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Do You Need the Words “I Love You” in your romance...

[poll id="183"]

This was a topic Keishon blogged about last week. (Thanks Tee!). I recall there being a controversy over Jane Feather’s book featuring Jack and Arabella in Almost a Bride. This was a book published pre Dear Author, but it was a book both Jayne and I liked. The hero, Jack, is a duke and never once says “I love you” to Arabella even though I was convinced (and I believe Jayne was) that he did love her in the end. His not saying those words was in keeping with his characterization which was autocratic and full of superiority.

There is the famous line in Ghost where Patrick Swayze’s character says “ditto” whenever Demi Moore tells him she loves him.

Are the words necessary for you?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

74 Comments

  1. AnneD
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:30:40

    Not if both the hero/ine have internalised that they know the other loves them, I don’t. Which, I guess, is the “I was convinced” argument, isn’t it.

    I’m going to step out on a limb here: I have issues with the words “I Love you”. They are treated so shabbily and casually in today’s society that they are almost a cop out in my view. I even have issues saying it to my husband and child – let alone all my friends, acquaintances, the mail man and the occasional (or more) rock or movie star as seems to have become so prevalent (at least as I see it in USA society).

    I Love You should be something more than a casual pacifier.

  2. Srsly
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:32:27

    I know from experience that if you don’t put them in at least once, readers are going to mention it in their reviews. Even if the love is obvious, the characters have to say it.

    And I think that’s because these are the words we all want to hear.

  3. Tee
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:33:27

    This was a topic someone in the blogosphere posted about last week (I just can't remember where).

    Keishon blogged it on her web page, avidbookreader.com last week. It was an interesting short piece. My answer, then and now, is “no.” If the author has done his/her job well enough, actions can truly speak louder than words at times in showing love.

  4. Sandy James
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:42:38

    It boils down to one thing for me — admitting your feelings and leaving yourself open to not having them returned makes you vulnerable. I want to see that vulnerability in the romances I read. I build up to that moment in all the books I write as well. To me, there is nothing more human than admitting you love another person and hoping he loves you in return.

    I guess no matter how old I get, the hopeless romantic in me will always be young and full of hope. :-)

  5. GrowlyCub
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:45:59

    My answer would be ‘it depends’, but since I’m closer to ‘Yes’ I picked that.

    There are some books where it’s not necessary, but interestingly enough, even though I have not read the book you mention, in the situation you describe I would require it, exactly because he was ‘full of superiority’.

  6. Edie
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:54:20

    I'm going to step out on a limb here: I have issues with the words “I Love you”. They are treated so shabbily and casually in today's society that they are almost a cop out in my view.

    I am with AnneD on this one.. It is such an overused phrase in some ways these days, and quite frankly they are just words. I am big on the actions speaking louder than words.
    It is probably more a personal thing with me, but the words I lubs ya, just don’t do it for me in the books unless there are actions backing it up. IYKWIM
    One of the reasons I stopped reading categories, especially the ones with the one POV, the dude could act like an ass the entire book but he says three common words and the H believes him? And all is now good?

    Am I just a cynical soul?

    And apologies for the rant, didn’t realise I felt so strongly.. lol

  7. vanessa jaye
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 08:55:04

    I don’t think they have to say it out loud to each other, but the characters should have acknowledged internally how much the other means to them and/or also that they recognize that the other person cares for them deeply (and perhaps the reason behind not saying it) .

    I also need to *see* that *love* demonstrated on the page, through the actions of each character (and I’m not talkin’ boom-chicka-wowow action– ie lust.) If all of that is in place, then it’s not really necessary to utter the statement.

    But my preference is that it is said, especially during a highly charged emotional moment. ::melty::

  8. md
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:01:49

    No.

    Saying “I love you” is easy.

    I’m far more impressed by authors who can convince me beyond a doubt without ever resorting to the words. If the words remain unspoken but come across emotionally as having been said–then that’s a powerful and good read, in my opinion.

  9. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:22:32

    I find the I love you exchange satisfying, and prefer it to be included. There’s a reason Demi Moore hated “ditto.” Sometimes we need to hear the words. Of course, we have to be convinced or almost convinced of that love already, or the articulation doesn’t work.

  10. Natasha A.
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:26:57

    Everyone has already said it. I want it to be shown, not said. And even then, depending on the character, it doesn’t have to be much to show it.

