October 26th, 2020

How Do Your Characters Love?

by Tasha Seegmiller

I am deep in a revision of a novel that will serve as my MFA thesis. This story is about a woman, her children, her faith, her marriage, and a little bit how easy it is for modern women to get lost in the tumult of obligation. It explores how dreams and ambitions can be both independent of a woman's roles in life, and yet undeniably intertwined with those roles.

There are many kinds of relationships that are tricky ones, but particularly when they are relationships where partners can both love and hate equally, simultaneously, and then defend one another with unwavering conviction.

The complication of relationships, as near as I can tell, comes down to how the characters love and how they feel loved.

As it is now 2020, I’m working on the assumption that most readers have at least heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This 1995 book explored the ways that people demonstrate love and the ways that people feel loved, and I think the ideas presented within are essential for authors writing any kind of love relationship.

Before that, C.S. Lewis wrote The Four Loves, a religious and philosophical exploration of the way people love and why they need to love. (This book is free on Kindle Unlimited.)

While I acknowledge there may be more ways for people to love than those expressed in these works, the fundamental ideas remain the same: two people in a loving relationship of any kind are going to love differently, a diversity that may expand as that character is placed in the position of expressing different kinds of love.

I’ve got a few forms to consider.

1. The Parent Relationship

I know some people who cannot think of their parents without a feeling of bitterness and betrayal. Others have an unwritten agreement of mutual politeness and still others will keep their parents apprised of the occurrences in their lives on a regular basis.

The question for your character is how does he feel about his parents, and, if applicable, step-parents or guardians? How does he demonstrate those feelings when in proximity of these people? Is it similar to or different from how he expresses their feelings?

This can also be something to consider in the situation that character is the parent, how they feel about their children, how they think their children feel about them.

2. The Sibling Relationship

A great depiction of the sibling relationship can be seen in the way that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet interact with each other in Pride and Prejudice, and the way that Marsha and Jan Brady perceive their relationship in The Brady Bunch. Both of these have times when a sister is frustrated; both have a time when a sister is supportive.

The question for your character is how does she feel about her siblings? If she’s an only child, how does she imagine it might have been to have someone to chat with? When something great happens for a sibling, does your character feel the draw to celebrate or perceive yet another mark on the sibling measuring stick which she will never be able to attain? What kind of an event would launch your siblings from the status of feuding to allied?

3. The Friend Relationship

I am very happy to admit that I have come into the incredible fortune of having friends who are kind and supportive and encouraging. But just as with any friendship, there are going to be moments when someone is going to do something that annoys someone else. That’s the reality of life.

The question is how does your character respond when they have been hurt by someone or when they discover they were the reason someone else felt "less than?" In The Lord of the Rings series, we get to see the love that exists between Samwise and Frodo AND we get to see the frustration (acknowledging that some of this is impacted by magical things) that these two feel. The friendship between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also a good depiction of admiration and annoyance.

The question for your character is does he feel loved by the people who he associates with? How does he communicate with his friends? What would be considered the ultimate betrayal for these friends and what would be the thing, the only thing, that could heal that betrayal?

4. The Love Relationship

Whether you have characters who are meeting or dating or engaged or married, there is a depth of courage and vulnerability that must be present within a relationship that is going to be built on love. This year, my husband and I celebrated our 21st  wedding anniversary and I’m happy to tell anyone who cares that I love my husband WAY more than when we got married. I am also happy to tell them that we had quite a bit of negotiating (aka “heated discussions” aka “silent treatments” aka “a few good fights”) to figure out how to be open and honest with each other.

The love that we get to see in Me Before You goes through these ebbs and flows, moments of anger and celebration. This is also the reason that I love watching Madam Secretary, because there is an exploration of what it means to be married and raising kids and working jobs and . . .

The question for your character is what does she want beyond the clichéd roses and chocolate? How does she demonstrate love for someone with depth and vulnerability? What is she willing to hide to get the person she wants to be with? What is it about her connection with this significant other that makes her willing to fight to stay together when there are so many reasons she could run?

