Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

50 Ways to say “I Love You”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: January 18, 2017

A case could be made that many, many books and movies are about one thing and one thing only: getting Person X to say to Person Y, “I love you.”

Paul Newman and Robert Redford saying it in subtext in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Paul Newman and Robert Redford saying it in subtext in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

The trick is our characters can never use those blatant, overt words. That wouldn’t be cool.

It wouldn’t ring true to life.

And it wouldn’t possess the power and the impact we want.

In fiction, “I love you” has to come in subtext, not text.

Here’s one of the ways William Goldman did it in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It’s the final scene. The outlaws are shot up and bleeding in a cramped hideout in a town square somewhere in Bolivia. Surrounding them, outside, are hundreds of uniformed, rifle-toting Federales. The instant our two “bandidos yanquis” step out through the door … well, we all know what’s coming.

BUTCH

I got a great idea where we should go next.

SUNDANCE

Well I don’t wanna hear it.

BUTCH

You’ll change your mind once I tell you.

SUNDANCE

It was your great ideas that got us here in the first place. I never wanna hear another one of your great ideas.

BUTCH

Australia. I figured secretly you wanted to know so I told you: Australia.

SUNDANCE

What’s so great about Australia?

BUTCH

They speak English there.

SUNDANCE

They do?

BUTCH tells Sundance about the banks, the beaches, and the women Down Under.

SUNDANCE

It’s a long way, though, isn’t it?

BUTCH

Aw, everythings’s always gotta be perfect with you.

SUNDANCE

I just don’t wanna get there and find out it stinks, that’s all.

In Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, junior exec Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has been in love with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) for the whole movie. But Shirley is blind to Jack’s infatuation. Instead she’s in a doomed affair with married exec Mr. Sheldrake (Fred McMurray). When Shirley tries to poison herself after Sheldrake dumps her, Jack saves her life by getting her stomach pumped and sitting up all night with her playing cards. Next day he stands up to Sheldrake (who’s his boss), quits his job, etc., all the while believing Shirley still has no romantic interest in him.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in "The Apartment"

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon in “The Apartment”

In the final scene Shirley sees the light, races to Jack’s apartment just in time to catch him before he packs up and leaves town.

MISS KUBELIK

What’d you do with the cards?

BAXTER

In there.

Shirley gets the deck. sits beside Jack on the couch.

BAXTER

What about Mr. Shelkdrake?

MIS KUBELIK

We’ll send him a fruitbcake every Christmas. Cut.

He cuts a deuce, she cuts a ten.

BAXTER

I love you, Miss Kubilek

MISS KUBELIK

You got a two, I got a ten. I win.

BAXTER

Did you hear what I said, I absolutely adore you.

MISS KUBELIK

Shut up and deal.

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in "Some Like It Hot"

Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot”

Billy Wilder topped this of course with the last line of Some Like It Hot, when Jerry (Jack Lemmon), hiding out from the mob in drag with a girl band, explains to his zillionaire suitor Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) that he can’t marry him.

JERRY

You don’t understand, Osgood. I’m a man!

OSGOOD

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Subtext beats text every time.

That’s love.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

6 Responses to “50 Ways to say “I Love You””

  1. Mary Doyle
    January 18, 2017 at 5:49 am

    Terrific post! “Subtext beats text every time.” I cannot imagine three better examples to illustrate this – thanks so much.

  2. January 18, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I’ve heard there are also 50 ways to leave your lover…

    Which would lead me to believe there are 50 ways to say, “I hate you,” in the sub-text as well.

    Maybe sometimes, “I love you,” is subtext for “I hate you,” and vise versa.

    Learning to write things without directly saying what you’re trying to say is quite challenging.

  3. January 18, 2017 at 10:29 am

    After reading this; I Couldn’t help but think how many times a day I unconsciously say: Love It!!! – if a Post on Facebook really resonates I click on the LOVE not just the Like. Just yesterday I said to myself LOVE how the Universe works with timing when I felt all bummed out I was going to have to give up on painting Crater Lake; when I learned almost simultaneously of a class at the Art Club right here where I live with the title “Paint the painting you have always wanted to paint” saying to myself OMG – LOVE IT, there is a class with an instructor that wants to help me paint what I want to paint and not have to paint the picture the instructor has chosen to teach me. I don’t know does “this” have anything to do with “Subtext beats text every time?” Too, how many more times “love it” is used more than “love you” during the day.

  4. January 18, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I prefer the ‘on the nose’ dialogue. Come to Australia, Steve!

  5. Lee Poteet
    January 23, 2017 at 8:32 am

    So frequently in life if not in fiction we or our characters say “I love you” up front or in the beginning long before they have any real idea what love is or it’s true costs. Many a young man has said it because he wants an immediate and physical reward but only learns the true meaning of the words at or near the end of a life filled with conflicts as well as joys.

  6. January 25, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Funny, I haven’t seen The Apartment, but when I read the script on here, I thought that Mr. Baxter should have won the hand. I figured I’d watch the ending on YouTube to see how it felt on screen.

    Turns out – at least in this version (are there multiple?) – Miss Kubelik draws a 3, and Mr. Baxter a Queen. She makes no mention of who wins. Mr. Baxter is oblivious. But, he’s won the hand.

    I like that ending better.