  11. Clare2e
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:45:57

    I need the words, or their substitutes which can be made into their own sweet ritual. Mere words won’t work for me if the actions don’t match up somewhere, but when people avoid this (currently casual?) avowal, it’s like someone who never says “Bless You” or “You’re Welcome.” It makes me wonder why the block.

    Especially in a contemporary, if they know that’s what they’re feeling, the desire never to name it or to suppress saying it, when they might easily coo it to a pet or grandma or say it about a latte, makes me suspicious of characters.

  12. Cherrie Lynn
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:48:16

    I like for it to be shown, too, but I also like for it to be said. Some people do struggle with saying the words. To some, it’s a *huge* deal. That’s what I like to read: characters who ordinarily shy away from expressing those feelings brought to the point where they feel like they’ll just die if they don’t get the words out. Or they’ll die if they do, but they can’t hold back anymore. A scene like that will make me go to pieces every time.

  13. KA Mitchell
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:50:01

    I am utterly enthralled when a writer can make something like ditto sound like the most romantic thing ever and prefer it to frequent I love you‘s. There are authors who can make even the most mundane expressions seem like so much more. I think a depth of feeling is much more difficult to show than it is to trot out three little words. Of course, sometimes because a character has refused to say them despite his actions, there is amazing power in his capitulation, like the scene in season five of QAF. There, even repetition has power. (I’m being non-specific in case people would feel spoiled over a five-year-old series.)

  14. (Jān)
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:52:00

    I’d rather they show their love than speak it. I’ve read too many romances where the hero, after treating the heroine miserably for 300 pages, suddenly says he loves her and we’re expected to believe it. I like hearing the words only if they’re believable. And the words need not be uttered if they’re shown.

  15. MB (Leah)
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:55:20

    Show me the love. Words mean nothing if there’s no action behind it. So I voted no.

    I especially don’t want to read “I love you” after some kind of misunderstanding or fight. Then I never believe it because it’s just to placate then.

  16. Mireya
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 09:58:59

    I am not answering the poll because my answer is: it depends. There are some instances in which it just seems right to have the words actually spoken, in others it doesn’t matter because it’s blatantly obvious that the characters do love each other.

  17. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:15:55

    I know from experience that if you don't put them in at least once, readers are going to mention it in their reviews. Even if the love is obvious, the characters have to say it.

    None of my characters has ever said “I love you”, and I've never seen it mentioned in a review (of course I don't read my Amazon ones, so maybe I'm being pilloried over there even as I type, LOL!). I'm overjoyed to see that the poll isn't heavily lopsided in favor of the characters having to use those specific words!

    For me, it falls under “show, don’t tell.” I try really hard to show my characters fall in love. I try to make sure it’s clear in their internal monologues and narrative that they're in love. I also tend to find in both books and real life that the more personal, private, secret language that people use with each other shows and says more than “those three little words” (esp as they often feel hollow and unnatural in the mouths of characters). I mean, in Heyer's Venetia, when the heroine calls the hero “stoopid” at the end, you know that's code for “I love you”, and it works so much better for those two characters than an actual declaration would have.

    As a reader, I often find myself closing the book with a grimace when I get to the “I love you”, “No, I love you.” “No, I love you.” scene. They just don't work for me.

  18. KatiDancy
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:18:59

    Hm, interesting question. If the book has an HFN ending, then no, I don’t need it.

    But, I love to read the “I love you” scene.

    As everyone else has said so eloquently, I need to believe it. I think it really is that classic case of Show not Tell. I hate when there’s an “I love you” and I don’t buy it. I think that the first Cynster book also had no “I love you” moment between the hero and heroine, and Stephanie Laurens actually rectified the situation several books later, finally giving that first heroine the “I love you” that readers seemed to want. I never even noticed the words weren’t spoken. I bought that the hero loved her without giving her the words.

    So no, it’s not a requirement, but it’s always a scene I really love.

  19. Cathy
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:25:30

    It took me a while to decide on my answer to this, until I realized that for me there’s a difference between “romance” and “Happily Ever After.” In a Happy For Now novel, I don’t expect declarations of love, but instead fondness and committment. In an HEA, I expect declarations of love, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal, and I agree with others that the actions of the characters need to support the viability of their relationship.

    So, I voted no.

  20. Mariana
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:27:48

    I voted yes. I’m with Srsly and Sandy James. These are words you want to hear and leave you vulnerable. There is a case of the over-use or mis-use of the words; but for the most part, when an author writes a scene where both characters are vulnerable and you ache for them and they say it to each other, it makes me gooey.

