Get to “I Love You”

“Shut up and deal.”

“Would it kill you one time to put on a dress?”

“Walter, you’re all washed up.”

I’m sure we can all think of a million more, but these are famous last lines, delivered respectively by Shirley MacLaine, Art Carney, and Edward G. Robinson from, in order, The Apartment, The Late Show, and Double Indemnity.

            What do they have in common?

            They all mean, “I love you.”

Shirley MacLaine declares her love for Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”

            [P.S. for writers’ credits, let’s give it up for Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond, Robert Benton, and Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler.]

            It doesn’t work for all novels and movies but here’s an axiom I’ve found tremendously helpful as I work on a new story:

            Get to “I love you.”

            Moby Dick can be viewed as a love story between Ishmael and Queequeg. When the Pequod goes to the bottom with all hands and Ishmael is saved—by Queequeg’s watertight (empty) coffin bobbing to the surface—that’s “I love you.”

            When Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bites the dust in the final episode of Breaking Bad, thus saving Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), that’s “I love you.”

            Story after wonderful story starts with two characters who are miles apart in every way … and ends with the twain coming together as if it were the most natural and inevitable thing in the world.

            Can you identify the sources of these “I love yous”?

    “I told you I don’t want you riding with me no more.”

     “Want something? Pie?”

      “Why not?”

            Hint: these lines are delivered by, in order, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Duvall, and Warren Oates.

            (I would say “Answers next week,” but for sure the Comments section will answer them all within ten minutes of this post going up. I’m talking about YOU, Joe Jansen.)


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.

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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.



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.



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?"



  1. Peter Brockwell on July 1, 2020 at 1:52 am

    ‘Paper Moon’ I believe was the movie with “I told you I don’t want you riding with me no more.”? Which, Steve, you’ve used a few times in past posts to illustrate great points.

    A really interesting post, and novel angle. Thank you very much. Now I’m considering the piece I’m working on in this light.

  2. Joe Jansen on July 1, 2020 at 3:03 am

    Jocko Willink wakes up at 0430 on a typical Wednesday, takes a picture of his Timex Ironman wristwatch, and then goes to push iron, build up the calluses on his palms, and generally sweat all over his gym floor until it looks like a black-and-white photo of a crime scene.

    Myself on a given Wednesday, I wake up at 0430, take a leak, and then go my phone to see what Steve has to say on Writing Wednesdays — usually with the stealth of a cat burglar as I try not to wake up my wife with the light from my phone (think of Cary Grant in “To Catch a Thief,” except instead of a smooth British gent with Italian clothes and excellent hair, you’ve got me — with a midwestern accent, in my jammies next to my sleeping wife, and with a beard that my therapist tells me is probably modeled after Robert De Niro’s after he came back from Vietnam in “The Deer Hunter”).

    So while my Google-fu is strong and I appreciate the call-out, I’ll not steal the fun from my good friends in here by hogging up all the cake because I happened to get to the party early. Have fun, maties! And they’re all three good movies.

    • Joe on July 1, 2020 at 4:35 am

      But can I play in another way? I’ve got two for the group. This first one is a film that is probably one of my all-time favorites. The last time I watched it, which was probably the sixth or seventh time, I paused it after every scene, and (a la Shawn’s Story Grid) sketched what was the main action in each scene, how the value turned from positive to negative (or vice versa), how the scene moved the story forward, which scenes comprised a sequence, and where the act broke from I to II, from II to III, etc. I filled up 27 pages of yellow legal pages (known around these parts as “foolscap”).

      So… a final line delivered by Meryl Streep, which epitomizes “I love you”:

      ==> “Denys will like that. I must remember to tell him.”

      In another film, final lines of love delivered in a non-English language by Rodney A. Grant:

      ==> “Can you not see that I am your friend? Can you not see that you will always be my friend?”

      Bonus hint: Each film won seven Oscars.

      • Mary Doyle on July 1, 2020 at 5:32 am

        “Out of Africa” and “Dances with Wolves?” (My face will be red if I’m wrong, here, so I trust you to set me right Joe.)

        Love this post, and will check back frequently for the comments today. Steve, you always find a way to get people talking and, more importantly, thinking!

        • Joe on July 1, 2020 at 6:22 am

          You nailed it, Mary! And agreed that these posts can get people thinking and talking with each other.

