Straight from the heart

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2012, 12:00am


It's that time of year again when romance is in the air. Despite the trend for all things do-it-yourself, composing love letters is not the 'hip' thing to do any more. A lot of the reason stems from our awkwardness about expressing our emotions, especially when it involves a particular four-letter, er, word that begins with 'L' and ends in 'E'.

Writing love letters is a long-lost art. You may even say it's fallen into disfavour and generally regarded as an exclusive practice for hopeless romantics, or those trapped in a forgotten generation.

Technology has taken over a big portion of our lives. In its wake, industries that failed to adapt disappeared. It's also one of the main factors that has driven the writing of love letters into obscurity.

'The problem with digital communication is that it tends to make people less serious with what they say,' says Ng Man-lun, honorary professor and associate director of the University of Hong Kong's Family Institute.

'We need to tell people that communicating by electronic means is just as serious. When you express your love to someone, it's an important matter. You must respect what you say - and the person receiving it - and not make it so casual.'

Ng certainly knows a thing or two about writing love letters: he has 'real life' experience because he met his wife through a pen pal advert in a magazine.

At the time, she was living in Vietnam; he in Hong Kong.

Letter writing was their primary source of contact - and many were love letters. Last year he published a book, entitled , containing 97 of the letters he wrote (his wife has so far refused to publish hers).

From now until February 29, you can view some of Ng's love letters at WTC More in Causeway Bay.

Tips for writing a love letter

Whenever possible, always write by hand - try to avoid using e-mails or text messages. Handwritten letters, on quality paper, add a certain intimacy and personal touch to a letter.

Ng says his wife's letters always contained a tiny hand-drawn flower on the envelope. 'Her name in Chinese is 'plum flower',' he adds. 'For me it was always really touching to receive these.'

The penmanship - the way someone dots their i's or crosses their t's - can invoke a stronger connection for the reader. Handwritten letters are more personal.

Take your time

A love letter takes time to write. More importantly, it takes lots of time to get into a certain frame of mind. So organise your thoughts before you put pen to paper.

Talk about the memorable moments you have shared

First illustrate these moments, then reveal your feelings towards them. These are precious experiences and it's likely your sweetheart doesn't know your feelings. Also, your ability to recall these events will earn you bonus points in their eyes.

Never copy another person's letter

Plagiarism is outlawed - and for good reason. It turns out it's also forbidden in love-letter etiquette. Besides, copying from others will only make your letter less individual.

There's no harm in copying an exquisitely composed couplet from your favourite poet - just make sure you don't take credit for it.

Love letters are for everyone

They are not just for soldiers being shipped off to faraway places, or couples separated by hundreds of days or thousands of kilometres.

Everyone has the potential to write a great love letter

If your intentions are genuine, it will show in your writing. Sincerity counts for a lot and the receiver will not feel betrayed.

So why not give it a try this Valentine's Day? There's really no better time than now - and no better way to express yourself than with a good, old-fashioned handwritten love letter to that special someone in your life. Unleash your inner Shakespeare.