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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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Photo by Sgt. Skyler Tooker, DVIDS

Sgt. Maj. Anthony Sammartino, sergeant major of Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, talks to Steven Pressfield about Pressfield's new book "The Profession," as Pressfield signs a copy of his new book for Sammartino at the South Mesa Club, June 10.

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