In Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Laurey and Curly musically list all the don’ts necessary to keep their neighbors in the wide open spaces from “suspecting things” about the cowboy and the farm girl.
“Things” means love, of course.
In the song, folks in love who don’t want to appear in love should not praise charms, take arms, stand in the rain, or look vain; they ought not sigh, gaze, laugh or glow; and they must never throw bouquets, dance all night, or squirrel away each other’s roses and gloves.
That’s an awful lot of don’ts to remember and, despite the list, the neighbors got the gist. Laurey and Curly fooled no one–except maybe Jud, but what he thought was love would have to be a different post.
If you are writing a mystery, a down low love affair may be necessary. Sleuths have a bad habit of falling for the wrong person. Like the young lovers in the Oklahoma territory, the sleuth and the amour have to hide their feelings for professional, personal, or (let’s be honest) plot purposes.
Mysteries don’t provide a musical score to guide lovers on how to hide their loving behaviors. Open or illicit, a love affair under wraps is a challenge because people in love act like it.
And, they should. Have you ever read a novel where you’re told two characters are wild about each other, but on the page, they act like the last two people on the planet to indulge in the don’ts listed above? Sometimes writers are so focused on the hiding part that they forget to write the loving part.
How do you show affection between two characters? How do people in love act like it, even if they are trying to hide?
To borrow from the lyrics, here’s a practical list of what lovers feel and do:
1. Intimacy – Not sex, but the sharing of thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. If you trust someone with your heart, don’t you share your secrets and wishes with them too?
2. Habits and quirks – Lovers who spend time together get to know who likes long showers or short, if he’s a bear before his morning coffee, if she refuses to walk around in bare feet. They know because they notice the little things that make their partners annoying or adorable.
3. Togetherness – Lovers desire time together. Togetherness may not be possible, and it need not be constant, but being apart for too long should appear somewhere on the spectrum of painful to wishful.
4. Desire – How overt or hot desire runs depends on genre and the author’s comfort level, but if a person leaves you physically cold, you’re probably not in love. If two characters exhibit zero sexual tension on the page, they’re probably not in love either.
5. Hurts – You always hurt the one you love. Why? Because you can. Because you are sensitive to your lover’s opinions. Because old lovers make you jealous or insecure. Because forgiveness is hard, and trust is fragile. Because a story needs tension.
6. Expectations – Your lover should have your back. That means listen when you believe a death is not accidental, and no one else agrees. It also means they show up when you need them, they pull their weight in the relationship, and they may even call on the way home from work to find out if you’re out of milk again.
7. Friends and family – Laurey cautions Curly about being too much of a good thing to her family because, naturally, they’ve met him. Or maybe his friends have picked up on the googly eyes he makes at her. Friends and family are not blind or stupid. A normal human will bring a lover to Thanksgiving dinner, and so should fictional humans, because characters don’t live in a bubble.
8. Thoughtfulness – This means kind acts and the occasional surprise box of chocolates, yes. But thoughtfulness is also considering the other person when making plans– whether those plan are dinner, life-changing decisions, or dangerous acts that could make someone dead.
9. Support – Your lover wants the best for you as a person as well as the best for the two of you as a couple. In fiction, these two “bests” may be on a collision course, which makes for good drama and troubled relationships. But, a person who really loves you will see your side, even if they don’t agree or can’t go along with it.
10. Care and feeding – Curly may say he doesn’t want Laurey to bake his favorite pie, but get real, cowboy. If you care for someone, their physical happiness and well-being is important. Sometimes, that means pie.
With this list of how lovers act, examine characters who are supposed to have fallen for one another. Do they want to be together, know and enjoy one another, feel pain at separations and small (or big) hurts? Does he SHOW his affection to her? Does she slip up and give it away?
Do your fictional lovers behave like they love one another? Are they aware that, despite their best efforts to hide, someone is always watching? Even if it’s this guy: