descriptors

How to Characterize Love in Your Writing

valentineI posted this last year, but it’s worth repeating: How do we characterize love in your writing?

Because, 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 these:

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, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

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61 thoughts on “How to Characterize Love in Your Writing

  1. Pingback: 30 Ways to Describe Animals | WordDreams...

  2. This is very useful, Jacqui. The older I get the less I know what the word means, a condition not improved by reading Stendahl’s book on the subject (published under his real name.) As for ‘romantic’, there I have even less of a clue.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks – this is so helpful. There is so much to explore here. You manage to make it sound easy though I know it isn’t. Writing seems to be a juggling act between creativity and technical know how. I liked the way you managed the love relationship in To Hunt a Sub. It was romantic and non-sleazy without being puritan.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: How to Characterize Love in Your Writing – All About Writing and more

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