Sunday, May 04, 2008

Coffee Shop Research - Nancy Warren

I think about love a lot. It’s my job as a romance writer, after all, but I’m endlessly fascinated by couples. What attracts two people to each other? Why this one, and not that one? In my wonder and curiosity for how the process works, I spend a lot of time covertly studying couples in coffee shops, restaurants and public places like airports. I often go to coffee shops to write -- so a good day of people watching usually means a sucky day of word production. But when I watch two people together, I like to guess what their relationship is, and, if it’s a love affair, where they are in the course of it.

There’s a scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally that takes place at an airport where Harry watches with interest as Sally passionately kisses her boyfriend good bye. Billy Crystal, as Harry, is able to guess, pretty accurately, how many weeks Meg Ryan’s Sally has been going out with the new guy based on the heat of the kiss and the fact that her lover is still interested enough to drove her to the airport. It’s a funny scene, and makes me think that screenwriter Nora Ephron is another voyeur. But then I think all writers are. Richard Curtis, who wrote Love, Actually has my favorite airport scene. If you watch the final scene of Love, Actually, it ends at Heathrow and we see glimpses of the couples we’ve been following throughout the movie, but then the camera turns to random strangers, embracing, laughing, crying. More and more of them, until the screen is filled with tiny films of strangers embracing those they love. I adore that scene with its quick, intimate peeks into lives we’ll never know.

In The One I Want, my Kensington Brava that just came out this week, I finally got to use some of my coffee shop ‘research’. I have a scene where my heroine, Chloe, who is starting The Break Up Artist, a business breaking up relationships that aren’t working, is at the mall having a quick coffee in the food court and observes a couple getting engaged. Getting engaged in the food court? Of course she can’t take her eyes off the intimate drama. She’s joined by her annoying (but very hot) landlord, an ex-cop and trained observer and they both watch the scene play out. Afterward, they have a bet about what really happened and, naturally, Chloe, the woman who understands the heart wins the bet over Matthew, the guy who doesn’t see so well below the surface of things. It was a fun scene to write and I suppose gets at the heart of the book. Love is always a mystery, and often the truth isn’t what appears on the surface, but what’s hidden deep down where the authentic self lives.

Have you ever done that? Watched a couple and been able to read the unspoken clues of body language, facial expression, eye contact, even the way they’ve dressed for each other? It’s amazing what people reveal about themselves and their hearts. And thank God for that, they sure make the romance writer’s job easier!

Have a great day,



Jane said...

I have watched couples and wondered how their relationship really is. Are they happy? How did they meet?

Pat Cochran said...

I'm not that much of a people watcher, mostly because I'm usually involved in whatever I am doing.
That sounds terribly self-centered,
doesn't it? It's not meant that way. If I'm with any of my ten grandchildren, I'm keeping my
eyes on them to be sure they are safe. If I'm with my husband,
I'm focused on what we're doing. If I'm reading, I can turn off
the world with the best!

Pat Cochran

Gigi said...

I especially like to watch older couples.
Do they still hold hands after all the years.
Does he open the car door for her.
After 24 years together my husband still holds my hand and open the doors for me. I got lucky.

Some of the things the younger couples do in public now a days make me uncomfortable.
Maybe I haven't seen the right couple yet.