One True Thing

Life's questions, big and small

Modern Love Editor Daniel Jones on Love

What makes a great love story?

If there’s one thing Daniel Jones has learned over a decade of editing the New York Times Modern Love column, it’s how to recognize a great story. In his new book “Love Illuminated,” he draws on the wisdom of the 50,000 people who have sent him their tales of love and loss, as well as some from his own 21-year marriage, to shed some light on dating, relationships, and how to find real love in the age of online dating. Jones addresses a host of questions with wit and wisdom: Can the Internet find your soul mate? Is infidelity really wrong? How is love like E.T.?

I had one question for Daniel Jones, as a former fiction writer, when we met recently for coffee: How has editing the world’s stories about love for nearly a decade changed you as a writer?

Here's what he had to say:

What I appreciate from writing, and what I think others appreciate, is a moving story as opposed to wordplay. That wasn’t always the case. When you’re around a writing community, you can get to the point where sounding smart is valued more than emotional content. When I approached this job, that’s where I was.

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During the past decade, I’ve really learned the value of a simply told story. It doesn’t need to necessarily have a sense of style. It doesn’t need a distinctive voice—that may not even be important to the writer. It’s just a powerful story. I’d like to be able to bring that to my own writing, and I think I have.

The whole concept of being a professional writer and having a sense of yourself as a writer, it isn’t important to the reader. The truth is, they don’t care about the byline. They could care less how many books you’ve published—in fact they prefer that you don’t have any published. They just want to hear from other voices out there who have something important to say.

I think what Modern Love has done is to provide stories to a mass audience that can change the way people think about circumstances different than theirs. Any father can relate to another dad’s heartfelt experience of coming to terms with his son being gay, told like it’s one guy confiding to another guy over a table at a coffee shop. You have to hear in the piece the struggle that the writer is going through, the doubt. That honest emotion is worth more than a hundred news articles about a topic. The story—the personal journey from struggling and pain to a new understanding—is what matters most."

Daniel Jones is a contributing editor at The New York Times, where he has edited the popular Modern Love column since its inception in 2004. His books include two essay anthologies, Modern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit and Devotion and The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom. His novel, After Lucy, was a finalist for the Barnes and Noble Discover Award. He lives in Northampton, MA, with his wife, writer Cathi Hanauer, and their two children.

 

Jennifer Haupt is a writer based in Seattle, Washington. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Readers Digest, and The Christian Science Monitor.

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