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COMMITMENTS : Sealed With a Kiss : The Words to Woo By

March 13, 1995|JOAL RYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

So, you want to write a love letter. Crazy kid.

Well, don't get too nervous. Think of it as direct marketing at its most direct. Just grab a pen and paper (or a computer and modem), and mind these basic rules.

Lose the Percy Shelley routine.

Sure, grand romantic odes with dramatic love-you-forever-and-ever-and-ever-after- that sentiments probably worked great for Shelley. But, then again, Shelley probably also looked great in lace-up boots and a pirate shirt. In short, Shelley was British, he was a poet and he lived in the 19th Century.

Professional letter writer Carolyn Gillis says she avoids flowery or gushing prose when dictating romantic notes to her husband. He just wouldn't buy it. People don't talk that way anymore.

"People don't know what to do with that (type of language)," Gillis says. "They don't know how to respond."

Lesson: Write like yourself, not like some dead British fop.

Be direct. Be honest.

"Americans are very practical, very direct, and that's what we respond to," says relationships author Alan Epstein. He suggests beginning with a simple, "I'm writing this letter to tell you how much I appreciate you."

Love-letter anthologist Michelle Lovric advises ardent suitors to be specific--and truthful--about what they hope to gain from a relationship. "If you just want to go to bed with the person, don't declare undying love," she says.

Presentation counts. (Maybe spelling too.)

"Dress your first love letter as you would dress for your first date," Lovric says. If you went to a bowling alley on the first date, you may not want to draft your first love letter on gilded paper with a calligraphy pen. (Then again, maybe you would.) Pick a method that works for you and your intended, and carry it off in a manner that reflects your tastes--as simple or elegant as those may be.

When in doubt, steal.

Lovric encourages would-be letter writers to borrow ideas from the experts. So, go ahead, write your letter under the influence of Shelley. Just make sure you don't go overboard. Stay true to yourself.

"That's what makes a great love letter," Epstein says. "That it's honest . . . that it's real."

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