7 Lessons a Favorite Movie Taught Me about Writing Romance

I’m a big believer in romance and true love’s journey. When I meet a couple for the first time, there’s nothing I like better than to ask, “So, how did you guys meet?” and “When did you know he/she was The One?”

I appreciate a good love story, whether it’s told through conversation, written in the pages of a book, or viewed on a movie screen; and one of my favorite romance stories has been made into a movie twice.

In 1939 director Leo Carey made Love Affair. This black and white film starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.

Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in a scene from the 1939 movie, Love Affair.

The plot is pretty straightforward: A man and a woman—both engaged to other people—meet on board a ship and fall in love.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, especially Irene Dunne. She’s a wonderful actress, and she makes her character extremely likable. Add to that some snappy dialogue and a handsome male lead, and you have the makings for a lovely romance.

Carey remade the movie in 1957 and gave it a new title: An Affair to Remember. This version starred Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, and it’s one of my all-time favorite movies . . . and I’m not alone in that opinion. Women around the world (the movie’s been dubbed into several languages) love this movie because of the way it makes them feel when they watch it.

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in a promo photo for 1957’s An Affair to Remember.

I’ve always been content to watch An Affair to Remember just for that reason–the way it makes me feel. But last week I decided to watch it with a more critical eye.

1957 Theater poster for An Affair to Remember.

As I watched, I wondered why women find this movie so romantic? And can that same magic mojo apply to plotting and writing romance novels?

I think it can. So here, without further ado, are the seven lessons An Affair to Remember taught me about writing romance:

1. Back-story is essential.

The main characters, Nickie (played by Cary Grant) and Terry (played by Deborah Kerr) have baggage. When the movie opens Nickie has no real job, but he’s world-famous for being a womanizer and a playboy. He’s also happens to be engaged to a wealthy woman who will be able to support his lavish lifestyle.

Cary Grant as Nickie Ferrante.

Terry, on the other hand, is down-to-earth and knows what it’s like to have to work for a living. She, too, is engaged; her wealthy businessman fiancé whisked her out of the working world and set her up in style in a New York penthouse. She loves him, but more than that, she feels indebted to him for changing her life.

Deborah Kerr as Terry McKay.

These character histories are the main drivers for Nickie’s and Terry’s behaviors throughout the movie.

2. A great plot needs a great subplot.

An Affair to Remember has a simple premise: A man and a woman meet aboard ship on a lengthy trans-Atlantic crossing and fall in love. But that plot line only takes up the first half of the movie.

Nickie and Terry on board the ship.

The second half of the movie deals with the difficulties our hero and heroine encounter as they try to extricate themselves from their old relationships and prepare for life with their new love.

Interestingly, the movie doesn’t have a foil or villain; Life is the villain as it throws one challenge after another at our hero and heroine in their quest to reunite by the end of the movie.

3. Characters must grow and change.

Nickie and Terry both change during the course of the movie. When the movie begins, Nickie is a bit of a jerk, although a charming one. His claim to fame is dating then dumping one wealthy woman after another. Even though he’s newly engaged to yet another heiress, he pursues Terry, letting her know he wants nothing more than a brief fling before their ship docks in New York, where his rich fiancé is waiting for him.

He’s selfish, thinking only of his own needs, giving no thought to his fiancé, as he pursues Terry. He’s simply bored, and he wants Terry to keep him entertained.

“Must you be so darn delightful?” croons Nickie in Terrys ear.

Terry has her own set of problems. She’s traveling alone because her fiancé had to take care of some business instead of sailing with her.

Terry greets her fiance when the ship docks in New York, as Nickie looks on.

As she explains this to Nickie, you see the sadness in Terry’s expression, and you get the feeling that Terry’s fiancé often chooses his business needs over hers. Terry tells Nickie:

He had to go to Texas on a big merger. He thought it’d be a good idea if I took a little trip while he consummated this big deal because I have no head for business. Silly, isn’t it? He doesn’t think I’m dumb, but he doesn’t think I’m very bright about things like that.

