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How Can Valentine’s Day Help Your Plot?

By Marilyn Horowitz

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In the famous comedy directed by Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis inadvertently witness the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre and must flee for their lives. Desperation forces them to take the only two musician jobs available – in an all woman orchestra. Who could forget the sight of the two of them waddling in their high heels rushing to make the train?

As a teacher and writing coach, I have many male students. Some grumble at the pressure to show their love on this day by producing bouquets of flowers and chocolates, while others see the opportunity to express their feelings or curry favor with a new love interest. Of the female population, opinion seems to be split. Half of the female students I talk to are very concerned with how they are honored on the day, and the other half dismiss it as “piffle.”

Exploring your character’s reactions to the holiday (dare I call it that?) can be a great way to get your plot moving. In a romantic comedy or drama, how do the characters’ behave?  Does your hero forget the day all together sending your heroine into a spin? Does she receive flowers with a card intended for someone else? Does your hero have one last chance to win the girl by splashing out? You get the idea. Even if you are not writing a romantic comedy, the pressure this holiday can bring can be useful if you need a quick way of advancing the plot.

What is required first is an inquiry into your characters’ beliefs about love.

Answer the 5 questions below for each of your characters, regardless of the genre you are writing in. The most hardened criminal can be a sentimentalist about love.

1.    Does your character believe in romantic love?
2.    Does s/he believe that there is one special person for everyone?
3.    Does s/he believe that they have met that special person?
4.    Or does s/he believe that there are several people who could fill the bill?
5.    Does your character believe in marriage or some form of “foreverness?”

Now here’s the exercise:


1. Set a Timer for 15 minutes.
2. Write for 5 minutes as yourself. Tell a true Valentine’s Day story about your own life.
3.  Write for 5 minutes as your hero or heroine. Tell a Valentine’s Day story about their "life".
4.  Write for 5 minutes as your villain or obstacle. Tell a Valentine’s Day story about their "life".
5.  Compare the core sentiments of the three stories. One might describe meeting the love of their life, another a break up, a third – an orgy!
6.  If you feel brave try a scene where your main character and villain or obstacle share stories.

Knowing how your characters feel about romantic love can help you create more attractive interesting characters and advance your plot.

Here’s To Your Successful Writing!

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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