroy them all.

An action-packed thriller AND a romance: Does it get any better? Here, Josie shares six of her favorite love stories that aren’t afraid to get tough.

The Terminator
directed by James Cameron, written by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher., Jr 

Not only is this movie just a cray-cray original idea that spawned an entire genre of stories about robot-on-human-violence (which was perfected, in my opinion, in The Matrix), but the love story at its center is just gut-wrenching. Kyle travels back in time for the woman of his dreams, saves her life a jillion times, spends one night with her, and then dies for her. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

If you’ve never read a screenplay, you can get some of them off the Internet. I suggest all budding young writers do this at least once. In my experience, if you want to learn how to structure something that’s pure story, reading screenplays and then watching the movies they turn into is a great way to learn how to develop a streamlined plot in a limited amount of time.

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle)  
by Ursula K. LeGuin

This book is a bit obscure, but it’s so worth it. It’s one of  my favorite gritty love stories. It’s the second book in the series, but you don’t really need to read the first. Here’s the set-up: Arha is a priestess in charge of this huge, underground labyrinth. One day, a sorcerer breaks into the tombs and gets lost. She watches him and then traps him. But while she watches him slowly starve, they start to speak to each other. He changes her life, and of course, they fall in love. (But the love isn’t realized until the end of the series, so don’t hold your breath.) The thing about this book is that it’s as much about self-discovery as it is about falling in love, and I think those are always the best love stories. Love should teach us about ourselves and about the world. Plus, LeGuin’s writing is just gorgeous.

Blade Runner
directed by Ridley Scott
written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples (based on a novel by Philip K. Dick)
I don’t mean to overload this list with tales of robot-on-human violence , but this is just a fantastic film. The screenplay is a little shaky, but the director, Ridley Scott (my favorite) has true vision. What makes it so unique is that it’s a love story about robots.Spoiler Alert! The main character, Deckard (who may or may not be a robot), falls in love with another “replicant,” Rachael. Check out the glow in his eyes in the scene when he brings Rachael back to his apartment, after she shoots one of the “skin jobs.” He’s totally a robot!  There’s some controversy over this point, but I think it’s consistent with the ongoing theme that the most emotional, the most “human” characters in the movie are actually not human at all.  Either way, Deckard falls in love with Rachael and he leaves everything behind to run away with her, even though she may not live for much longer.  *sigh*  Once you get past all the blood and guts in this movie, it has a ton of love in it.


Jane Eyre 
by Charlotte Brontë
I know most people don’t think of this as a gritty love story, but it so is! Jane spends her childhood getting mentally and physically abused, then falls in love with a guy twice her age. If you haven’t read this book, do yourself a huge favor and READ IT! I’m not going to give the whole plot away, so I’ll just say that the “happily ever after” comes after some serious damage. Gritty to the core.


All The Pretty Horses
by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is about as gritty as it gets. In fact, he’s so gritty, sometimes it’s hard to find the love in his books. But, trust me, it’s there. And once you start seeing the love in his books, you can’t seem to stop seeing it. Which is disturbing, because his books tend to have a startling number of psychopaths in them. LOADS of psychopaths. So if you’re on the young side, I’d wait to try to read this book. I don’t want to give anyone nightmares!


The Last of the Mohicans
directed by Michael Mann
written by Michael Mann and Christopher Crowe (based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper)
He jumps through a waterfall. He runs up a mountain. He offers himself up to burn on apyre instead of her. This movie is the definition of a sweeping, epic love story. And it’s pretty darn good.

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