Terry’s relationship with her fiancé may not be very satisfying, but she’s determined to be faithful to him. She tells Nickie to take a hike and stop trying to flirt with her.

But eventually, Terry changes her mind about Nickie. She realizes she enjoys his company, and it may not be such a bad thing to spend time with him while she’s stuck on a ship in the middle of an ocean. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to let him cross her line in the sand.

That’s how the movie sets up essential questions about the main characters that drives the story forward:

Can Nickie really change? Is he really falling in love with Terry for the first time in his life; or is he just using her for that ship-board fling?

Can Terry really change? Is Terry really falling for Nickie; or is she simply lonely and in need of a little romance in her life to make up for her neglectful fiancé?

4. Dialog is a writer’s friend.

The banter between Nickie and Terry is one of the best things about this movie. Not long after their ship sets sail in the autumn of 1957, Nickie invites Terry to his cabin. Terry replies:

My mother told me never to enter any man’s room in months ending in R.

Terry is steadfastly faithful to her fiancé, parrying each of Nickie’s flirtations with good old-fashioned common sense:

Nickie: I was bored to death. I hadn’t seen one attractive woman on this ship since we left. Now isn’t that terrible? I was alarmed. I said to myself, don’t beautiful women travel anymore? And then I saw you, and I was saved… I hope.

Terry: Tell me, have you been getting results with a line like that, or would I be surprised?

And after Terry rejects him yet again, Nickie mutters, “I’ll just take my ego for a walk.”

With each exchange, we learn more about Nickie and Terry as individuals. His dialogue is smooth and urbane. Her lines reveal her skepticism and intelligence.

The more Terry fends him off, the more Nickie is attracted to her; and by the time they dock in New York, they’re in love and trying to figure out how to end their current relationships so they can be together.

5. But description is important, too.

Every good novel needs a certain amount of description so readers can visualize the places the characters inhabit.

Terry McKay’s simple blouse and jewelry.

What a character wears can give us an instant visual cue into his or her personality. That’s true of Terry in An Affair to Remember. In the movie she wears dresses and suits, gowns and bonnets, and each one is beautiful and tasteful. Her clothing declares her to be a lady through and through, and a stylish one, at that.

When Terry first meets Nickie, she’s wearing this orange creamcicle gown, and it’s a stunner.

Nickie is no slouch himself. He’s impeccably dressed throughout the movie. The suit he wears when he takes Terry ashore on one of the ship’s ports of call is not only expensive, it just happens to be the perfect color for him.

And the little Mediterranean home he takes Terry to while they’re ashore turns out to be a lovely, romantic bit of paradise, high on a hill. It’s while they’re visiting that little hill-top Garden of Eden that Nickie and Terry first begin to see each other through fresh eyes.

Nickie and Terry at a Mediterranean port of call.

Turns out, the home they visit belongs to Nickie’s grandmother, and they all spend a very pleasant afternoon together. Near the end of their visit, while Grandmother is playing the piano, Nickie gives Terry a look that telegraphs his growing feelings for her.

Its a glance that reminds me of a similar look Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy exchanged at Pemberley in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice . . . and we all know what happened to Darcy and Lizzie after that.

6. You don’t have to show everything . . .

Sometimes it’s best to allow your reader to fill in the blanks for themselves. This is probably the most important lesson I learned from watching this movie. Here’s an example:

This video is a montage of clips from the movie. At time marker 1:04 you’ll come to the scene where Nickie and Terry share their first kiss.

The thing is, you don’t really see them kiss, but you know that’s exactly what they’re doing. You also know that Terry knew the kiss was coming; she gave one fleeting to stopping Nickie—She even retreated a step—but in the end she decided to stand her ground and let Nickie kiss her.

And that is the point in the movie when you know Terry’s falling in love; she has let down her barriers and is no longer fighting the attraction she feels for Nickie.

There’s no dialogue in the scene to explain her feelings, and he doesn’t explain his. But we know what Nickie and Terry are feeling and doing in the scene, all because of a kiss that we never actually see.