  21. Sam
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:32:47

    I don’t care about the words. I believe actions speaks louder than words. An ILY doesn’t necessarily mean I buy that they do.

  22. LizC
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:33:12

    I like it but I don’t need it. Not if I’m convinced of the love and if I’m convinced the characters are convinced of it.

    The most recent example I can think of is Quinn in Victoria Dahl’s Start Me Up. As best as I can recollect Quinn never says it and while Lori internalizes that she may be possibly falling in love with Quinn she never says it either. I didn’t miss it because it wasn’t right for them to say it.

    And, of course, my favorite example is Heyer’s The Grand Sophy when Sophy tells Charles he can’t love her because he doesn’t care if she gets soaked in the rain and he tells her he doesn’t, that he “dislikes her excessively” without which I wouldn’t enjoy the book as much as I do.

    In other books I do think it’s a necessity for the characters to say it out loud if it’s the uncertainty of the depth of the feelings of their partner that’s been causing a significant amount of their conflict.

  23. katiebabs
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:39:58

    The phrase, “I love you” is so overused. The actions and the way two characters show their love is good enough for me.

  24. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:40:34

    In other books I do think it's a necessity for the characters to say it out loud if it's the uncertainty of the depth of the feelings of their partner that's been causing a significant amount of their conflict.

    . . . or if the declaration is set up as one of the hurdles in the growth arc of the character. I've certainly read books where the words HAD to be said for the character to break through some kind of mental/emotional block. And yeah, it works for me then.

  25. Chris
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:41:05

    Weird! I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, after reading Victoria Dahl’s SMU & TMD. The characters don’t get married in the end and I really don’t remember any definite “I love you’s” being shared between Lorie and Quinn but I felt good in the end. However, I just couldn’t let the book go. I kept thinking…something was missing. Whether it’s because I’m used to it or because it really bothered me, I’m not really sure. I don’t think I “need” it but maybe it feels more complete.

    For as long as I can remember, my dad has always said “Vice Versa” whenever my mom told him that she loves him as he leaves for work. I think it’s endearing.

  26. Leah Braemel
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:54:52

    IIRC Stephanie Laurens never has “Devil” Cynster in “Devil’s Bride” the first of her Cynster novels say “I love you” to the heroine. I think she addresses it much later in the series when years later he finally tells Honoria that he loves her, after they’ve had several children. And I didn’t even realize until that later book that he’d never actually said it, that his actions showed it.

    I love hearing my DH say it, but I don’t think it ‘has’ to be said in a romance if the actions show the depth of their love.

  27. Meljean
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 10:55:27

    I’m a “It depends” but “closer-to-yes” person, too. I don’t have to hear read them verbalized, but I have to be convinced that a) the love is there, and b) the other person knows it. I prefer that it is said, but if it is understood and I believe it, I’m okay if the phrase isn’t spoken.

  28. Lori
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 11:05:21

    I don’t believe it has to be said to be there and it can be said and not be there…

    but I was it said. It’s part of the hearts and flowers kind of thing I like. I’m sure some stories work just fine without them, but my preference is a hearty: yes, let’s hear it!

  29. Moth
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 11:05:54

    @Chris

    Weird! I've been thinking about this for the past few days, after reading Victoria Dahl's SMU & TMD. The characters don't get married in the end and I really don't remember any definite “I love you's” being shared between Lorie and Quinn but I felt good in the end. However, I just couldn't let the book go. I kept thinking…something was missing. Whether it's because I'm used to it or because it really bothered me, I'm not really sure. I don't think I “need” it but maybe it feels more complete.

    For me, I really appreciated that Dahl didn’t have Ben and Molly getting married and making babies a month after they started dating. Same for the characters in Start Me Up.

    I read a contemp category in a series a few months ago and one of the couples from a previous book showed up and a month after those two people met they were married and pregnant! A month! Pregnant! Squicked me out, and made me worry about them. Yes, stuff like that happens and I’m sure its worked out for some people sometime somewhere. But really, I didn’t buy it and it really made me like that couple, series and author less. It felt forced.

    I also really hated “Don’t Look Down,” and I think JT said “I love you” to Lucy in that book like a week after they met. And they’d only spent a few hours worth of time together really (and most of that is spent sex00ring). I might be remembering wrong, though, about him saying it…

    So, count me in the “No, I don’t need it” group. Go for what’s believable for the couple and the context of your book.

