Iconic Couples: Big Love At Its Best by Kelli Martin

In romance and in love, some couples are meant to be.

What makes a story’s couple reach iconic status? For some, it’s the super-size drama that swirls around them. For others, it’s longevity, or a relentless off- and on-ness. Sometimes it’s because of explosive chemistry and often…it’s because love is thwarted, or forbidden. Whatever the reason, iconic couples put us under the spell of a big, big love.

Rick and Elsa in Casablanca epitomize that love is sacrifice. He stoically chooses to put her happiness, her well-being above his own. Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams’ characters in Mahogany are iconic because of the duel between personal ambition vs. romantic love. When Harry Met Sally canonizes a modern enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance, and ushered in the notion that love can make us laugh, and that true love accepts our personal quirks and our personal truths, like in The Kiss Quotient. Moonlight, Love Story, Moonlighting, Brokeback Mountain and An American Marriage show legendary love because that love is interrupted (either by society, circumstance, illness, isolation or silence). It’s a love that shimmers, but never comes to fruition. And we feel the loss of what will never be. In Boyz ‘n the Hood, Tre & Brandi’s teenage love breathes right next to their coming of age. For them, their love was home. If the love in Brokeback caved to the world, the love in Boyz was a refuge from the world. Sleepless in Seattle’s love is seminal because it popularized the concept of a soulmate, in movie life and in real life. Insurmountable differences in background and personality mark the combustible love of The Way We Were and Disappearing Acts. In Rebel (Women Who Dare) and Love in Catalina Cove, the dream of love is deferred by family expectations. In Friday Night Lights, Coach and Tami Taylor are iconic because their we-are-a-team love affected their family, their schools, the football team, the entire town. Their love is iconic because it made the world they lived in a better place. The Shawshank Redemption and Thelma and Louise show a love supreme because in life-changing moments, each friend chooses to be strong when the other needs to be weak. And the love in The Bridges of Madison County is truly iconic: it’s a love that demands an impossible choice. It’s the love of a lifetime; one of pain, and also of awakening.

As writers, when you’re creating your love story, it’s possible to strive for an iconic romance. How? Take your characters and their love to the brink.

Make drama happen. Rip the couple apart. Bring them back together. Exert devastating circumstances on them. Their love needs to be tested. Make us think that something momentous (society, death, time, their personalities, their goals and ambitions, their bodies – hello Twilight!) – is greater than their love. Make their love go wrong. Give your characters secrets – delicious, scandalous secrets. Give them painful vulnerabilities – and have your protagonists confess them! Force them to make the impossible choice. Show us their epiphanies. Show us their grand gestures. Surprise us. Make us laugh. Wrench our hearts, then put them back together again.

And please, please do this: give us our ultimate fear in storytelling and in love – That the couple’s love might not survive.

Then, when all is said and done, have your protagonists’ love show us one true thing: that everything is going to be okay. The result? 

We’ll love your couples – and their love story – for the ages.

-Kelli

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