That kiss on the stairway is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It’s subtle, tender, and romantic. The scene taught me that any movie can show two people kissing, but very few movies can melt your heart by leaving a kiss to your imagination.

7 . . . but you have to have a great ending.

As any decent romance writer or reader will tell you:

The course of true love never runs smooth.

An Affair to Remember offers proof of that adage as Nickie and Terry spend the second half of the movie dealing with one trial after another. And just when you begin to believe they’ll never end up together because there’s only about five minutes of film left, and they can’t possibly overcome their difficulties in so short an amount of time, you see a mere glimmer of hope.

The closing scene in the move always gets to me. No matter how many times I watch it — and I’ve watched it dozens of times — it never fails to pulls at my emotions. I’ve learned to watch An Affair to Remember with a fresh box of Kleenex close at hand.

The last scene in the movie: Nickie visits Terry at her New York apartment.

In the end, Nickie and Terry get their happy ending, and its well worth waiting for. It’s the kind of ending where I sigh and wish it weren’t over and feel as if I want to know what happens after the words “The End” flash on my television screen.

That, I think, is the perfect ending for a book, too, because readers who want to know more are readers who are invested in the story. They believe in the characters and believe in their struggles. Readers who want to know more want to be assured the characters they’ve come to love are going to be okay even after the story on paper ends.

* * *

Those are the seven lessons An Affair to Remember taught me about writing romance, and I’m grateful for the instruction.

Right now I’m working on two books (both romances, of course), and I’m definitely keeping those seven lessons in mind.

In my writing journey I haven’t yet reached the level of perfection An Affair to Remember has achieved when it comes to setting romantic standards, but I’m working on it. And in the meantime, I have my own copy of the movie to watch again and again. And one of these days, I hope I’ll be able to write a great romance to rival An Affair to Remember.

How about you? Have you ever seen An Affair to Remember? What did you think of the movie?

A Regency-era Shooting Party

In my book Mary and the Captain, Charles Bingley’s younger brother Robert rescued a young boy named Daniel from a difficult situation. Robert took Daniel to Netherfield, and had to find a way to keep young Daniel busy during the day. Robert and Daniel spent as much time as possible out of doors, where Daniel could run and play to his heart’s content. Charles and Robert even took Daniel shooting with them in the high meadow at Netherfield.

The illustrations below helped me envision those Regency-era shooting parties.

In the story, I tried to convey the fact that shooting was a usual past-time for the men at Netherfield.

At one point in the story, beautiful Helena Paget complains that while she finds nothing to do in the country, the men get to enjoy shooting.

And Mr. Penrose, the vicar of Meryton, admits to Caroline Bingley that he has a been a guest of her brother Charles on one or two afternoons of shooting in the meadow.

I added these shooting-party illustrations to my Pinterest board; it contains many of the images that inspired me and sparked my imagination as I wrote Mary and the Captain. You can see all the photos and illustrations by clicking here to visit my Pinterest board.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In honor of the day, here are some vintage Valentine greeting cards for you to enjoy and share. The cards feature ladies wearing Regency-inspired costumes. Just click on each image to see a larger version.

Cupid’s dart has touched my heart.


Cupid my messenger shall be
For he it is has wounded me.


Cupid to you his flight will wing,
A song of love in your hear to sing.



A Brand New Month and Kitty Bennet

It’s February. I know, I can’t believe it either.

But even though time seems to be flying by, I’m really looking forward to a new month, since everything I hoped to accomplish in January didn’t quite happen as planned.

On January 4th I came down with the flu, and it really took me out of commission for about two solid weeks. I needed a third week of home confinement just to ensure I looked presentable before going out in public again.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much writing done during the month.

But some good things happened, too . . .

First, I began plotting a new Jane Austen inspired story that centers on Kitty Bennet.

Lydia (Julia Sawalha) and Kitty Bennet (Polly Maberly) in BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Kitty is a minor character, who never really gets a chance to show readers who she is. In fact, Kitty is really little more than a follower; her personality is constantly overshadowed by that of her younger sister Lydia. I’ve always been intrigued by Kitty (just as I was by her sister Mary, who also got short-shrift in P&P). I’m hoping this new story will give Kitty a chance to shine and find a Happily Ever After of her own. I’ll keep you posted in my progress.