  30. Moth
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 11:11:12

  31. Andrea S
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 11:15:44

    I said ‘No’ but I’m going to have to agree with many people above.

    I love the scenes where the Hero or Heroine spill their guts about how much they care for the other. I don’t think those three little words need to be used, but they need to admit out loud that there is some sort of caring there. But it works best if you are SHOWN how much they care, and the admissions are just icing on the cake.

    Even if the H/H admits it internally to themselves, I’m okay with it. It was acknowledged. But I often don’t believe it if one character does a big about-face from asshat to dedicated lover. The words are used so casually in our society that there needs to be something to back up the declaration.

  32. votermom
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 11:50:16

    In a book I don’t care, but I will say that in real life, saying I love you is really important. I know a lot of pain that is caused by people who just won’t open themselves up enough to say it out loud to their loved ones.

  33. joanne
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 11:53:14

    If the character needs to say it, than yes, I need to see the words.

    I’m thinking specifically of Eve Dallas (since no one on the www has mentioned Nora in the past 4 seconds). That character NEEDED to say the words because it meant she was accepting the vulnerability of loving someone and giving her partner what he needed to hear. He had verbalized his feelings and then she did, too.

    (did I just mess up everything the author actually meant with that scene? Probably but it worked for me).

    Other characters/books then it just depends on what the writer has shown me about her protagonists.

  34. LizA
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 12:09:07

    I do not really need the I love you. Like someone said at the beginning of this thread, it is a vastly overused phrase! esp. in English. In German, “Ich liebe dich” is almost exclusively used for romantic situations, but hardly ever for childre-n, friends… that’s not to say that German or Austrian parents do not love their kids, but they would say something like “Ich hab dich lieb” instead of “Ich liebe dich”. So the overuse of it, esp. outside a romaantic situation, really bothers me…. I also think it is used too quickly, part and parcle of getting married too soon…. I do like it if the characters are aware of their feelings, though. One of my favourite romances ist “Sacred Sins” by Nora Roberts. IIRC, the two main characters never tell each other that they love each other, but show it in their behaviour – like Ben going to eat thanksgiving dinner with Tess’ grandfather, and finally Ben asking her to come see his parents. The reader, and the heroine, knows that this is commitment, and love…

  35. S. W. Vaughn
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 12:42:18

    You’ve just made me think of something interesting here.

    My husband and I say “I love you” to each other on a regular basis. But it’s almost always when one of us is leaving for something, or when we’re going to sleep (or after sex, but yanno, that’s kind of a given). So for us, it’s kind of an affirmation: If something happens to me while we’re apart (or sleeping), I just want you to know that I love you. We try hard not to leave each other angry.

    But we didn’t start doing this until several years into our marriage, when we were finally comfortable enough with each other to admit that we were stuck together for the rest of our lives and would be devastated to lose each other. And saying I love you is kind of compulsory for us now. We know we love each other. The words are there all the time, even when we don’t say them.

    I guess that’s why I don’t look for the I love you moment in romance. In fact, I can’t even remember any of these moments in the hundreds of romance novels I’ve read. I’m sure they must have been in some of them, but I never looked for them. I’ve found there are more important things in love than saying the words.

    In short, I don’t need the characters to say I love you – I’d rather they showed it instead.

  36. Kier
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 13:06:42

    I was going to reference Stephanie Laurens’ Devil’s Bride for the no I-love-yous example, but you guys beat me to it. What struck me about it was that it wasn’t till I read the later book (I’m pretty sure it was one of the twins as I pretty much stopped reading the series after their books) when Devil does say it that I even realized he hadn’t originally and I had to go back to DB and read it again for confirmation.

    To me, that says that the writing was so good (and DB is a keeper book for me as are many of those early Bar Cynster installments) that I didn’t even notice the lack. So no, I guess I don’t need an actual verbal acknowledgment of love (and I vehemently agree with early comments re:happening too fast) so long as the feeling/emotion is clear to hero, heroine, and reader alike. It is, I think, a central component of the HEA or even the HFN.

  37. Tammy
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 13:32:52

    I don’t need the explicit “I love you” – in books or in my personal life, but I think the answer to this question depends on the character. If the characters’ actions and emotional responses haven’t convinced me by the end of the book, saying “the three magic words” certainly won’t, either.

