What’s more important in a story: Love or heartbreak?

Is it a romance or a mystery? Who’s in love, and whose heart breaks?

An early-morning discussion about writing with my muse.

It was a chilly morning. The Muse dropped by. He always does when the day is dark, and the cold winds blow, and he needs a cup of coffee, black.

He thinks he knows a lot about writing.

But he’s never written.

He wants the rest of us to do his dirty work.

“What’s the best word to describe a good book?” he asked me.

“Woman.”

He arched an eyebrow.

He does that a lot when he thinks I’m crazy.

He does that a lot.

“This is what I believe,” I told him “All good mysteries, thrillers, romance, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, and paranormal fiction all have women running loose between the pages. Sometimes, women are the protagonists. Sometimes they are the villains. Sometimes they are the love interest. But you can’t have a story without a woman.”

The Muse thought it over for a moment.

He watched the break of day through the window.

The day would be as chilly as the night.

He shivered.

“Do you think all books are about love?” he wanted to know.

“The best ones are.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” the Muse said.

“What makes you say that?

“Good novels are about heartbreak,” he said.

“Love makes you feel good.”

“Love is a good story,” he said, “but heartbreak is more interesting. Heartbreak cuts to the quick. Heartbreak hurts. Love makes you want to climb the mountain. Heartbreak makes you want to jump off. Why do you remember Gone With the Wind? Rhett walked out on Scarlett. He broke her heart and the reader’s heart. Why do you remember To Kill A Mockingbird? Atticus lost. Why do you remember Shane? The gunslinger rode off and left the boy crying in the street. Love ends quickly, but heartbreak lasts for a long, long time”

The Muse sat back and grinned.

“I rest my case,” he said.

“You do make some good points,” I said.

“I always do.”

“But you made one mistake.”

The grin left his face.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“You can’t have heartbreak,” I said, “if you don’t have love.”

The Muse stood.

“Love comes first,” I said.

He walked out the door and across the patio toward the bird feeders.

I’m not sure, but by the time he reached the gate, I thought I heard his heart break. It always does when he’s wrong.

That’s what happens when a Muse is in love with his own opinions.

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  • Love definitely comes first. But is it real love? Because, even though real love can still lead to heartbreak, the other kind leads there for sure.

    ‘Love is always reciprocal. If not, we call it obsession.’ I wrote that ages ago, and have it on a Post It stuck on my monitor.

    Telling the difference is the job of the characters – and their novelist.

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