business / characters

How to Write About Love

valentineBecause, if you’re a writer, you must. It doesn’t have to be sex but it has to take readers that direction, right to the edge of the cliff. Yes, you can leave the lurid details out, but let readers peek over the edge.

How do you do that? Start with a few decisions:

  • Is it platonic?
  • Is it unrequited?
  • Is there conflict?
  • Is it lust disguised as love?
  • Is it serial love? Or one-of-a-kind?
  • Is it kinky or traditional?
  • Does love bring joy or sadness–or misery?
  • Is the manifestation of love baby-ish or mature–goo-goo eyes and saccharin words or Paris vacations?
  • Is love verbal or silent?
  • Is this love constructive or destructive? Flowery or brutal?
  • what part does the spiritual play in the emotion–or is it uninvolved?
  • Is it a subplot or a cameo?
  • Is it an inciting incident or a throw-away?
  • Is it violent or passive?
  • How did it start? Online or physical world?
  • Are children involved?
  • What are the personal flaws that attracted each to the other?

You may not know any of these answers, but by the end of the book, these questions will drive the actions of the characters.

Another important questions is: What’s your genre? If you’re writing romance, you’ll have to delve into this subject much more than if you write mystery/thrillers. Romance readers buy books as much for the love lost lust as the plot. But not thriller readers. There, if the love interest is secondary to the plot, they’ll be fine. If it’s only alluded to, you will likely still satisfy them. What about literary fiction? Emotion is good. Introspective questioning is better. Romance is secondary.

Love is about emotion. That’s where you write it. How do the character’s feel? Are they distracted at the scent his love interest wears, even when worn by another woman? Or does he barely notice? The reaction of your characters must be in-character. Are they Sheldon (from Big Bang Theory) or Lolita?

When you’ve thought through the emotion, write the backstory. How did your characters meet and fall in love? See if you can answer most of the questions listed above. You may never use this detail in your novel, but it will fill out your understanding of your characters and their motivations.

Still unsure? Read books in your genre. See how your favorite authors wrote about love (because there’s rarely a novel that doesn’t at least touch on it). Take note of what seems particularly effective for you. Borrow the technique, not the words. Ask friends about love. Most people are eager to talk about new hook-ups. Pick their brains.

One final point: A bit of humor is fine. Perfect People and their Riveting Romances are boring–and unrealistic. Who among us hasn’t been stupid in love? Understanding that it is part of the human condition, that we shouldn’t take ourselves as seriously as romeo and Juliet did, got us through it. Granted, if the plot requires a psychological meltdown because of the love interest, forget the humor. It won’t work.

For more about writing love, check out Peter Murphy over at Storyplant (he calls it a dangerous business).

More help with writing emotions:

Setting is Not a Place, it’s an Emotion

How do you get readers to trust you?

How Characters Show Emotion Part III

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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33 thoughts on “How to Write About Love

  1. Pingback: Blog Reflections #1: Taking the Love Connection By the Heels | Laissez Faire

  2. Pingback: Laissez Faire

  3. I’ve been thinking for five minutes about the one book I’ve read that had a love story that touched me (aside from the classics) and I really scratched my head and the only one I can think of is Dean Koontz’s Lightening which I read eons ago.


  4. I believe POV is important, too. If you write from within your character, it is your own motivation which will drive the language. If you see what your character sees, touch what they touch, feel as they feel, the words will ring true. Love comes from deep within truth: disguise it, and all you have is smut. This can also drive the most difficult issue; that of said/unsaid. For some the experience is spiritual, for others physical. Where you go with a love scene – with the pace and the detail of a love scene – will always be right, as long as the correct balance of feeling is there. One other thing – be not sixty-nine if your character is twenty-nine. Something I have to be aware of, I’m afraid.


  5. This is one word in the English language that has too many definitions. And we expect each other to know automatically which one we’re taking about. Your questions are very helpful. I would consider them necessary to answer in order to be sure of the type of love that is being discussed.


  6. Thanks, Jacqui, for excellent and timely advice, especially being February. Love-romance-crush-lust and all the rivals, like jealousy, show up in many books so this is a very useful list. I’ve written about love based relationships in all of my books and will go back and reconsider each according to your list.


  7. I often find it extremely difficult to get the balance right. If I’m writing a romance it’s easy (to focus on the genre at least), but if I’m writing a crime thriller like my Morgan and Fairchild series, the balance is tricky and a constant struggle for me. I really enjoyed the post – I’ve been struggling with the issue in my latest project and it’s useful to get a little perspective 🙂


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