The trickiest thing about writing about love between characters is the mandate that we, as the authors, explore how these kinds of love feel and look and sound. The fun part is observing others. The hard part is understanding our own tendencies and how they may work within our own stories.

What stories showcase one of your favorite forms of love? Can you think of a love relationship category that I didn’t consider? Please share it with us down in the comments!

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About Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is an MFA candidate in the Writing Program at Pacific University and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven, is the mom of three teens, and co-owner of a soda shack and cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Top Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

22 responses to “How Do Your Characters Love?”

  1. Jenny Hansen says:

    I'm first! I love to be the first commenter on a great post like this. I read a lot of women's fiction, and a ton of romance, especially historical.

    I love couples who help each other offload their crap (aka baggage...aka FUBAR self-beliefs). I'm talking about the couples who help each other be more of who they really are. The couples who have that connection that says, "I see you. Yes YOU. Now come out from underneath all that crap you're carrying around. You don't need that with me." When those couples each blossom into their uniqueness and let their authentic selves shine, I just melt into a puddle.

    And yes, I know exactly what this says about me. I'm still a big ol' puddle of happy when I finish a book like that, no matter what the genre.

  2. LauraDrake says:

    Your book is right up my alley - hurry and get it published! Actually, it could be my story, or just about every woman's I know!

    I've written about all those types...love them all!

  3. barbaralinnprobst says:

    I think love is at the heart of so many great books! Love that inspires sacrifice. Ambivalent love, when we love someone we shouldn't or can't have or doesn't reciprocate. Passion. Devotion. Hidden love. To me, these forms of love cut across the categories—so there's a sort of grid, with "who" one loves ( as you describe) on one axis and the "kind" of love on the other 🙂

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      This is a super interesting point, Barbara. I agree that we can love various types of people the same way and for the same reasons. It's a fascinating thought to separate them out the way you suggest.

    • tashaseegmiller says:

      YES! This is one of those ideas that can manifest in as many different ways as there are people.

  4. It is true that love makes the world go 'round. Both the head and heart provide the impetus.

  5. Tasha, as a historical romance writer and a Christian, I've read the books you referred to in your blog and resonate well with the forms and the conflicting roles that our various loves take. Thank you for your very informative and thought-out sentiments. I will take them to heart.

  6. sehbicycle says:

    Excellent additional questions for me to think about. Having read the 5 Love Languages, I do think about that when writing, but had never extended it to all the relationship levels you have called out. Thank you for writing this post, and helping me continue to developing as a writer. Wishing you fantastic progress on your MFA thesis, and then the road to publishing it after!

  7. Exceptional post! You've given me a ton to think about.

    My current H/h don't have siblings, but my next series is about 5 sibs who inherit their parents' tour business. I have 4 sisters and 2 brothers and I don't have the same relationship with any two of them.

    • tashaseegmiller says:

      Then you are absolutely doing things right! There is no way two people feel love the same way - showing those nuances adds incredible depth.

  8. Ellen says:

    Tasha, after reading your excellent post I immediately thought of Love Actually and now have all the songs playing in my head.😁

    The story touches on friendships, family, crushes - adults as well as middle schoolers, unrequited love, extramarital affairs, and grief after the death of trust.

    Thank you for the reminder of the multiple ways we love and how it can enhance our writing.

  9. Jacquolyn McMurray says:

    The relationship with in-laws is different than the relationships we form with our own parents and siblings. And it can be tricky! Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  10. barbdelong says:

    Great post! Made me think about all the different kinds of love in my current WIP and how each character acts/reacts/denies the love. So interesting on so many levels.

  11. dholcomb1 says:

    There's also a love for the betterment of society. Someone who gives selflessly by volunteering, not for glory or gold stars, but because she genuinely cares and wants to help.

    Another love is Agape love. The kind we may have for our children. Or, if one is a person of faith, the love from one's God or deity. The all-encompassing, all-forgiving, benevolent love.

    denise

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