The other great thing that happened in January: I scored tickets to Hamilton! Here’s my happy dance:

I absolutely love going to the theater and seeing live performances; it’s even better when I can make an evening of it by having dinner at my favorite restaurant before the show.

But before I put on my best clothes and head downtown for a night out in Denver, I have some serious writing to catch up on. I have publishing goals to meet this year and I’m already behind on my daily word counts.

So today I’m going back to work with a vengeance and, if everything goes right, I’ll soon be able to report to you on my progress. In the meantime . . .

Happy February! I hope it proves to be a great month for you!

King Charles I: Art Collector Extraordinaire

King Charles I ruled England for 24 years before he was executed in 1649. During his reign he amassed a collection of over 2,000 works of art.

Portrait of King Charles I of England by Anthony van Dyck

His hoard included classical sculptures, oil on canvas portraits, enormous tapestries, and delicate miniatures. Charles even augmented the collection by commissioning artist Anthony van Dyck to paint a series of very flattering portraits of himself. This tri-view portrait of Charles I is just one example:

His discerning eye and royal patronage fostered a new and exciting culture of art and expression in England. But when Charles was executed in 1649, his massive collection was sold off, with individual pieces scattering across Europe’s museums and even some private homes.

This year the Royal Academy of Arts will reunite some of the legendary masterpieces of Charles’ magnificent collection in one exhibit.

The exhibition, titled Charles I: King and Collector embodies everything I love in a museum offering:

  • It has small pieces that invite you to stand close and drink in each delicate detail.
  • It has large pieces that demand you stand back in order to admire the whole.
  • It has that overall aura of royalty about it, and I love anything related to English royalty.

Unfortunately, I live on the wrong side the Atlantic, so I won’t be able to see the exhibit in London. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though, that the collection will go on tour in the U.S. sometime soon.

Charles I: King and Collector opens January 27 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and runs until April 15. You can find out more about the exhibit on the Royal Academy’s website here.



A Delightful Way to Begin the New Year!

2018 has started off in the best way possible. My novel Mary and the Captain was named one of Austenesque Reviews’ Favorite Reads of 2017!

If you love to read Jane Austen inspired fiction, you may already be a reader of Austenesque Reviews. I’ve subscribed to the blog for years, so I was thrilled when the blog gave Mary and the Captain a five-star review in May last year.

But having my book included in the blog’s best books of 2017 list has sent me over the moon! I’m so proud, and so very thankful.

If you’re not familiar with the Austenesque Reviews blog, please check it out to see what other titles made the list. Just click on the banner to visit the blog.

And if you haven’t yet read Mary and the Captain, I hope you’ll give it a try. You’ll find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and everywhere print and e-books are sold.



Ending 2017 with One Thought: Thank You!

To everyone who read one of my stories or novels this year . . . Thank you! I’m grateful you chose to join me in my Regency-inspired world.

I appreciate every review you left; your comments and feedback about Mary and the Captain mean more to me than I can say.

Let’s make a date to meet again in the pages of a book in 2018!

Until then, I wish you a happy and healthy New Year!

Gifts Ideas for Book Lovers

It’s December and I’m in full shopping mode as I get ready for Christmas.

Shopping for the right gift for the right person is one of my favorite things to do. Luckily, many of my friends and family members are book lovers, so when I shop for them, it’s almost like shopping for myself!

So here are a few gift ideas I’ve got my eye on . . . maybe they’ll help you find the perfect gift for the book lover in your life, too. Just click on any of the images to learn more about each item.

Sorry, My Night is All Booked. Order it as a tee-shirt, sweatshirt, or comfy nightshirt.


Felted Wool Animal Bookmarks. Choose from six different animals, all avid book readers. Each one is about 3″ high.

Keep Calm and … oooooohh, a New Book! This tee-shirt comes in a nice variety of colors.

