CATEGORIES Features, Hot Topic
'The Last Song' opens this week, ready to wreak emotional devastation on viewers with a dramatic story, gilded summer romance and a heartbreaking plot twist that won't leave a dry eye in the theater.

Miley Cyrus stars as Ronnie Miller, a rage-filled teen sent from New York to spend the summer with her estranged father on the North Carolina coast. Within minutes of landing, she meets a dashing local named Will (Liam Hemsworth), who uses his dimples and wit to crack her tough exterior and win her over. For Cyrus, 'The Last Song' marks a departure from her role as Disney's 'Hannah Montana,' the juggernaut that has helped her build a massive tween fan base.

For the rest of us, the film is the latest intended tearjerker from popular tear-jerking author Nicholas Spark. Though here the project began with a screenplay (one Sparks wrote specifically with Cyrus in mind) that will be adapted to a novel, it's usually vice versa, with books-turned-movies like 'A Walk to Remember,' 'The Notebook' and, most recently, 'Dear John.' 'The Last Song' opens this week, ready to wreak emotional devastation on viewers with a dramatic story, gilded summer romance and a heartbreaking plot twist that won't leave a dry eye in the theater.

Miley Cyrus stars as Ronnie Miller, a rage-filled teen sent from New York to spend the summer with her estranged father on the North Carolina coast. Within minutes of landing, she meets a dashing local named Will (Liam Hemsworth), who uses his dimples and wit to crack her tough exterior and win her over. For Cyrus, 'The Last Song' marks a departure from her role as Disney's 'Hannah Montana,' the juggernaut that has helped her build a massive tween fan base.

For the rest of us, the film is the latest intended tearjerker from popular tear-jerking author Nicholas Spark. Though here the project began with a screenplay (one Sparks wrote specifically with Cyrus in mind) that will be adapted to a novel, it's usually vice versa, with books-turned-movies like 'A Walk to Remember,' 'The Notebook' and, most recently, 'Dear John.'

While each film has its own unique set of characters and conflicts, the similarities are impossible to ignore. Here's what we've learned from Sparks' films, sacrificing tear ducts, tissues and dignity in the name of learning about love. (Warning: Spoilers below.)

1. Falling in love only happens at the beach.

Forget finding love anywhere but on a stretch of sand with a hot sun overhead and wind in your hair. Sure, other locations might be pretty -- but meeting cuties only happens in one place.
'The Last Song': Will literally bumps into Ronnie during his volleyball game, spilling a milkshake all over her. But that's cool, because it's hot out.
'Dear John': Romance begins when John (Channing Tatum) dives off a pier to retrieve Savannah's (Amanda Seyfried) purse, kicking off an epic love that knows no bounds.
'Message In a Bottle': Theresa (Robin Wright Penn) begins to sweat Garrett (Kevin Costner) when she finds his soul-baring love letter in a bottle that washes up on -- where else? -- a beach on the East Coast.
'Nights in Rodanthe': The North Carolina shore again breeds romance for lovers of a certain age, when Dr. Paul (Richard Gere) checks in at a beach-side guest house and meets Adrienne (Diane Lane).
'The Notebook': Two crazy kids (Ryan Gosling plays Noah, Rachel McAdams plays Allie) meet at a seaside pier and play out their love all summer long -- which includes one head-scratching moment in the waves when Allie insists that Noah says she's a bird.

2. Real men have seaside hobbies.
Let's face it. Nothing says sex appeal like a brawny, outdoors hobby that requires courage, biceps and skill.
'The Last Song': Will's tan skin and rippling muscles were carved on the sand during his intense volleyball games. Plus, he does some Scuba-diving on the side.
'Dear John': John's the only surfer tough enough to win Savannah's heart.
'The Notebook': Noah's a quieter type, and therefore, his penchant for row boats is perfectly appropriate.
'Nights in Rodanthe': Isn't being a doctor enough? Just in case, Dr. Paul does enjoy long runs on the beach.
'Message In a Bottle': Garrett is a boat builder who knows how to woo his lady with a boom.

3. It takes a village for love to work.
Love doesn't happen in a vacuum. If your honey isn't fit to take home to mom (and in Sparks' world, they rarely are), be prepared to go to the mat.
'The Last Song' and 'The Notebook': Class differences seem insurmountable. Allie's mom is so worried about her working-class BF that she hides his letters for years, until her daughter moves on to an upper-class suitor. Will's blue-blood mom has so much contempt for Ronnie that she shames her at the dinner table. Luckily for both, the mothers come around (eventually).
'A Walk to Remember': Bad-boy Landon (Shane West) must not only prove his devotion to win over Jamie (Mandy Moore), but also convince her devout father to let him take her to dinner.
'Nights in Rodanthe' and 'Message In a Bottle': Everything gets better when Adrienne can get her crush on without family responsibilities, while the real grist of 'Message' can't take off without forgiveness from the ex-in-laws.

4. Writing letters trumps texting.
From online dating to "sexting," electronic communication has taken over modern love. But for Nicholas Sparks, there's no substitute for hand-written epistles.
'The Last Song': Ronnie's dad wrote her months before she opens a single letter. When tragedy strikes, the writings help thaw things between them and fill in blanks for the grief-stricken teen.
'Dear John': Letters are the fuel on the flames of love for Savannah and John, who writes her letters for a year when he's deployed overseas.
'Message in a Bottle': Theresa is so smitten by letters (albeit typed by machine) that she falls for Garrett even when his notes are addressed to someone else.
'Nights in Rodanthe': Adrienne, meanwhile, is a modern woman, but when Dr. Paul starts writing, there's no turning back.
'A Walk to Remember': The young lovers don't waste much time with the writing arts, but hand-written notes by Jamie's late mother become a cherished keepsake between them.

