Thursday, February 14, 2013

Writing 101: When Characters Fall in Love

Love is a big focus of February, and it commonly crops up in books. By no means is love limited to the romance genre (though this genre is dedicated to the emotion). It appears in mysteries, horror novels, suspense tales, science fiction, YA...well, we don't have all day. When characters fall in love, you've got to write it in a believable way. Otherwise, I won't feel the love...and then, what the heck is the point of having it in the book? 


Lovely Stereotypes

When characters fall in love on the page, authors are always taking a risk. Love is perhaps the hardest of all emotions to define, and it's certainly difficult to recreate in fiction. How does one describe the euphoria...and the unspeakable pain? The deep longing for togetherness...and the desperate fear of losing one's own independence? 

Yeah, it's hard to write about love. I know this because I've seen so many authors get it totally wrong. Look out for common love traps in your own writing, because you want me to smile instead of gag when I get to those romantic scenes. 

  • At First Sight: You're a genius if you can pull it off without sounding trite. Love at first sight is one of the most common elements used in fiction, so you're running the risk of a tired plot if you're employing it. It helps if you don't base love at first sight solely on looks. Give your main character more depth than that.
  • Codependent: While it may not be spelled out, codependent love is prominent in fiction. The hero or the heroine falls so deeply and irrevocably in love, they cannot even exist without their love. That sounds romantic and all, but it's actually a mental illness of sorts. Let us as authors refuse to create codependent love on the page, lest we give rise to the wholly mistaken notion that everyone in the world must be paired up to be happy. Break ups and independence are good for characters. Codependent, I'm-going-to-die-without-you love is not healthy and it certainly isn't romantic. My own personal opinions on the matter aside, it's also bad in your writing. You don't want to weaken your main character, or turn readers off of them. It is very difficult to like a character who lacks their own sense of identity and independence. 
  • Unrequited: It's hard to write about unrequited love because it's one of the most painful emotions to experience. Loving someone who does not love you back, and perhaps never will, is a terrible torture. It's also a great subject for fiction if you get it right. For this to work, you've got to have balance. Readers don't want to spend the entire book wallowing in sorrow, so remember to lighten things up a bit here and there. You've also got to show readers why the main character is in love with this other person. Really, you have to make us fall in love with them, too, in order to understand and really connect with the story. If I'm not feeling the pain of loving this person, I'm not really feeling the words.
  • Illicit: Love that shouldn't blossom can be exciting in any story -- if it wasn't, Romeo and Juliet wouldn't still be popular 400 years after Shakespeare's death. Affairs and other types of illicit love are perhaps the most difficult to write about, because you're setting your characters up to be hated. It's hard to root for characters who are doing the wrong thing, so you've got to really show the readers different reasons to get on board with it. Your characters have to be very likable in other ways, perhaps even have some misguided and noble notions for cheating, unless you want them to be disliked. 
  • Returned: Sometimes, the object of your character's affections may also feel the blush of love. It's sweet when both characters are fully in love, but you've got to add tension to maintain my interest. If everything is sunshine and roses all the time, where's the plot of the book? I expect the couple to hit some bumps in the road, maybe even to have some knock-down drag-out fights. Why? Because that's what love is like. Sometimes it's the worst feeling in the world, and sometimes it's terrifyingly close to pure hatred. Make your love three-dimensional, especially when it's mutually realized between the couple in question. 
  • Triangle: Love triangles are the thing in YA fiction right now, but not everyone's writing them well. The triangle is a delicate balance of emotion and decision, and it's hard to keep a character tottering on the edge of that cliff. Before you write it, understand it. Why can't the character decide on a love interest? Why are two love interests into this character in the first place? What are the differences between the love interests? What are the similarities? And, most importantly, how does it end

Writing About Love

It's never easy to write about love. It's such a big emotion, and everyone feels it differently. Sometimes, I'm 100% convinced it's not even real -- that's how bloody confusing love really is. It's just about impossible to find it, to keep it, to deal with it and to manage it, so writing about it can make you sweat blood. It does help if you have been in love before you try to write about it, and that's really the best advice I've got for the topic. So soak in the emotion of the day by falling in love with someone, and go write about it. Happy Valentine's Day! 

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