Writing Right with Dmitri: The Lineaments of Gratified Desire

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Tip of the Week: Commas: please place them both before and after the name of someone being addressed. This is a writing convention. It doesn't change because you don't usually pause when you're saying someone's name, but address them all in one breath.
'Hi, Jim, how are you?' she said breathlessly.

The second comma rule is like unto the first. Interjections like 'ok' and 'too' also need comma set-offs. You don't get a pass because 'I didn't feel like it.'
Ok, how do we do this? You have to plug it in, doofus. And turn it on, too.

Writing Right with Dmitri: The Lineaments of Gratified Desire

Editor at work.
What is it men in women do require

The lineaments of Gratified Desire

What is it women do in men require

The lineaments of Gratified Desire


William Blake

This isn't about Blake. It's about writing. Specifically, writing about couples. Men, women, men, men, women, women, and possibly other combinations, if we're not being Earth-and-human-provincial about it. What is it people want from one another that makes pairing off such a strong driving force in narrative fiction?

Do you know what it is? Romance writers do. When looking for a partner, people are looking for someone to anchor them in their world. What world? Ah, now, that's the question.

Every Regency romance novel I've ever read (for research, I hasten to add) has had exactly the same plot. Some young woman who has more education, wit, charm, and pianoforte accomplishments than money engages in husband-hunting. For some reason, she is thrown in with a guy whose main qualification is that he has a house and a good income. The rest of the story is how the two of them manage to figure out that they suit one another admirably. The house and the money don't hurt, but they're icing on the cake.

Yes, these novels are wish fulfillment. But the wish fulfillment tells us something important about human desire: what we need is not always what we desire most. In Regency novels, young women need a husband with an income (and a house), because they can neither inherit nor earn this necessity. And without these things, they can't continue to live in the society they've grown up in. They lose their identities. But they don't really desire those things. What they desire is to marry a man who is kind, supportive, and encourages their personal growth. That's the wish-fulfillment part of the story: the idea that need and desire can overlap.

Do you sometimes watch a movie and say, 'That's nice, but those two actors have no chemistry at all?' You just can't believe in the fiction that they're a couple. This was quite noticeable in the TV series Psych. Sean and Juliet seemed more like brother and sister than like a couple in love.

The funny thing about that? The actors who played Sean and Juliet were a couple. I blame the writers. They failed to show why these two people should belong together, other than, 'That's the way it works, right? He's available, she's available? Besides, what else is there to write about?'

A lot, people. There's a lot to write about. But first, figure out one thing about your character: what does he or she desire in terms of belonging to the world? Then you'll know what kind of person they're going to be attracted to. Do they want wealth? Power? To belong to an intellectual elite? Artistic achievement? Spirituality? Respectability? Domesticity? Adventure? They'll be drawn to someone who promises to show them more, or help them achieve this goal. There's a reason the Authorised Version used the term 'help meet'.

How do marriage crises, or even divorces occur? Start with the idea that the original source of attraction has been lost. Maybe the couple started out with the same goals, but one or both of them changed directions over time. The dedicated freedom fighter finds that her husband has sold out to the Establishment, or the painter's wife is tired of his waiting for inspiration while she feeds the kids and scrubs floors to make ends meet.

Perhaps one of the partners feels that he or she has been the victim of a bait-and-switch. What was promised didn't materialise. 'Stick with me, baby, I'm going places,' can wear thin after a decade or two of disappointment. Or the impossible dream may turn out to be truly impossible. The husband who appeared idealistic may show his true colours after his wife has put him through law school. He may change goals and want a wife who is a more polished hostess for his garden parties. She may want to take some of her husband's hard-earned cash and find someone who doesn't work too hard to have time for her.

Sometimes, the lovers may reassess their involvement. They may reach a more mature understanding of their relationship. It may even become deeper, as they realise the difference between what they desired and what they truly needed. You can work with that. You can draw their map. But first, you have to know it's there.

How the kind of woman willing to wait's

Not the kind that you want to find waiting…


Stephen Sondheim, 'Finishing the Hat'

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

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