Looking for Love in All The Right Places

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Writers are often told “write what you know” but if I wrote only about what I had firsthand experience with, I’d have put down my pen years ago. So I borrow other people’s firsthand experiences. 

But don’t worry about me engaging in any criminal business. When I borrow, it’s perfectly legal and (sort of) honorable and you, too, can benefit from the resource I use. To wit, advice columns. 

I love advice columns! And lucky for me, there are A LOT of advice columns out in the world. Which honestly, have come a long way from the days when I was a teenager reading “Dear Abby” in the daily newspaper. 

But there’s one constant with these columns: they’re still mostly about love and the complications of (mostly human) relationships. So they’re the perfect place for me to hang out, because my firsthand experience with love and such is a little outdated. Though admittedly, there are aspects of relationships that stay the same. Take jealousy, for example. I mean, a scorned lover scenario, whether from biblical days or yesterday, often plays out the same way in the big picture. 

It’s the juicy little details that I can’t get enough of and the columns are chock full of ‘em. I discover new and interesting ways for people to cheat or connect or canoodle. (Does anyone say canoodle anymore? You can see why I need current info). And before I read the advice given, I will offer my own opinion and then check to see what Ann or Amy or Archie has to say. 

I find these columnists are often more compassionate than I am. When “Just Wondering” asks if her boyfriend of five years may be up to something with her best friend whose semi-nude picture just happens to pop up on said boyfriend’s phone, I shout, “Dump the bum!” But not our columnists. Their advice is almost always couched in kindness: “You may want to have an honest conversation with your BF.” Or, “There may be a reasonable explanation for this photo. Choose a quiet time to discuss your concerns. And get tested for STDs.” Occasionally, (and I’ll admit these are my favorite columnists) I’ll see a “Don’t wonder anymore. Move out and move on. And get tested for STDs.” 

Anyway, the point is, as a writer of adult fiction, the authenticity of details of human relationships add depth to story. But discretion compels me to leave out my own or any (living) relatives’ peccadillos or even friends’ salacious secrets. So the anonymity of the advice columns is perfect! 

 Also, and this is no small thing, I find A LOT of ideas in the columns that can jumpstart an entire plot. They’ll work for a thriller, a comedy, or a romance. And as an added bonus, you can get a little closure, if only in your imagination.

Sometimes, it’s comeuppance I dish out and other times, it’s happy-ever-afters. The high school sweethearts can find love again, 50 years on; the May-December relationship works out delightfully despite the nasty gold-digging comments from all the family. And cheating boyfriends always get kicked to the curb.

Unless I’m writing a murder mystery. That’s where looking for love in all the wrong places can end very, very badly. 

Photo by How Far From Home from Pexels


Sioux Roslawski said...

I joke about the ending to the movie Fargo. The wood chipper leaves no evidence--or at least the evidence it DOES leave behind is spread around.

Do you know John Prine? The late (and great) folk singer wrote a song about "Dear Abby" columns (titled "Dear Abby'). You're right. Advice columns have loads and loads of potential.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

You made me realize that the only advice column I'm currently reading is the modern manners column in Real Simple. And yet, when I read through it I think, "That would be a great plot for a mystery!" Conflict is constant but the causes are so varied and . . . sometimes. . . downright peculiar.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I do know the late, great John Prine, Sioux, did not know that song. I'll look it up!

And Sue, yep, the world is full of interesting people (and lots of 'em write to the advice columns)!

Marcia Peterson said...

You’re right, Cathy.. There’s so much there in those advice columns! What are unique idea from you, thanks

Angela Mackintosh said...

This is such a great idea, Cathy! I don't think I read any advice columns except for our Ask the Book Doctor column. Any good ones you can recommend? When I used to write short stories, I'd often mine the "Missed Connections" section on Craigslist.

Renee Roberson said...

I chuckled out loud a few times during this, especially with that awesome use of "canoodling." I remember I used to like to listen to that radio show with Delilah when I was a teenager. Is she still on air? I love the advice plotline in "Sleepless in Seattle." Since I don't read a physical copy of the newspaper any longer I don't read many advice columns besides things like "Ask the Agent." I'll have to give it a try!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Delilah! I remember listening to that with Dan and then we'd debate the merits of her advice. I had to check and she is on the air still but not in my area. But she has a podcast...

Cathy C. Hall said...

LOTS of advice columns are online, y'all, you can read for a while without a subscription to the papers. I STILL read Dear Abby, though it's her daughter, Jean, who writes it now. And once you read "Dear Abby," your feed (which is how I get all my reading) will start dishing up other advice columnists. There IS a Dear Amy and maybe a Dear Susan? They tend to be more moderate.

If you want a bit more cutting edge in the advice world, read Slate's Dear Prudie (Prudence). Half the time, I have to look up what he's talking about. :-)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Those are great suggestions, Cath! I just remembered an awesome one, "Dear Sugar" written by Cheryl Strayed (Wild). She doesn't write it anymore, but you can find all the archives at The Rumpus, and there's a book with all of them. Her advice is so good - she always shares her own personal stories and doesn't hold anything back. They are essentially essays. :) I'll check out the ones you mentioned.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top