Get to “I Love You,” Continued

True, there are wonderful stories that end with one character declaring (on the nose, as they say in Hollywood), “I love you.”

But it seems to work much better when the declaration is either silent, or expressed by an image or a gesture, or articulated in a phrase that’s as far away from “I love you” as possible.

Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden and Ernest Borgnine after saying “I love you” in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”

Why?

It’s more fun.

The reader or audience gets it. They know Character A is declaring his love for Character B. So …

            “Shut up and deal”

or

            “Best job I ever had”

or 

            “Ah, f*@k it, Dude. Let’s go bowling”

deliver the goods and let the audience or reader fill in the emotional blank themselves.

In other words, the farther away we can make our overt final line from “I love you” (while still clearly meaning exactly that), the better.

“Text” is the line as written or spoken.

“Subtext” is the true meaning underlying the spoken or written line.

Subtext is always better than text because it lets the reader/audience participate.

The scene leading to the climax of The Wild Bunch is one of the great examples of subtext-beats-the-hell-out-of-text when saying “I love you.”

The Wild Bunch is the outlaw band based very loosely on the true historical gang of the same name, also known as the Hole in the Wall Gang or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 film of that name, the Wild Bunch in this final scene consists of Pike (William Holden), Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle and Tector Gortch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson) and Angel (Jaime Sanchez.) 

Setting; Mexico in the Pancho Villa era. The evil generalissimo Mapache has captured and tortured Angel, while the Bunch has been unable to take action because of the overwhelming number of Mapache’s troops. In the prelude to the final bloodbath, the Bunch wakes up after an all-night, self-loathing debauch in the dusty Mexican village where Mapache’s troops hold the captive Angel.

Pike is the leader of the Bunch. He stands and pays (very generously) the woman he has spent the night with. 

He straps on his gunbelt. 

Without a word Pike appears in the doorway of the room across the hall, where the Gortch brothers are wrapping up their own sordid night. 

Pike’s eyes meet Lyle’s.

Lyle squints back.

                        LYLE GORTCH (WARREN OATES)

            Why not?

Lyle and Tector stand and strap on their guns. They step outside. Dutch sits in the blistering sun with his back against the adobe wall of the house. He is whittling a stick.

Dutch looks up.

His eyes meet the eyes of his compadres.

With a laugh, Dutch plunges the sharpened stick into the dust. He stands.

That’s “I love you,” as leanly and as eloquently as it can possibly be said.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1

THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

noboybookcover

TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

22 Comments

  1. Peter Brockwell on July 8, 2020 at 1:56 am

    A wonderful post! So interesting to look at stories through this lens. I’m just thinking of the end of True Grit, where Mattie, now older, has Rooster’s remains re-buried in her family plot. That’s a wonderful wordless ‘I love you.’

    Thank you Steve for these insights!
    Peter

  2. Mary Doyle on July 8, 2020 at 5:21 am

    What a terrific follow-up to last week’s post – as always, thanks!

    • Steve MacCormack on July 8, 2020 at 9:40 am

      Fantastic! I loved watching that film with my dad way back when…

  3. Kevin R Worthley on July 8, 2020 at 8:02 am

    “Best job I ever had” – from movie “Fury”? Great example of “I love you” between soldier team in a US Sherman tank.

  4. Randy Gage on July 8, 2020 at 8:06 am

    And this post is explaining how to do this, “as leanly and as eloquently as it can possibly be said.”

  5. Kent Faver on July 8, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Terrific follow-up indeed! Thanks Steve. For those like me that can’t get enough of this thread – may I humbly recommend a Podcast I can’t put down/turn-off – The Plot Thickens with Ben Mankiewicz (TCM Host). Season 1 is an in-depth interview (like 7 1- hour episodes) with Director Peter Bogdanovich, with bonus audio of Peter interviewing Alfred Hitchcock and later Howard Hawks – way back in the day.

  6. Brian Nelson on July 8, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Steve,
    I think of ‘text-subtext’ as explicit vs implicit. Have been thinking about this in terms of recruiting for the military. Explicit advertising is pointed to a pre-disposed audience. My wife doesn’t drink, so no matter how clever a Bud Light commercial is written–she will never buy a beer. We need implicit messaging that captures our hearts, not our heads. I guess that is why the humanities are what continually pull our species forward, they point the way implicitly.

    I think the text ‘I love you’ cheapens the message to the audience. It might leave us with the feeling of being patronized instead of respected.
    bsn

  7. Andrew lubin on July 8, 2020 at 9:24 am

    And how awesome that I got to watch the movie again to ensure I got Steve’s point!

  8. Joe Jansen on July 8, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Good insights on the “subtext being implicit,” Brian. I think one of the best expressions of what Steve is talking about today is Heminway’s often-quoted passage from “Death in the Afternoon”:

    “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

    • Joe on July 8, 2020 at 9:37 am

      Where’s my internal editor?

      ^^ “…Hemingway’s often-quoted passage…” ^^

  9. Julio on July 8, 2020 at 9:45 am

    So the Muse has something to say and it happens to be ‘I love you’ without saying it. I wonder what Resistance has got to say?

  10. TWH on July 8, 2020 at 10:34 am

    Semper Fidelis…

  11. Marina+Goritskaia on July 8, 2020 at 10:53 am

    I can only wish someone told this to the songwriters 🙁

  12. Matt Rass on July 8, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    Boogie Nights when Dirk zips himself up in the mirror 😉

  13. Anonymous on July 8, 2020 at 8:01 pm

    Yep, story telling rule Number One: “Show don’t tell.” And you’ve offered up a great example.
    thanks, David Gerstel

  14. Jurgen+Strack on July 9, 2020 at 2:32 am

    “Brilliant!. Thanks, Steve.”

  15. Kyle on July 9, 2020 at 6:40 am

    I am seriously loving this segment Steve! It’s beautiful. Something I definitely want to craft into my own writing

  16. Apostolis+Alexopoulos on July 10, 2020 at 11:35 am

    Thank you mr. Steven. I think that the subtext can be full of magic if well given and that it somehow connects to the two great concepts of beauty and exploration (exploration of self too, since when the reader feels something unspoken, she may feel that the subtext’s impact on her was a part of her own that was unleashed). But it must be very difficult to maintain the subtext when we write a book because in order to omit it all the way long, every phrase and paragraph must be well designed – like music perhaps, almost flawless but always in the move (it wouldn’t be good if the subtext was everywhere the same I think). Or else the subtext will be coming and going, like a music album where we like some songs but we find others indifferent or even worse.

  17. Mike Silva on July 11, 2020 at 11:26 am

    “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

  18. fnaf on July 13, 2020 at 1:13 am

    What an extraordinary article! I bookmarked it to retest it after work. It appears as an extremely compelling topic to explain. Your post is extremely helpful to me. Thanks for your great post. I am especially happy to take a look at your post.

  19. Dorothy Seeger on July 15, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I have never written fiction, but this post makes me want to try!

  20. run 3 on July 31, 2020 at 1:45 am

    A good article, a good book can change the fate of so many people. Thanks for the valuable sharing, please keep it up to date and I will always follow you.

Leave a Comment