Bookmarks are for Quitters. Choose a coffee mug . . .

. . . or a shirt in a variety of styles and colors.

Stained glass hanging of books on a shelf. Wouldn’t this be a lovely addition to a favorite sunny window?

I wouldn’t mind at all if Santa brought me any of these gifts on Christmas morning (hint, hint); but in the meantime, I’m snagging some of them for my favorite book lovers. Happy shopping to you!

Scenes from Cheapside

I’m working on a new story; it’s a variation on Pride and Prejudice that centers on the mayhem caused by Lydia’s elopement with Wickham.

Some of the scenes will take place in the London home of the Gardiners in Cheapside.

Since my memory and imagination are sparked by visual cues, I’ve collected quite a few images of Cheapside for inspiration. Today I’ll share some of those images with you..

A map of the City of London in 1799, bounded in red, bordering the River Thames.


For orientation, Cheapside is located in the City of London (not to be confused with London. Yes, London and the City of London are two different places.).

A close-up view of the 1799 map showing Cheapside and Gracechurch streets (in rectangles). St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London are highlighted in circles.


Cheapside is located in the heart of The City. For hundreds of years it’s been the country’s main center of commerce and trade. In fact, it gained its name from the old Saxon word Chepe, meaning market or bargain.

A 1911 postcard showing bustling Cheapside; Mansion House is the structure with columns on the left


Street names like Poultry, Milk, Pudding, Ironmonger, Bread, and Shoemaker serve as reminders of the area’s old market origins.

The gateway to Cheapside as it appeared in 1903. Mansion House is the building with columns on the left. The road that angles off to the right is Cheapside, with the church spire of St. Mary-le-Bow.


Geographically, Cheapside covers less than a mile but more tradesmen were packed into the length of this street than any other avenue in the City of London.

A view of Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor of London, as it appeared in 1837.


Mr. Gardiner was engaged in trade in Cheapside, while his home was located on Gracechurch Street. The Gardiners lived within blocks of London Bridge on the east end of The City. I like to imagine they may have had a very good view of the Tower of London from their windows.

Cheapside, looking east down the street. The Church of St Mary-le-Bow is on the right. circa 1760.


The Gardiner home would have been within walking distance of the center of England’s economic power.

The Bank of England (building on the right with columns) and Royal Exchange (on the left) as they appeared in 1907.


Nearby was Mansion House (the residence of the Lord Mayor of London), the Bank of England, the Treasury, Custom House, and Royal Exchange.

The Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, and Mansion House by Nicholas-Toussaint Charlet.


Beside great houses of commerce, Cheapside was famous for its retail establishments. Some of the best shopping to be had in Jane Austen’s time was in Cheapside.

A booksellers shop at No. 73 Cheapside, about 1790.


From hat-makers to perfumeries, stationers to pianofortes, time-pieces to cottons and silks—the finest merchandise could be found in the warehouses and shops at Cheapside.

The London to Brighton Coach making a stop at Cheapside about 1830, by William Turner.


Even on Gracechurch Street, where the Gardiners lived, shops and businesses of all sorts mingled with family homes.

The interior yard of the Spread Eagle Inn on Gracechurch street, about 1850.


It’s no wonder, then, that merchants in Cheapside were extremely successful, and Mr. Gardiner was no exception.

The old Royal Exchange with the dome of St. Paul’s in the background, depicted in 1795 by Thomas Girtin. The Royal Exchange pictured burned down in 1838 but was rebuilt on the same site. It’s located on Threadneedle Street at the east end of Cheapside.


Mr. Gardiner supported his family very well, indeed. Jane Austen described the Gardiners as well-bred and elegant. His income allowed him to host parties at the theater, while Mrs. Gardiner was free to squire Elizabeth, Sir William Lucas, and Maria Lucas through a day of shopping in London.

A 1930 photograph of the oldest house in Cheapside. Legend has it this building on the corner of Cheapside and Friday Street survived the Great Fire of 1666.


Mr. Gardiner’s business was sound enough to allow him to take time off on a fairly regular basis. He and his family made frequent trips to visit the Bennets for as long as a week at a time.