  38. Jennifer McKenzie
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 13:41:53

    I need it. I love it. It’s just my thang.
    That’s not to say that if I’m convinced they love each other and the words don’t happen I’ll throw he book against the wall.
    But I do like the words, the scene, where the H/h admit they love each other.

  39. Laura Vivanco
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 13:52:23

    I put together a very quick summary of the academic statements I’d found about the declaration/”I love you” in the romance genre. It’s here, if anyone’s interested.

  40. SarahT
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 14:00:11

    I commented on this at Keishon’s blog, so I’ll keep this short. No, I don’t need to hear or read: “I love you”. As real life experience has taught me, it’s very easy to say those words but actions are what prove them to be true.

  41. CupK8
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 14:07:26

    No, because I like variety in my heroes and heroines, and not all of them can say the words and keep in character. My boy and I say “I love you” to each other all the time, but the moment I get butterflies is when he looks at me in that way and says “You’re adorable” – that means more to me for some reason. The first time he said it, though…. that was very memorable.

    I dunno, I guess I’m with several others in that the words really are bandied around a lot in society today. Actions really do speak louder.

    Sometimes I feel like characters rub it in too much. They go on and on about their love for the other person and I get to the point where I’m like, “STFU and kiss her already!!” I think I liked the way Kyle said it in The China Bride: “She was my heart, but you, my dear girl, are my soul.” And then he kisses her. He says earlier he didn’t realize how much he loved her, but the Big Three do not end up next to each other in the typical way. I like eet.

    But also, like @Kalen Hughes said, sometimes the declaration is a necessary part of the character development, and without it you won’t be convinced. But I dislike the phrase being tossed in just because. :)

  42. Ashwinder
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 14:47:38

    If the author does her job at showing me that the characters are in love, I don’t need to read the declaration. If I can feel they love each other, then I’m happy. In fact, given a choice between a really cheesy declaration and none at all, I’ll take none every time. Sometimes the declarations with extra velveeta can ruin a book for me.

  43. DS
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 15:13:46

    I’ve seen this discussion several times and I don’t know if it is just different responders or what, but the insistence on saying I love you in a book seems to be lessening. I think it’s a good thing that things are more relaxed.

    I’ve always been in the camp of people who don’t need it said if actions show it.

  44. kelly krysten
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 15:23:45

    @Kalen Hughes:
    OMG! I never noticed that your characters didn’t say ‘I love you’. And I’ve definitely bought that they’re 100% in love in your books. You are one awesome writer.
    Turns out I’m a hypocrite because on Keishon’s blog I was very clear in saying that I needed to hear the words no matter what.

    Come to think of it, Suzanne Enoch wrote a book a few years ago and I didn’t realize the heroine never used the L-word until I read some Amazon reviews. Then in a later book in the series SE has the former-heroine tell the new book’s hero that she loves her husband. Didn’t work for me.

    But I do still love hearing ‘I love you’.

    Great blog!!! Gives me lots to think about.:)

  45. Susan/DC
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 15:59:36

    For me it’s no big deal. In fact, I usually don’t even notice if the H/H says “I love you” or not unless someone comments on it in a review or elsewhere.

    As another poster mentioned, in too many Old Skool type romances the hero is a jerk to the heroine, and I’m supposed to believe that three little words make up for 300 pages of asshattery — that’s happened enough that the words have lost their power. Far better for the author to show me the hero and heroine falling in love through their actions and internal thoughts, then I can believe it.

  46. Keishon
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 17:11:56

    Wow, look at those poll numbers…interesting.

  47. cs
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 18:55:47

    I need an author to show me and make it said too, if the said author can do both (and provide me with a good romance, and all the bells and whistles) I’m sold.

  48. Amber Green
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 19:27:23

    No, and my characters almost never use them.

    Remember “You have pierced my heart”? He didn’t have to say the L word. If you have to use the four-letter word to convince a character (or reader) of the fact, something is wrong with your ability to communicate.

  49. GrowlyCub
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 19:45:53

    While I understand where the folks with the ‘no’ answer are coming from and I don’t totally disagree, I have to admit I find some of the comments just a tad patronizing.

    I really think folks are answering two distinct questions here.

    I don’t think anybody disagrees that we’ve all read books where the romantic relationship was not convincing and the saying of the three words didn’t make a difference, but as others have already pointed out there are definitely books were it’s necessary for the story denouement and the character development that those words are said (more often than not by the male, but not always).