5. Kisses make women docile.
Even the most stubborn of women will stop resisting love under the influence of a passionate kiss.
'The Last Song': Ronnie's throwing a tantrum and trying to kick Will out when he plants a wet one on her. Voila! She stops talking and the fight's over.
'A Walk to Remember': Jamie warns Landon not to fall in love with her. So when he finally kisses her and professes his affection, she goes silent for so long that he says, "Now would be the time to say something."
'The Notebook': Noah and Allie's rain-soaked kiss is so powerful that not only does it woo Allie back to the bedroom, but it became the image for the movie's poster.
'Nights in Rodanthe': After bickering all afternoon, Paul gets a little help from a hurricane to make his move. As soon as their lips meet, animosity melts away.

6. Resort-town locals mean trouble.
Impassioned lovers may feel like they're in their own world -- but they're not. In the seaside towns of Nicholas Sparks stories, locals are always lurking with a nasty rumor or a punch to the gut.
'The Last Song': One local causes damage to both property and reputation. Another, and more pugnacious resident, ruins Ronnie and Will's big romantic wedding moment.
'A Walk to Remember': Landon's ex and his whole bad-boy crew threaten to destroy everything he's building with his new love, Jamie. Punches are thrown and feelings get hurt, but Landon's already above it.
'Message In a Bottle': For Garrett the punch-throwing locals are his family. The former in-laws are still hurling blame about his ex's death, and Garrett can't help but fight back.
'Nights in Rodanthe': Conflict with a local brings Dr. P to Rodanthe, but his defensive stance is useless against salt of the earth.
'Dear John': Even the titular hunk -- who's more gentle giant than aggressive thug -- lets loose when the local boys provoke him.

7. Parents know best (especially Dads).
There's a lot of parent-child conflict in the canon of Nicholas Sparks. But once the deep-seated issues are settled, chances are mom or dad has a lot of wisdom to offer -- so listen up.
'The Last Song': Once Ronnie loses her angsty teen act, she and her dad Steve (Greg Kinnear) can finally make amends and behave like family. Steve's so thrilled when she finally seeks out his advice that he can only stammer, "Crazy ... is. Love."
'The Notebook': Allie's sourpuss mom finally comes around when her daughter's on the cusp of deciding between her working-class love and her stud of a bread-winning fiancé. At the 11th hour, though mom has a surprise. "I don't want you to wake up one morning wondering if you'd known everything, you might have done something different," she warns.
'A Walk to Remember': Poor Landon Carter doesn't get much guidance from either his single mom or wealthy, estranged dad. Luckily, the reverend father of his object of affection has a few choice words. "You think on Sundays I don't see you from where I stand," he says. "But I see you."
'Message In a Bottle': In a classic Sparksian moment between father and son, Garrett's dad (Paul Newman) calls him out on his romance bluff. "Now you choose," he says. "Between yesterday and tomorrow. Pick one. Stick with it, and I will shut up."

8. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
It's nice when your soulmate lives around the corner, but that would drain a lot of the romance form the relationship. Distance only brings Sparks' couples together.
'The Last Song': Will goes to college hundreds of miles away, but the space gives Ronnie time to mature, and Will a chance to fill out his transfer forms.
'Dear John': It's possible that if John didn't deploy and stuck around after summer, things would've fizzled. Instead, he and Savs write letters for a year (see above), building intimacy from afar.
'The Notebook': Allie's in New York and Noah's down South, but that doesn't change a thing. Years of separation let Noah make good on a long-ago promise, while has a real choice between her roots or her real love.
'Nights in Rodanthe': Paul's trip to Ecuador sets the stage for intense yearning until he and Adrienne can start their lives together.

9. Nature and the Arts are aphrodisiacs.
Those ancient Greeks knew what was up, and so does Nicholas Sparks.
'The Last Song': Playing piano not only connects the gifted Ronnie to her composer dad, but it lets her score points with Will when the chips are down. As if music wasn't enough, the young lovers also bond over their mutual affection for baby sea turtles.
'Message in a Bottle': Garrett's hanging on to the paintings his wife made before her death. It's a little creepy, but the canvasses offer Theresa a window into the woman he loved, and later serve as an olive branch amid family strife.
'Dear John': John and Savs have a moment on the beach when John holds his thumb out to the full moon, and explains that it's never bigger than your thumb no matter where you are in the world. Savannah plays guitar.
'Nights in Rodanthe': North Carolina's Outer Banks are home to wild horses, which become a powerful symbol for love and catharsis.
'A Walk to Remember': Singing, astronomy, piano -- Jamie can do it all, and boy does it wow Landon, even if he won't admit it for the first 40 minutes.

10. The people we love tend to die.

It's no secret that people kick the proverbial bucket. But for a proper, epic romance, loved ones drop like flies -- no matter how old or how young, because true redemption can only be found after great loss.
'The Last Song': Someone has had cancer all along... and only spills the beans toward the very end.
'A Walk to Remember': See above.
'Message In a Bottle': A heroic gesture goes south -- all the way to the bottom of the sea.
'The Notebook': Death here is bittersweet, age appropriate and a fitting (if totally unrealistic) end to a lifelong romance.
'Nights in Rodanthe': Heroism is again punished by natural disaster, leaving nothing else to do but sob, mourn and move on until the next Sparks movie is released.