LOVE is always welcome in the slicks. Regardless of the nature of a slick story, a love interest gracefully introduced and properly concluded will never harm a tale. If a plot is weak, love will give it strength. If the world the writer is describing tends to be soiled, sordid, and dark, love is better than Lux. As a chance guess, I'd say that 50 percent of the stories researched for this book contained some love interest. Without guessing, I'd also say that this 50 percent was made up of the weaker fiction. The reason? Love, in most of its slick manifestations, has become mere emotional padding. And the reason for this? Love, like every other theme dealt with in slick fiction, must conform to strictures defined by reader understanding and advertiser tolerance.
The kind of love (or the aspects of love) to which slick fiction can devote itself is a valuable fictional ingredient to slick editors. Primarily, it's fun. It is inspiring. It is dramatically strong. It's simple to understand. Most adults feel they have experienced it and consequently can sympathize and identify with it. It reveals the more pleasant facets of human nature. Most people are interested in it and also approve of it. It precipitates marriage, which pre- cipitates children, who make a family which every advertiser worth his salt is crazy about. But just because love is such a golden commodity, it has been handled and manhandled again and again. And editors, ever striving for originality, find that in most slick stories it sits better in the background than up front. As a result, although a fabulous number of stories contain a love interest, comparatively few lean heavily on love. This and the three following sections will deal mainly with those few stories which do.
A love story is a story about two people who consciously or unconsciously want to get together and are having trouble doing so. Most often, in the slicks and out of them, the two lovers finally do get together. At that point, the story ends. By numerical count of the stories read for this book, 90 percent dealt with successful love affairs and 10 percent with failures. The writer can draw his own conclusions about which kind to write.
It's an arbitrary breakdown, but slick love tales can be categorized into "girl gets boy," " boy gets girl," "boy and girl get each other," "boy loses girl," "girl loses boy," and "boy and girl lose each other." The prize for popularity goes easily to "girl gets boy." The others follow in the order mentioned; the last three are a very sad fourth, fifth, and sixth.
The classic situation in amatorial pursuits is, of course, the eager male after the fair maiden. The reason why so many slick love stories deal with the converse lies in the fact that women, as pointed out before, make up the majority of popular-magazine readers. And women, for some reason, seem to get a rise out of thinking themselves as the aggressors in love matters. At any rate, take this story.
A young widow with a six-year-old daughter owns a farm which she has turned into a money-making proposition. Not content with that, she wants to buy the adjoining prune ranch from the young bachelor farmer who inherited the place from his brother and isn't making a go of it. On principle, he refuses to sell out to a woman and so confess failure. She attempts all sorts of dodges, even to trying to buy the land secretly through a third party. Before she knows it, the young widow has fallen in love with her neighbor and, being an active and outspoken woman, proposes marriage to him. He refuses, thinking she would even marry him to get his land. Through the "cute" intercession of the widow's daughter with whom the farmer has become great friends she finally proves to him that she loves him for his own sake, and they marry.
The barrier to the ultimate union can be almost anything. It can be ignorance on the part of the passive party that he or she is the object of someone's affection. It can be a distrust or dislike of the idea of marriage. It can be an impeding difference in the social or economic status. It can be the interference of friends or relatives. The infinite possibilities in barriers is matched by an equal number of possible solutions. The single most popular solution to the difficulty comes in the form of help from some third party, some genial Cupid. Here's one.
This pathetically shy adolescent girl goes to a dance. No one seems to be asking her out on the floor. As each number goes by, and she is left standing on the sidelines, her bashfulness increases. An old colored mammy, who is serving at the dance, sees her predicament and offers help. She tells the girl that there is a magic riddle which will make any boy on the floor dance with her. All the girl need do is walk up to the boy, speak the riddle, and the magic spell will be cast. The girl is doubtful but feels anything is worth a try. She walks boldly up to the boy she likes most and tells him the riddle. They begin to chat, and he asks her to dance. The trick, of course, is that telling the riddle has enabled the girl to overcome her shyness.
It is not the easiest thing in the world for a writer to fashion just the right kind of barrier between the boy and the girl, especially if the girl is the pursuer. It is always necessary for the reluctant, unknowing, or otherwise uncooperative youth to be really in love with the girl, or at least capable of being stricken with love for the girl. There would not be much point in telling a love story about a girl who is mad for a fellow who is disgusted with her but who finally, say, succumbs to her importunities through sheer enervation. First of all, the girl must be worthy of being loved; secondly, the young man must be inclined to fall in love.