      • Susan+Setteducato on July 1, 2020 at 8:36 am

        Out of Africa. Dances with Wolves. Shumani Tu tanka Owanji.

        • Joe on July 1, 2020 at 11:09 am

          Right on both films, Susan. And thanks for the Lakota translation!

      • Laural Armster on July 1, 2020 at 11:12 am

        The end of Dances with Wolves has me bawling every time.

  3. Brian Nelson on July 1, 2020 at 7:09 am

    I love the recognition that “I Love You” is said/acted out in so many different ways. How guys bust each other’s balls in the locker room, team-room, or doing the ruck-sack flop after a long march/actions on the objective.

    I know your advice is for writing, but I think I”m going to expand it to how I see the world. Where do I see people acting out or using different words to say “I love you”. A thought just came to mind when Kurt Russell has the US Hockey team do wind sprints after losing to Norway. ‘Again!’ he kept saying until most of the team was vomiting on the ice. Kind of a Bobby Knight form of love, but that will count for me as well.

    This is a helpful frame of mind at any time, but catches me on a day when I’m a bit more on the crabby side. Thanks.

    Joe Jansen! The man! I always need to budget another 30-90 minutes to follow Joe’s meaningful posts. 0430? Impressive. There is something so nice about the early mornings. When I golf, I always love to put the first footprints in the dewy grass. There is something powerful about being awake while most of the world is still asleep. To witness the world come alive.

    • Mary Doyle on July 1, 2020 at 7:26 am

      Brian, I am on the same page with you about early mornings. I’m usually waking up around four, and that first hour or so feels like stolen time that the rest of the world doesn’t have access to. For all my faults, I’m happy to be a lifelong Morning Person.

    • Joe on July 1, 2020 at 8:59 am

      Brian… It seems like most every instance of redemption or reconciliation, in whatever form the narrative presents itself (page, screen, court, field), centers on love. And what is love? The recognition of yourself in another? We see people picking mates who have similar features as themselves, even dogs that reflect their physical appearance or temperament.

      I think of two spiritual greetings, one well-known and the other less-so: At the end of yoga class, we pull our yoga pants out of our butt cracks and bow to one another and say, “Namasté,” which is translated many ways but often as “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.”

      The lesser-known greeting is “Mitákuye Oyás’in.” There was a time I regularly attended a Lakota sweat lodge, and I learned this term from them, which translates as “all my relations” or “we’re all related.”

      It’s probably no mystery why the most satisfying stories conclude with an expression of “I love you” (in its many forms, as you note). Because it’s what we’re all seeking.

      And not just at the end of the story, either. Do you recall the scene from HBO’s Band of Brothers, when medic Eugene Roe is running from foxhole to foxhole during the siege at Bastogne? At one point he lands in a foxhole, pulls out a crucifix, and recites a portion of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Oh lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”

      It was a powerful moment, I think, because it’s what we’re all seeking — ultimately. Whether in a foxhole or a sweat lodge or a yoga studio or in the story told in a book or movie. That recognition of our common humanity that is expressed in the emotion we call “love.”

  4. Jack Price on July 1, 2020 at 8:04 am

    I don’t get up until 5:30. But I always was a slacker.

    • Brian Nelson on July 1, 2020 at 9:40 am

      That is exactly the tonic I needed this morning! Thank you. Too funny.

    • Jurgen+Strack on July 2, 2020 at 12:24 am

      Just to contradict ‘German punctuality’ stereotype – I always read WW and posts a day late 🙂

      • Joe on July 2, 2020 at 9:17 am

        Jurgen… The trains run on time… usually. 😉

  5. Bill Miller on July 1, 2020 at 8:15 am

    In “The Wild Bunch,” William Holden (playing Pike Bishop) says to Warren Oates, “Let’s go.”
    Warren Oates glances at his brother, knowing the sacrifice that Holden is calling for. He responds with, “Why not.”

    It is an exchange of only four words, and it is cinematic brilliance. Only by the looks, expressions of the actors, and those few words, the scene moves beyond what words can describe. It is Hemingway’s iceberg technique in full display.

  6. Julie M. on July 1, 2020 at 8:24 am

    My husband has a line, “This discussion is now over” ???? He is basically saying I love you but I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s usually over me going on about stoicism or meditation.

