Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Thing about Love

I went through a phase of reading romance novels of all shapes and sizes (from regency to Mills&Boon stuff). Then I moved on to crime stories, science fiction, and back to the fantasy novels that started my love of reading in the first place. Recently, I've gotten my hands on a couple of thrillers and what's called "romantasy" (romance + fantasy)(yes really, that's what the bookshelf is called in my local bookstore). 

All these books, and I really do mean ALL these books, have one common factor:

Love is in the Air. 
(John Paul Young)

I don't think I've read a single book (of the story-telling variety) in the past decade that does not include a love story at some level - and this is the question I'm posing today. When's the last time you came across a book that did not have a love story of some sort as a plot line?  

Certainly, all the ideas running around in my head have love as a subplot at the very least. To love (or to lose love, as the case may be) is such an essential part of the human condition that it wriggles its way into the most unlikely of storylines. Even most thrillers (those few that don't involve the detective coming across a love interest) have some (usually perverted) form of love in them. Even most horror stories I can think of involve some form of love, however confused it may be (just think of the protagonist's blond cheerleading/football playing crush that gets conveniently killed off to further the plot)(ok so that's mostly in the movies but what the hey)(or the gloriously distorted love portrayed in Stephen King's Misery). 

Given that love plays such a large part in storytelling as a whole, it's amazing how different portrayals of this one single emotion can be - and by that I don't mean the different (often genre-induced) kinds of love, but the specific details a writer can put down on paper. The tendency seems to be towards explicitness, no matter what the genre. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against a nice love scene or two or three, but I do think that the level of intimacy needs to be appropriate to the type of story. 

One does not, in general, read a thriller purely to get a thrill out of the detective having a grand old time with his girlfriend/boyfriend/one-night-stand. On the other hand, if I'm reading a romance, love on an emotional AND physical level better be the main event. Love scenes, like all other scenes and plot elements, should never, ever, be in the story just for the sake of including them - even in a romance. 

A story is not a checklist of obligatory scenes. 

If I read about the protagonist's sex life, it better have something to do with his character, someone else's character or the plot in general. Otherwise, why should I care if he or she has sex or not? 

That said, a character's psyche is a very important part of any story, and insofar as love is one of the most essential and inescapable emotions a human being can show, it's not something a writer should ignore. Any emotion adds to a character, and the more three-dimensional you can portray your character, the more he'll seem real to the reader. Nobody likes cardboard-cutout people, right? 


So let's have a show of hands, then: 

Do you have a love story in the story you're writing? Is it plot essential/character essential? How story-appropriate do love scenes need to be - is it ok to go for the thrill of it, just because?  
Can you think of any other emotional plot lines/plot points that feature in almost all stories you can think of, or is love the only one that's universally applicable? 


  1. *raises hand*

    Yes, the current WIP is all about the romance - actually, the last several projects have been pretty romance-heavy. In general when I'm reading, I like a story where the romance runs concurrent to some other, bigger storyline, so that there's something for the characters to overcome besides their internal baggage.
    Your topic is interesting, though, because last night I read a post by author Joanna Chambers on why she reads/writes romance. Her bottom line is that the love story is a mechanism for allowing the characters to discover and define "who am I", which I think answers your second question, Tessa. Any plot line that forces the character to discover themselves will be compelling.

    Here's a link to Joanna's post in case you want to check it out...

  2. I hadn't come across that post, thanks! *runs off to read it*

  3. Nice job! I really think love is in everything because we all feel it. We may not always understand it, but we all know what it's like to love, be loved and search for love.