In consequence, what barriers the writer fashions must not be so high or so thick that they cannot be gracefully removed. The barrier is usually gentle or whimsical, sociological or even mental. But whatever it is, the help of a third party who is interested in seeing the girl get her man or vice versa is the most suitable and most easily handled means of concluding the affair. A young girl has fallen in love with a considerably older business acquaintance of her father's. He has paid her a good deal of attention, but now he is about to leave the city, and the young girl cannot be sure the man was not merely indulging what he thought to be a nice, likable child. She realizes that she must impress him with her maturity and her affection for him before he leaves, or he will be lost to her forever. A farewell party is to be given in his honor at her father's house. That will be her last opportunity.
She dresses up in a chic, adult gown belonging to her stepmother, who is a very fashionable, witty, and still quite youthful woman. To the girl's amazement, the stepmother whom she always considered her friend, belittles her painfully in front of the man she is trying to impress. The stepmother nastily remarks that the dress the girl is wearing is actually hers, makes snide references to the girl's age, and generally treats her like a flighty adolescent. The result of this cruel treatment is that the man recognizes that the stepmother 's seemingly thoughtless remarks are malevolent, feels sorry for the young girl, and in so doing discovers his own love for her. The snapper is that the worldly-wise stepmother had purposely treated the girl cruelly, knowing that it would elicit the sympathy of the older man, and that it very well might lead him to realize his unconscious love for the girl.
Boy Gets Girl
THE STORY about the boy getting the girl is not merely a reversal of the "girl-gets-boy" piece: the major differences seem to be dictated by the slick concept of love affairs. It's quite acceptable to have a girl play up to a boy for 5000 words and through it all have the boy completely unconscious of the attentions that are being paid him-quite acceptable to have him suddenly struck by Cupid' s deadly shaft. But it doesn' t work that way when the roles are transposed! When the young swain is hot on the trail of some fair damosel, she is always aware from the beginning that she is being pursued. And she does not suddenly recognize her love for the fellow and throw herself into his arms for a quick curtain. Love, rather, grows on her slowly.
The classic Hollywood description of one kind of love story nicely applies to its slick counterpart: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. The male will experience constant reverses, and weather them by dint of tenacity. A lady in pursuit will not meet reverses. She may have trouble overcoming initial emotional inertia in the beloved, but slick love strictures have it that once a male is captured, he is captured for good. Also, it's good form for a girl to catch her man with a trap she had set for him. The male, though, will win the girl more by virtue of his good heart than by any tricks he may consciously invent to attract her attention. In fact, cute slick usage often has the male actually injure his cause with his amatorial scheming. This way of developing love affairs in the slicks has the effect of exemplifying the woman's greater prerogative in choosing mates. When a man succumbs to a woman's wiles, he and the reader can be quite happy about it. But a woman, supposedly, knows from the beginning exactly what she wants, and no synthetic showmanship will induce her to accept a false coin. The whole idea rests on a kind of twentieth-century fictional gallantry. A man can be a very nice chap and still simply not be the right man for the heroine. But if a girl is sweet and reasonably attractive physically, she should (it is tacitly agreed) be able to make any man happy. This set-up probably derives from the real-life biological fact that most men can enjoy any woman, provided she is congenial and pretty, whereas most women (or so common feeling has it) need that extra-special something, be it a certain spiritual attribute or a likeness to a father-image. Very often a "boy-gets-girl" tale is nothing more than an I-loved-you-all-the-time affair.
A certain young fellow works for a middle-aged insurance man who is an amusingly windy braggart. Half on business, half for pleasure, the two of them spend some time at the local country club. There they meet a pretty young lady who arouses the interest of the boss. Despite his pot-belly, he engages the girl in a tennis match and does fairly well. The boss' assistant, our hero, falls hard for the girl, too. In order to prove his youthfulness and virility to the young girl, the boss challenges his employee to a tennis match which the girl will witness. The young man who would also like to impress the girl doesn't know whether he should play to win and alienate the older man, or play to lose and invite the contempt of the girl. After staying in the lead throughout the entire game, he decides to lose.
