‘by Valerie Davisson
Big topic to cover in 1000 words or less. We’ve heard all the songs, seen all the bumper stickers, and put up all the posters in our dorm rooms. All we need is love. Love conquers all. But what is love, and, how, as authors, do we deal with it in our writing?
Maybe you think you don’t need to. Maybe you think love is only a subject with which Romance Novelists need to concern themselves.
“I write Thrillers,” you say, or “I write about Science, History, French, or Philosophy”.
But I’m here to propose (pardon the romantic reference) that Love infuses and is the foundation for all writing. Not only is writing an act of love, but I dare you to pick up a book – any book – and not find human connection, dis-connection, or passion in it. Love, or the lack of it, is why we do what we do, be we scientists or fictional characters.
An excellent example of passionate non-fiction writing is Sam Kean’s book, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, And the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. Powerful stuff!
If you are that Mystery/Thriller, Sci-Fi, or other novelist, maybe you’ve gotten lazy about love, throwing in a gratuitous, shallow romantic story line for your main character that doesn’t go any deeper than your typical sitcom, just to check that box. But you can do better than that.
Every character is motivated by love or a lack of love – although not always romantic love. Understand your characters’ motives, and the writing, particularly the dialogue, will just flow naturally from your fingers.
Looking for love in all the right places is a good start. My February writing challenge – to you and myself- is to go back to Creative Writing 101 and do the coffee shop exercise. Take a trip to a Starbucks, a school board meeting, a courtroom, a gas station, Nordstrom, or Denny’s – wherever people are. Plop yourself down someplace and observe. What do they say? What do they do? Who is connected to who? Who’s mad at someone who’s not there? Who is sharing good news? Who’s alone?
I vaguely remembered Plato’s various categories of love, Googled it and here’s a summary for us to use as a guideline while on our February People Watching Mission:
EROS – Passion
Obvious one. Sexual or Passionate Love. Cupid and Valentine’s cards. Bodice-ripping, devil-be-damned passion! Opposed to Logos or Reason. Eros is why Paris fell for Helen of Troy, and Clinton risked his political career for “That Woman”. This is the easy, go-to type of love, that most novelists include in their stories. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a powerful motivation – our main character either does something dramatic to gain eros, or does something out of hurt, anger and pain because EROS was lost.
STORGE – Parental
A type of love often mined by novelists for their bad guy, is the love between parent and child. Most serial killers have some sort of twisted relationship with their parents. They didn’t get much STORGE. A lack of parental love causes a deep hole in which evil ferments. In its positive form, STORGE is universal and broad – providing a solid foundation from which our healthier characters draw in times of trial. Much mined, but always interesting, parent-child love is a rich source of drama for our characters.
PHILIA – Friendship
In my books, Logan McKenna is motivated to fight for her friends, new or old, because she is blessed with a few good friends – those ties that sustain us even when we may be lacking in other forms of love at that stage in our lives. With true friendship, there is a sense of shared goodwill. We value those with whom we can completely be ourselves, and trust. If you are writing a series, take a look at your main character’s romantic relationship – there is usually a combination, and a changing ratio of EROS and PHILIA. What does your main character need? What does their love interest need? How do they attempt to meet each others’ needs? Are they successful? If they are getting 80% of what they need, is that enough?
AGAPE – Universal
Mother Teresa. Gandhi. Christ. St. Francis of Assisi? Buddha? Carl Sagan? Whoever is on your list of candidates, their lives would exhibit an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Not sure many characters in novels would qualify for this level of love – and if they did, they wouldn’t make very interesting characters. Like sitting on a cloud, playing a harp – it might make for a boring book if you knew your main character was always right, always good, always giving. No drama there. It would be great if the world were full of Agape, but the best we can do is to show that our characters are capable of bursts of this kind of love, reaching for it, attempting to live it, stumbling, then either giving up or getting back up again.
So, back to our people watching session. Take a look at your notes. What kinds of love show themselves, or are hidden under actions and conversations? Which ring true for your characters? Which conflicts are the most intriguing to you? Whatever you feel and see.
That is real. That is human.
That’s a good book!
If you’re up for the challenge, post your favorite observations in the comments. I’d love to hear what you felt and saw!
A self-admitted book addict, Valerie Davisson was the kid with the flashlight under her pillow, reading in bed long after lights out. Growing up in different countries led to degrees in Cultural Anthropology, Teaching, and a pervasive interest in people and how we navigate our world. Writing is her Passion! She is the author of Saturday Salon: Bringing Conversation and Community Back Into Our Lives, and the new Mystery/Thriller series featuring strong, female protagonist Logan McKenna. You can find her on her website at www.ValerieDavisson.com.