Wednesday, 22 October 2008

What makes a great love story?

That's the subject that was explored in the latest BBC 'Imagine...' programme, fronted by Alan Yentob.

To quote the programme blurb:

"What makes a great love story? Imagine looks at the great books, films and pop songs that have tackled the thorny issue of love, pain and desire. Lancelot and Guinevere, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Lady Chatterley's Lover, 24 hours from Tulsa, Casablanca, Brief Encounter and Lolita are all great love stories. But what makes them special? 'A great love story has to have a fly in the ointment', according to Pulitzer prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides.

Other contributors include best selling authors Sarah Waters, Helen Fielding, Jane Austen's biographer Claire Tomalin, Burt Bacharach's lyricist Hal David, screen doctor Robert McKee, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and literature professor John Sutherland"

You can watch the programme using the BBC's iplayer here:

(available to watch online until 9th December).

I found it to be a really thought provoking programme, particularly as love is something that features heavily in novel 1 (and is also the subject of novel 2). What particularly interested me was the debate on whether or not a love story should have a happy ending. Helen Fielding (author of "Bridget Jones's Diary") argued that there should be happy endings in light entertainment and Robert McKee (author of screenwriting bible "Story") agreed that romantic-comedies should have happy endings but that true love stories are more powerful for having tragic endings.

I have to admit I'm a fan of both types of story. Some of my all time favourite films end tragically - Casablanca, The English Patient and The End of the Affair for example - but I do like love stories in books to end happily (mostly).

I won't give away how novel 1 ends (or it'll spoil it for you if/when it gets published) but what do you think? Do the best love stories end happily or tragically? Which ones stay with you the longest?

And which modern love stories (post "Pride and Prejudice" and "Wuthering Heights") have you most enjoyed and why?


Anonymous said...

Casablanca, Brief Encounter and the one that gets me weeping buckets and buckets: The Bridges of Madison County.

I think for me it's tragic tales of lost love / the one you could not have, and if you read a blog entry of mine a few days ago about "Princess Fatima and Nico the Frog" you might have seen how too much reading and watching tainted love stories has now affected my real life!

I want *happy* endings and I want them now!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Happy endings for me, please. Sad endings have been known to make me throw a book across the room. I don't mind if the ending is bittersweet, but I hate being left with the rancid taste of unrelenting misery. It spoils the whole book for me, even if it's a really good book like Cold Mountain. And if I do read a book like that, I do my best to forget it as fast as I can and I would never, ever, re-read it. The love story I enjoyed most this year was 'Lottery' by Patricia Wood. That wasn't an entirely happy story (and, incidentally, I can take a large amount of misery, grief, trauma etc in the middle of a book), nor was it a conventional love story, but it was about love in many forms, it was complex, human, authentic, and ended on an optimistic note.

Anonymous said...

A great love story has to have something significant to it, apart from "boy meets girls and they live happily ever after". It doesn't necessarily have to have a happy or sad ending, though sad endings tend to stay with me for longer. I've read a few RWF novels now and, I'm sorry to say, many of them are instantly forgettable; unless they have one of two things: A decent amount of humour and/or a significant sub-plot of some kind.

Maybe it's because I'm a bloke, but I need a bit more that just "woman wants to break out of boring marriage and have a bit of fun" type stories. Any recommendations?

Anonymous said...

That should have been "boy meets girl". Singular ;oP

Fionnuala said...

IN my book, metaphorically and literally, a true love story should have a happy ending. I dont like saccharin endings that are predictable but do want love to conquer all.
I think it should also have strong hints in the story that maybe it might NOT work, maybe the love wont be enough? x

KAREN said...

Bridges of Madison County had me weeping buckets too :o(

Sad endings stay with me longer but for all the wrong reasons! I don't need a "typically" sickly-sweet happy ending, but must be hopeful at least for me I'm afraid - and like Fionnuala all the more powerful if you think at some point it might NOT be :o)

Paige said...

Bridges of Madison County had me crying buckets too!

I need a happy ending! Anything else and I'm miserable. When I read Carole Matthew's Let's Meet At Platform 8, it was the first book I'd read without the happy ending I wanted. I remember reading and rereading the end in case I'd got it wrong. What I wanted to happen didn't and it affected me for a good while after I'd finished reading it. Even now I remember that story clearly because it stood out for me.

So an unhappy ending could work wonders because it makes the book stand out amongst all the happy endings.

HelenMH said...

Captain - I preferred the first version of your comment ;) Re endings, for me it has to be tragic every time I'm afraid. The classic is Villette, but for more modern stuff - 'Someone Wonderful' (aagh can't remember the author). I also like 'will they/won't they?' endings which leave the reader hanging. I also love Alan Yentob, but I'm not sure how relevant that is ...

ChrisH said...

I missed this so thanks for link. Um, I know its cheesy but to be honest I do want them to live happier ever after... I don't mind if they suffer to get there but they must get there!