View of The Monument from the south end of Gracechurch Street. Beydon The Monument is Fish Street Hill and old London Bridge. The church spire belongs to St. Magnus Martyr. The Monument was erected to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666.


And in March 1812 the Gardiners invited Elizabeth to join them on a lengthy “pleasure tour” of the Lakes. In the end, unexpected business concerns forced Mr. Gardiner to postpone their travels until July of that year, but they still intended to spend a month touring Derbyshire.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC miniseries looks over the countryside of the Peak District in Derbyshire.


I have to admit Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are two of my favorite Pride and Prejudice characters. Mr. Gardiner is an effective foil for his sister Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Gardiner is a loving and trusted confidante to the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth.

Joanna David and Tim Wylton as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice


I’m looking forward to writing about the Gardiners’ home in Cheapside and the many visitors they receive there. (Hint: one of their callers will be a very proud young man from Derbyshire.)

Stay tuned for more . . .

A Special Month for My Special Friends

In my last post I described an old English tradition called Whip Dog Day. It’s one tradition that is best forgotten.

Today I want to talk about a twentieth century American tradition that is best remembered. It’s celebrated every year throughout the month of October. I’m talking about Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.

This is a celebration I can really get behind. I’ve had several pets during my long life and almost all of them joined my family after I found them at a shelter.

Let me introduce you to a few of my family members who came from dog shelters . . .

This is Byron, a corgi/basset hound mix, who is probably the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

He knows lots of words in Human, which is impressive when I realize I don’t know a how to say a single word in Dog.

Here’s Keats, a corgi/Dachshund mix:

He, too, was a shelter dog. He’s not as smart as Byron, and he had some very concerning behavioral issues when I first brought him home; but once he settled in and learned to trust me, I discovered something I hadn’t expected: he’s unfailingly happy all the time. An added bonus: if you toss a squeaky toy to him, he will be your devoted slave for the rest of his life.

Based on my photos, you may have noticed some trends in my preference for pets.

I tend to adopt dogs with black fur, because I once read that black dogs were less likely to be adopted than dogs with lighter hair color.

I tend to adopt dogs who have been at the shelter the longest. They are more likely to have medical or behavioral issues that make them less desirable for adoption. And that means they are more likely to be put down than other dogs.

I also tend to adopt dogs that no one else seems to want. So far, it seems no one wants dogs with satellite dishes for ears, but I do.

You may also notice that I have a predilection for naming pets after 18th Century Romantic poets.



By all rights, the next dog in line for adoption should be named Shelley, just to complete the triad.

That was my plan . . . But then something unexpected happened. Lacy came into my life.

Lacy, too, was a shelter dog when my cousin adopted her a few years ago. But when my cousin fell ill and had to be hospitalized, Lacy came to stay with me.

It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement; but a few days soon turned into a few weeks, then months, as my cousin remained hospitalized.

Unfortunately, my cousin never left the hospital; she passed away last February, and Lacy became a permanent member of my family.

Lacy blends right in, and since her arrival, I’ve realized that my dogs and I have a lot in common. We’re all motivated by treats and praise.

We all have short legs. And we all hate the vacuum cleaner.

But the key thing my dogs and I have in common is that we want to be loved, and we have plenty of love in our hearts to give back. With those kinds of benefits, there’s no reason anyone should believe they have to wait until October rolls around again to adopt a shelter dog.

I adopted Byron in the month of June. Keats came home with me during May of 2015. And Lacy became mine in February of 2016. So I can say from a place of experience that any month is the right month to bring a new pup home.

So even though today is the last day of October—and the last day to celebrate Adopt a Shelter Dog Month—there are plenty of reasons to visit your local animal shelter in November (or any other month) and find that special dog just waiting for you to take him or her home.

I’m tempted to go visit my Denver shelter in the next few weeks myself, just to see if they might possibly have a dog that would make a good addition to my own family . . .

. . . A small dog with black fur who wouldn’t mind answering to the name Shelley.