Steve's All Is Lost Moment, 1974

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.
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ADDITIONAL READING » ON WRITING

Additional Reading: On Writing

Bambi versus Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business

by Mamet, David

Technically this isn’t a book about writing. It’s about Tinseltown and David Mamet’s love-hate relationship with it. But, along with Mamet’s witty and cantankerous evisceration of show biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla delivers masterly and extremely useful insights on getting movies made, surviving criticism, paying the rent and in general surviving Hollywood while retaining some scrap of sanity and integrity. Mamet is not just any writer. When he takes on a subject, you get it in context succeeding context—commercial, aesthetic, moral, ethical, legal, Talmudic, Tantric and Vedic. It’s like reading Thucydides if he’d loaded his stuff into a ’65 Mustang and split for the Coast.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

by Phillips, Larry W.

Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.

First Five Pages, The

by Lukeman, Noah

As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.

How To Be Inspired

by Williams, Nick

A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.

Journal of a Novel

by Steinbeck, John

When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.

Robert McKee’s Story Seminar

by McKee, Robert

I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.

Story

by McKee, Robert

This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.

Three Uses of the Knife

by Mamet, David

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