    But even that last fact has nothing to do with what people’s preference is on this topic. Patronizing reader and writer by saying if you need to use the words you don’t know how to communicate just doesn’t seem a politic nor a polite thing to do.

  50. Jane
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 19:52:39

    @GrowlyCub: I actually didn’t find any of the comments patronizing. Everyone’s expressing their own preferences not trying to foist it on others.

  51. Lorraine
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 20:03:57

    I definitely like to read the words, though I can’t recall ever reading a book where the characters didn’t say it. Who knows, there could be a book out there that I loved and didn’t even realize the words weren’t said.

    I cited Ghost the other day in answer to the DA question re: Do you feel out of step? I hated that the character couldn’t say “I love you”, relying instead on “Ditto”…ugh, just thinking about it annoys me.

  52. GrowlyCub
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 20:13:13

    @Jane:

    If you have to use the four-letter word to convince a character (or reader) of the fact, something is wrong with your ability to communicate.

    That really sounded patronizing to me. Maybe I’m just bitchy today. Is it the full moon? :)

  53. orannia
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 20:26:02

    I’m still working my way through all the comments but I would have to say ‘No’ (although who doesn’t want to hear the words?) But, as md said:

    Saying ‘I love you’ is easy. I'm far more impressed by authors who can convince me beyond a doubt without ever resorting to the words.

    I need to ‘know’ – I need the show, not the tell. And Almost a Bride is one of my keeper books – I think Jane Feather did a very good job of demonstrating Jack’s feelings without having to resort to the words. And I agree Jane, him saying it wouldn’t be in keeping with this Jack’s character :)

  54. Cindy from Michigan
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 21:05:27

    I want the characters written in such a way that they can’t NOT tell each other, “I love you.”

    That’s the ultimate buildup. That’s the payoff.

    And regarding that character’s superiority being such an important element that, even by the end of the story, it prevents him from emotionally going all the way? I haven’t read that book, so this comment is given in spite of that fact: to me, it feels like a sad and lonely dénouement.

    The most touching part of “Ghost” is at the end where he says, “I love you, Molly. I’ll always love you.” And then he tells her it’s the love you have inside that you take with you.

    Her replying, “Ditto” is cute, but it’s not the shining moment in the film.

    It’s those three simple, basic words. They do it for me every time.

  55. Keishon
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 21:35:59

    Meant to add earlier, that I don’t need the words if it has been shown very well. It’s only when the scene almost screams for it that I miss it. Does that make sense? As a reader, you just inherently know when those words are needed and when they are not necessary.

  56. GrowlyCub
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 22:00:06

    @Cindy from Michigan:

    And regarding that character's superiority being such an important element that, even by the end of the story, it prevents him from emotionally going all the way? I haven't read that book, so this comment is given in spite of that fact: to me, it feels like a sad and lonely dénouement.

    That was my thinking exactly, but I was curious because Jane said she and Jayne liked the book, so I went to Fictionwise and read the excerpt. I know I’m bitchy tonight, but my first thought was:

    ‘oh look, another Avon clone’ down to the ‘lost a fortune and then won one and the guy he won it from shot himself’ background description and the ‘heavy lidded’ but keen eyes. Maybe I’m overly protective, but I’ve read so many books that were blatantly plagiarizing Heyer lately that I’m really sensitized.

    I have to admit, I really did not like the one book I read by Feather, so between Jane’s explanation/summary and that excerpt I probably can’t give it a fair shake, but as I said, your summation above describes how I would feel about such a male character. I decided this one just wasn’t for me.

  57. Caligi
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 22:17:01

    I don’t like when saying “I love you” is treated as a monumental event akin to “Will you marry me?” There’s something fishy about the hero declaring the three words and the heroine becoming weak in the knees or the heroine feeling she’s in a loveless marriage because the otherwise INSANELY attentive hero has not specifically uttered the words.

    There are many ways to say “I love you.”

  58. LaurieF
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 22:20:27

    Slightly off topic but in the movie “The Empire Strikes Back”,
    when Han Solo’s reply to Princess Leah’s declaration of love
    (at a moment when he will likely die and they are his last words to her)
    is “I know”, I wanted to slap him in the back of the head.
    Yeah, I know the words were in keeping with the character but
    saying something else or even silence with a heartfelt gaze would
    have been preferable. Gah!
    I voted yes, I want the words.

