The Semiotics of Sparks

This week, the Nicholas Sparks movie The Last Song, starring Miley Cyrus, arrives in theaters-just a month after his Dear John. The plot includes divorce, piano-playing, a distant father, a small Georgia beach town, stained-glass windows and, well, more letter-writing. 

Mr. Sparks, 44, has written 15 novels, six of which have been made into movies-rather surprisingly embraced by many New Yorkers of the Transom’s acquaintance eager for a good in-the-dark cry (also widely imitated; see films like Remember Me, with Robert Pattinson).

At its most basic, his formula involves two lovers running on a beach somewhere, separating due to a complication and later realizing their great affection for each another. But other factors also come into play. Herein, we break it down.


Dear John (2010)

The coupling: Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried

Beach setting: Charleston, South Carolina

Bonus elements: Long-distance letters, cancer, death, autism, war


Nights in Rodanthe (2008)

The coupling: Richard Gere and Diane Lane

Beach setting: Rodanthe, North Carolina

Bonus elements: Long-distance letters, storm, wild horses, death


The Notebook (2004)

Coupling: Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams

Beach setting: Seabrook Island, South Carolina, circa 1940s

Bonus elements: Long-distance letters, war, Alzheimer’s, death


Message in a Bottle (1999)

Coupling: Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn

Beach setting: Cape Cod

Bonus elements: Love letters, death at sea, sailing, boat-building

  The Semiotics of Sparks