The girl goes on to smother the old man with attention, and the hero is certain his cause is lost when the old man announces that he has decided not to marry the girl, that he would be a fool to give up his freedom. This raises the hero's hopes. He pursues the girl and discovers that, far from having inspired her contempt by losing the match, the girl had recognized the fact that he was purposely throwing the game and admired him for not having hurt his boss' feelings. He learns, too, that she had actually been in love with him from first sight and had seemed to respond to the old man only in order, again, not to injure the boss' vanity. Quite often, especially in the women's magazines, the girl will love the man, but will have some reservations about marrying him which are not directly connected with him as an individual. As an instance: The heroine's sister, some years before the story opens, went off with an artist to Paris where the couple lived a turbulent married life and produced one child. The marriage didn't work out, and the sister came home to the States to take up housekeeping with the heroine who, until that point, had been kept from marrying by having to care for her invalid mother. The mother is now dead, but with the sister and her child back, the heroine still does not feel free to marry the man who has been after her for years. Suddenly the sister starts going out with the heroine's beau, which stirs the heroine into action. Desperate at the thought of losing her suitor to the sister, she agrees to marry him. It turns out, of course, that the seemingly villainous sister had planned it just that way and had not at all intended to steal the sister's beau away.
Occasionally, the barrier to a happy union will be some correctable failing of the male which he does not recognize as a failing.
The hero of one story reads in the newspaper of the death of the husband of the girl he once loved and lost. Thinking that perhaps now he might have another chance, he flies back to his home town to see her. After many exhortations, the despairing hero madly crushes the widow in his arms. For the first time in her life, the fire of true love is awakened in her. At least, that's what the author claims. Seems that neither the hero nor the dead husband had ever been so passionate and virile as she unconsciously had wished them to be. At any rate, she ecstatically agrees to try again with her original suitor.
As you may or may not suspect, stories with the warmer descriptions of sexual emotions and sensations are more or less restricted to the women's magazines. And, in a sense, the richly colored, tumid prose one sometimes finds there tends to be pornographic. Never dirty or vulgar, mind you, but an aphrodisiac in the same way standing-up, out-of-bed motion picture doings are aphrodisiacs. A word about pre-marital intercourse in the slicks. It is not absolutely taboo as homosexuality is. But its occurrences are very rare, and there are always extenuating circumstances attending them, such as a deep true mutual passion accompanied by the practical impossibility of marriage, as in the case of a soldier on short leave before shipping overseas.
Adultery is never in any way condoned in the slicks, not even when performed by sympathetic characters. Eventually, in some way, the participants pay for their transgressions. Fornication is more acceptable. Actual verbal references to the details of the act even get by on occasion. But these references are of such a fuzzy, idyllic, and romantic nature, that the pure-of-heart can easily interpret them as referring to the raptures of less serious love-making. One thing is certain: stories which contain any adventures in bed are never facetious. The "act" is always handled with the utmost reverence. It is regarded-if regarded at all- as a deep emotional experience, and never as a lustful indulgence or as subject matter for jokes.
The just good-fun love stories abound in the slicks. The characters in them most often are gauche, horsey, zany, lovable people who act and think quite like animated cartoon caricatures. Such stories usually need a strong gimmick to sell. Such a piece about a bashful, boyish office worker is typical.
The hero is desperately in love with a co-worker in his office, but cannot bring himself to ask her out or in any way indicate his affection for her. One day he picks up a book on hypnotism, and, after reading it, offers to cure a headache his beloved has. She seemingly goes into a trance. He suggests away the headache but also commands her to love him on awakening, which she obligingly does. He is overwhelmed and, feeling the pangs of a guilty conscience at his unethical success, confesses to the synthetic inducement of her passion. As the snapper, she confesses that she had simulated the trance, was conscious all the while, and was glad to have this opportunity to show the affection she had held for him.
Boy and Girl Get Each Other
THE EMPHASIS in this type of love tale is on the barrier that keeps the lovers apart. One lover is not chasing the other. There is no coyness, cat-and-mouse feinting and recovering. It is a practical business. Both lovers seek each other equally and equally share an impediment to their union. This impediment can be external, as in the classic example of the dissenting families in Shakespeare ' s Romeo and Juliet. Or it can be internal-in the form of some mutual conviction on the part of the lovers that successful marriage would be impossible. One story full of low comedy is a fine instance of the external impediment.