  59. Dakota Flint
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 22:21:02

    I’d say it depends but I’m leaning more toward the “yes.” I want both the show and the tell. I want their actions to show clearly they’re in love, but I also look forward to the part in the story where the characters admit they care about each other. To admit their feelings shows their vulnerability to each other , but also represents a trust exchange that–for me–is the culmination of the emotional journey of falling in love.

    And I will say that it doesn’t necessarily have to be “I love you,” but whatever words or phrasing the characters use, the meaning and depth of feeling should be the same and equally understood. For both characters.

    Because the only romances that I’ve read where the “I love you” isn’t said in some form by one character, it’s the hero who doesn’t say it to the heroine…after she admits she loves him. Generally I find the trust and power dynamic of those romantic relationships unsatisfying and, at times, frustrating. He isn’t the “type” to say it out loud or he suffered some great tragedy, so it’s okay that HE never says it. And yet she demonstrates the generosity and selflessness of love by saying, in some form, words she knows won’t be returned. And if she “doesn’t need the words”…then why does he?

  60. Marianne McA
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 04:09:12

    No – as I said in the Teach Me Tonight discussion, my first Romances were by Georgette Heyer, who didn’t tend to use ‘I love You’ .
    I would wonder if there’s a generational/cultural thing happening there. I live in the UK, and my mum and dad have been married forever, but I can’t recall them saying ‘I love you’ to each other, or telling us (the children) that they loved us. Which they do. But that expression isn’t really part of their vocabulary. You’d get, if you pushed, a reluctant ‘I’m very fond of your father’.
    My teenage children, on the other hand, wouldn’t feel uncomfortable shouting ‘Love You!’ to their friends as they were leaving the house.

    So, as long as the sentiment is there, I don’t mind how it’s expressed, though my own favourite romantic moments from books probably don’t include the phrase.

  61. Nora Roberts
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 05:21:42

    I think words matter. So do actions and deeds.

    For me, saying I love you is a gift, and a risk. It makes you vulnerable.

    Certainly the words need the back-up of those actions and deeds, and in a Romance–writing or reading one–I want it all.

  62. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 07:57:00

    kelly krysten wrote: @Kalen Hughes: OMG! I never noticed that your characters didn't say ‘I love you'. And I've definitely bought that they're 100% in love in your books. You are one awesome writer. Turns out I'm a hypocrite because on Keishon's blog I was very clear in saying that I needed to hear the words no matter what.

    *grin* You just made my day.

    @ LaurieF: I love seeing how we all have such different reactions to things. That moment when Han Solo says “I know.” is one of my all time favorite and most romantic moments in film. I just think it’s perfect. And then when it’s echoed in reverse in RETURN? Total perfection.

  63. Christine Rimmer
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 08:44:18

    I couldn’t care less if they say it. To me, love is a verb. An action word. So as many have said here, it’s what they do.

    But I’m partly sick of the I love you convo because I’ve written it a gazillion times and it gets frustrating knowing that in the series books I write, it’s part of my contract with readers to deliver that.

    Sheesh. I’ve become an I Love You Scrooge. And thanks for this, Jane. It was so satisfying to hit the No button!

  64. Heather (errantdreams)
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 09:06:25

    The words aren’t necessary for me—but the writer had better do a darn good job making me feel all warm & fuzzy inside such that I don’t miss ‘em. :)

  65. Cindy from Michigan
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 09:15:29

    This is such an interesting discussion because it hits upon the thing I crave most in my reading and find in my favorite books.

    I want to feel that pyramid of tension between the H/H that is so well-crafted that I’m ready to scream into the room, “I love you!”

    No matter what they’re personal “deal” is, I want both characters to grow together and surmount their differences so deeply and so strongly – without losing their individualism in the process – that they can’t hold it back – they have to say those words to each other.

    Since I’m the kind of person who doesn’t say those words often or easily, it takes a lot for me to get to the point where I can’t hold back, either. That’s what I want from my favorite characters. I want to feel the strength in their surrendering of self that it takes to blurt it out. I want the author to take me all the way there.

    I’m not talking about platitudes and saying it over and over again. I like the actions and the thought processes just as much that bring the characters to the point where they’re compelled beyond their own control to say it.

    But just once. From both of them. Yes.

  66. Virginia Kantra
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:11:36

    Show me? Yes. But tell me, too. In real life, I wouldn’t choose a man so tight-lipped, tight-assed, or tight-hearted that he couldn’t open himself up enough to spit out three little words.

