Writers in the Storm

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June 20, 2018

The Body Language Of Love: Beyond Lust And Attraction

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Last week at WITS I wrote about writing deep point of view using layers of emotions and I promised this week to share about writing love in deep point of view. If you missed last week’s post, make sure you check it out.

Let’s recap for a moment. A secondary emotion is our thinking response to primary (instinctive, unthinking) emotions. A secondary emotion could be triggered by one or a dozen primary emotions, and that blend will be unique for every character in every situation.

In deep point of view, it’s vital to understand the why of an emotion. Why is your POVC attracted to that other character? What need or desire are they trying to ease or fill? What emotions (or mix of emotions) is fuelling that feeling of love?

“I opened the door and there he was. It was like I was a magician and had thrown aside the curtain to show my lovely assistant. The sight of him caught my breath in my throat.”

Laurel K. Hamilton, Blue Moon

When it comes to love there isn’t a one size fits all kind of love, is there? It’s nuanced and varied, the relationships don’t all have to look the same or be founded on the same primary emotions. The Greeks have/had 7 words for love:

Eros – erotic-sexual love

Agape - selfless, sacrificial love

Ludus - playful love, overt flirting/teasing/seduction with no strings attached

Philia - deep friendship, platonic and sincere

Pragma – standing in love (as opposed to falling in love) the longstanding practical love as shared by a couple married for a long time

Philautia - self-love – could be meant in an narcissistic way, or in the way of taking care of yourself enabling you to better love others

Storge – familial love as between parent and child

I would guess there’s a lot of books out there that focus on ludus moreso than eros or even pragma. So, let’s reframe how we think about writing love. All too often, what I see from beginning writers is something like this:  

Love flooded Steve’s chest every time he looked at Melissa.

In deep point of view, we want to avoid naming emotions. Here’s why. Does this tell us anything about Steve’s character? Or Melissa’s? Do we know in what way Steve loves Melissa or with how much intensity Steve feels this emotion? Do we understand why? No.

Writing love like this draws conclusions for our readers and in deep point of view we want to give evidence or proof of an emotion and let the reader decide what emotion is being felt.

Telling your readers that your character is in love is a wasted opportunity to show characterization and emotional arc for readers. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, love is very individual and subjective. Help readers understand the emotions fueling your character's love—hand the reader the virtual reality headset.

Show readers what qualities and characteristics your character is in love with, show what love feels like to that character. That’s the goal with deep point of view. Some fall in love because they’re looking to be understood, others are seeking security or confidence, humility and simplicity, someone comfortable in their own skin, someone with similar values.

“It made more sense that way because when they weren’t together … well, Holly just felt as though she was missing a vital organ from her body.”

Cecelia Ahern, P.S. I Love You

Let’s have another try at why Steve loves Melissa.

Steve shook his head and smiled at the over-filled backpack Melissa wore, likely filled with every textbook assigned to every class, and more paper and pencils then she could ever need. She turned, scanned the room, and then shot up to her tiptoes and waved at him. His chest filled with warmth. The heat spread through his whole body until sweat broke out on his brow. Didn’t she know he’d been watching for her? He’d always look for her until she was beside him again.

So, which primary emotions are at play here? Seeing Melissa filled Steve with adrenaline, hence the racing heart and sweating. This could be excitement or anticipation. Happiness is also in the mix and security or safety—Melissa isn’t someone who likes surprises clearly. She’s prepared for anything. Those instinctive, unthinking emotions force Steve to DO something so he’s waiting and watching for her to enter a room.

Steve could’ve commented on her hair or body, on how smart she is, how she fills in the gaps where his own introversion and social awkwardness work against him – I could continue coming up with theories. This is what love looks and feels like to Steve. Knowing why Steve loves Melissa shows readers what’s important to him, how he values others, the gaps or weaknesses in his own character he’s looking to shore up in a partner, etc. Readers see what’s important to Melissa through what Steve is drawn to.

Aim higher than just communicating to readers that your point of view character is in love. Use love to show readers why your character is in love, why they’re in love with that person and what that feels like. This helps readers made their own decision about what the character is feeling through what they’re attracted to, what they value in others, and what they’re seeking more of in their life.

Did you get my free PDF on the body language of attraction?

July 1st is the release of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Subscribe to my blog or follow the Confident Writers page on Facebook for more details.

The body language of new love is very similar to the body language of attraction: sweaty palms, leaning in, touch, open body posture, change in tone of voice, puffed out chest, preening, eye contact, smiling, etc. Most writers seem to instinctively understand this body language—just be sure to capture the why for readers.

Ever watched the body language of a couple who’ve been together for a long while? It’s different, right. What body language cues might you observe between long-together couples?

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About Lisa

Lisa Hall-WilsonLisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.

Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers,  at www.lisahallwilson.com.

25 comments on “The Body Language Of Love: Beyond Lust And Attraction”

  1. I love when a post hits the spot. I'm working on a scene where a deeply committed couple is at a breaking point, because of the MC's actions. Great guidelines on how to work through these emotions of love, betrayal, sadness, and anger.

    1. OOooh - yes, when an established couple fights it's different than when a new or dating couple fights. More history. More subtext. Lots to work through and build conflict on. Good luck!

  2. I love that you focused on this aspect today! It's very relevant to what I'm writing right now.

    As a reader, I also adore seeing what things a POVC notices about the target of their affection/attraction: what aspects of a person draw them in. It's like that ultimate moment in When Harry Met Sally when he says "I love you," but it's phrased as all those "I love that you..." "I love it when..." etc. that show he embraces all of her. (Swoon. 😉 )

    1. Yes! On the opening page of P.S. I Love You, Holly describes all the things she misses about her husband and it's just a list of the reasons she loves him. It's heart breaking. That whole book is heart breaking lol. Gets me every time.

  3. Terrific information- and a great reminder when we're writing our wonderful love stories to show them in a physical way. I sometimes forget that part - so easy to use the word 'love' in a lot of ways, but still, the physical is much more descriptive. Thanks so much for this post!

  4. This is one of the best—if not the best—articles I've ever seen on how to "do" deep POV. Not naming the emotion—great takeaway! Thank you, Lisa.

  5. Excellent post, Lisa. I'm still processing it, and will be for quite a while, but it's provided a lot to think about. Thanks!

  6. Wow, Lisa. I knew we shouldn't name the emotion, but you laid out, with perfect logic and great examples, the WHY. And once you know that, you know your black moment - because you threaten to take away not only the love, but whatever else the character is getting from it - safety, acceptance, etc.

    I hope you come back and tell us more!

    1. The black moment? I'll have to look that up. Sounds like it might be similar to James Scott Bell's mirror moment? I'd love to come back 😀 WITS is my favorite place to guest post. Thanks again for having me.

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