  7. Kent Faver on July 1, 2020 at 8:26 am

    I watched The Apartment for the first time about a month ago – interesting to watch it in a Pandemic – the floors were so crammed with employees they had to clock out by floor. Wonderfully crafted story by Billy Wilder – and who could blame Fred MacMurray for running to Disney after that role?

  8. Laural Armster on July 1, 2020 at 11:15 am

    I’ve just thought of an “I love you” from my own life. My husband will often quote Movie Gandalf to me when we’re having a misunderstanding – “I’m not trying to rob you. I’m trying to help you.” He always says it with the most gentle voice, and it changes the atmosphere every time.

  9. Bill Cokas on July 1, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    I’ve got one. At the end of “My Fair Lady,” upon realizing Eliza has returned, Higgins consciously affects a casual pose and says, “Where the devil are my slippers?”

    • Marie on July 1, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      Ahhh, and her line to him just before that, “I washed my face and hands ‘efore I come, I did.”

  10. Charlotte Rodziewicz on July 1, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    Sometimes it can be just one word or two — but in that knowing voice, such as “Yes” or “my dear.”

  11. Rob Kotecki on July 1, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    That last line was from The Wild Bunch but it was Borgnine, not Oats I believe. Great quote though.

  12. Jerry on July 1, 2020 at 3:18 pm

    “We’ll always have Paris.”

    • Mariana Fay on July 2, 2020 at 1:13 am

      Aw, the best! Casablanca. Bogart to Ingrid Bergman

  13. Kati+Reijonen on July 1, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    A very interesting point, Steve. In my country no one ever says “I love you”, probably because the Finnish word for love (rakastaa) is so…potent to be a bit scary. But now I am thinking maybe we express our love in more ways than I ever thought. This makes me a bit worried. How many time has love gone unnoticed in my life? Yaikes!

    I am thinking about sauna. When you visit someone and she says “The sauna is ready”, that sentence is so soothing and wonderful that it brings tears to your eyes! If thats not an “I love you” I dont know what is!

    How come I have never thought this before.!

    I did some googling and found evidence. Here´s a quote from a Finnish writer:

    “There is nothing that Finns have been so unanimous about as their sauna. This unanimity has remained unbroken for centuries and is sure to continue as long as there are children born in their native land, as long as the invitation still comes from the porch threshold in the evening twilight: “The sauna is ready.”
    Maila Talvio 1871-1951

  14. Jurgen+Strack on July 2, 2020 at 12:29 am

    Think of the movie Creed – Adonis Johnson, the son of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, embraces his legacy as a boxer and seeks mentorship from Rocky Balboa, his father’s old friend and rival.
    Creed fights ‘Pretty Ricky Conlan’ for the title in Liverpool, England.
    Conlan wins / retains his title – but walks up to Creed saying, “you’re the future of this division” and some other words.
    That’s basically saying, I love and respect you, right.

  15. Frank Freeman on July 2, 2020 at 7:46 am

    “Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
    . . . .
    “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

  16. Nick Sherman on July 2, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Steve breaking the blog barrier and going straight for the HARD callout – quote: “YOU” – made me laugh so hard. Freaking love this blog.

  17. Maria on July 3, 2020 at 1:35 am

    Amazing insights as ever , everyone. Steve , your wisdom and ability to break down the complexities and nuances in film, literature and life leave me speechless. I will go about for the rest of the day looking for the invisible ” I love you” that surround me.

  18. Stephen Burrows on July 5, 2020 at 2:20 am

    See also the (very sweary) ending to Dusk ‘Til Dawn

  19. Jeff Korhan on July 6, 2020 at 7:54 am

    “I don’t know, but it’s looking good so far.”

  20. Peter Wink on July 6, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Thought-provoking Steven. Thank you for posting.

  21. Coby Brian on November 12, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    The common thread among these memorable last lines is the universal theme of love. The axiom, “Get to ‘I love you,'” underscores the transformative power of relationships in storytelling. Whether it’s the complex dynamics in “The Apartment,” the camaraderie in “The Late Show,” or the dark allure in “Double Indemnity,” the narrative journey often leads characters from distant worlds to a profound connection. This axiom proves insightful, transcending genres, as seen in Moby Dick’s unexpected love story or Breaking Bad’s poignant conclusion. It emphasizes the resonance of love as a driving force in narrative arcs, where characters evolve and find meaning in their connections. To truly understand the depth of a story, learn why reaching “I love you” is pivotal in creating compelling, relatable narratives.

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