A young man who owns a flying school is much in love with one of his pupils, but he can never get her alone because his mother with whom he lives is forever on the scene. He devises intricate plans for his girl friend and himself to elude the mother, and is just on the point of some success when the girl receives a wire from her father to come home and take care of him, since he is ill. The young flight teacher decides this is a wonderful opportunity to ditch his mother and offers to fly the daughter home to her father. At the last minute the mother wants to go along. It looks like a hopeless case, but after the plane lands, the mother and the girl's father, both of whose interests are boring to everyone else, find they like each other and decide to marry. This merger cancels out the unhappy factors in the equation, and the two young lovers are able to wed. Or this one. One morning a snappy young city fellow meets a very winsome young lady in a clock store. He has come to have his alarm clock repaired. He must have it before the day is over. He wants to be sure that he awakens the next day in time to see an important financier about getting backing for a magazine he is starting. The clock can't be fixed in one day, it seems. But the young lady offers to call him by telephone, if he wishes. At first, our hero looks upon this offer as an intrusion, especially when she asks him to join her for breakfast, too. But, noticing how very pretty she is, he decides to go along. There, they are met by the young woman's fiance, a big, husky football type.
The young man can't understand the attention he is getting from the young lady, but seems nonetheless to like it. Before too long the young man and the girl decide that they are in love but they don't know what to do with the girl's fiance. The hero solves the problem. He sends the girl a cuckoo clock (he has come to learn the fiance cannot tolerate cuckoo clocks) and the fiance conveniently leaves the girl in a huff. Both these stories exemplify a very important point: almost all slick fiction demands some setting, stylistic trick, strange occupation, etc., to sell.
Thus in the two stories outlined above, one presents the background of a flying school, the other all sorts of authoritative little details about clocks and clock stores. Stories similar to these two have appeared in the slicks before and will appear many times again, but instead of a flying school and clocks, there will be a reducing salon and a fireworks factory. If editors can get both a traditional fictional plot along with what amounts to an original feature article within the scope of 3000 or so words, why should they take one alone?
In line with this-and because it should be said here- the more a short story, even a short-short story, resembles a novel in complication and intricacy, the better. "Too light" or "too slight" are criticisms editors are forever bringing against stories submitted to them. With exceptions (but not many) and with reason (but not much), the more that the writer can make happen within the given spacelimits of short fiction, the better. With most of the fiction outlined here, excess flesh has been lopped off in order to squeeze a plot into a paragraph or two. A look at the stories themselves reveals very often the scenario of an entire novel. Economy-minded readers seem to like it that-a-way. But, back to love stories specifically. Excepting special stories about such matters as sea travel, woodsy adventure, mountain climbing, etc., the writer has two main kinds of locale available: the small town and the big city. It is most important to set a given plot in the right locale. Big cities are fine when dealing with sophisticated, glamorous characters, or with people experiencing a drama which is best developed if they are socially anonymous. But when social pressures or large numbers of interested bystanders are the fare, a small-town setting greatly facilitates the plotting. Simple, everyday Americans are best situated in a small town. Big cities, by nature, tend to demand that characters have a definite economic and social status. Consequently such characters tend to become atypical.
As a good instance of a well-used small-town background: A still youthful widower with two children to take care of is scheduled to marry again. He is a prosperous and popular member of his community, and his neighbors have been very solicitous about his and his children's well-being after the death of his wife. Various people have been active at matchmaking in his behalf, and now the entire town is delighted at his decision to marry an equally popular local young lady. But, at the very last minute, the widower begins to feel crowded. He begins to doubt that he is really in love at all and suspects that he has given in to the urgings of friends and relatives that he find another wife. He is playing with the idea of calling off the wedding. When he appears at the church, he finds that the bride has not shown up. Immediately he suspects that she must have felt the same pressures he did and decided not to give in to them. At the thought of losing her, he realizes that he wants her very badly and searches frantically for her. He traces her to the home of an aged deaf widow where the bride had gone to borrow "some. thing old." There he finally locates her accidentally locked in a closet where she had been unable to attract the attention of the old widow because of the woman's deafness. He frees his bride, and they are happily married.