    In fiction, well, I’m prepared to accept a “lovers’ code,” whatever personal verbal shorthand this hero and this heroine have chosen to express their feelings. (“I know” works pretty well for me. “Ditto,” not so much.) But it really depends on the characters and how convinced I am that the confession of love is understood, that the feelings are real and mutual and acknowledged.

  67. Leslie Dicken
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:22:00

    I'm going to step out on a limb here: I have issues with the words “I Love you”. They are treated so shabbily and casually in today's society that they are almost a cop out in my view. I even have issues saying it to my husband and child – let alone all my friends, acquaintances, the mail man and the occasional (or more) rock or movie star as seems to have become so prevalent (at least as I see it in USA society).

    DITTO! ;-)

    I don’t feel the need to say it or hear it. And I don’t feel the need to read it or write it.

  68. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:31:37

    Cindy from Michigan,

    Well said!

    Saying I love you is a beautiful thing. It’s an important milestone in a relationship. I remember the first time I said it to my husband, and how easily he said it back.

    But–my dad has never said it to me (that I can recall), and that’s okay, too. I know how he feels.

    I voted no, BTW. I don’t need it. I just LIKE it!

  69. Katie Reus
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:36:33

    If it’s been shown by the author that the characters do indeed love each other, I don’t need it said. With some books, it’s so clear that the h/h love each other so what’s the point in saying it. That being said, in real life, I want to hear the words ;)

  70. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:36:33

    For me, the words “I love you” are important in a romance. They do need to be backed up with action and deeds, but if the hero or heroine is able to show partner that s/he loves him/her, then why not also verbalize it?

    I remember watching Oprah years ago, and this man, who was married for many years to his wife but had never said I love you, told his wife in front of millions of people that he did. Now, maybe he didn’t have to say the words and maybe the wife knew that he loved her, but there’s just something powerful in saying I love you.

    I agree with Nora Roberts when she wrote, “For me, saying I love you is a gift, and a risk. It makes you vulnerable.” Like her, I want it all in romance.

  71. Will Belegon
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:37:11

    In a screenwriting seminar, Warren Lewis told me something I have followed ever since. “Characters can lie and cheat with their words but their actions must always be true.”

    Yes, he is talking about the limitations inherent in scriptwriting, but I believe it transfers to longer formats.

    As long as the actions say it, I feel the words are subject to the demands of the characterization. I would be comfortable with those three words never being said as long as they are shown and felt.

    It is ALL about staying true to character. Han Solo was brought up. Personally, I believe the “I know.” was absolutely perfect and that the alternate would have been a characterization mistake… when you allow your personal preferences to override what you know to be correct characterization you end up with a jarring WTF moment.

    You know, like having the hard-as-nails pirate/smuggler with the criminal past wait for Greedo to shoot first because you are trying to be politically correct in your new edition rather than staying true to the original scene…

  72. Maili
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:39:36

    @LaurieF

    Slightly off topic but in the movie “The Empire Strikes Back”,
    when Han Solo's reply to Princess Leah's declaration of love
    (at a moment when he will likely die and they are his last words to her)
    is “I know”, I wanted to slap him in the back of the head.

    lmao! That was my reaction as well. I agree it’s part of his character, but god, I really wanted to knee his balls for that. I think it was the smirk after that did it.

    Back to the I love you – it depends. On characters’ personalities, I suppose? I can’t quite sit on a high horse and blather because the first time I uttered the three words to my husband was three years after we married. Whenever I admitted this, quite a few people found it horrific or “sad”, but it’s me and my DH is fine with it.

    With books, ‘actions speak louder than words’ works best for me, but there is quite a few films and books that have a ILY declaration that worked well. Like I say, it depends.

  73. Aileen
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 10:45:45

    While reading through the contest score sheet for a potential entry with one of my novels, I realized I had four lifetimes of romance and not once did they ever say “I love you”. The closest point was where the hero was arguing with the heroine’s brother and said he loved her. Yet I didn’t feel it was “missing”. It wasn’t needed, apparently, because none of my CPs noticed it, either.

  74. Gina
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 14:58:11

    I voted no, but the book must show me in many varied and emotionally satisfying ways that they love each other. I would much rather see the characters be loving than to just see the words I love you – I do prefer both if I can get it, though. I am a sucker for the “No of course I don’t love you, don’t read into my actions, they mean nothing, nothing I tell you!” romances (The Devil in Winter by Kleypas is a personal favorite for me) but I get extra squishy inside if I get the I love you by the end.

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