Love Is (Not) All You Need…When It Comes to Characters

I love Love. Really, I do! I’m a happily married kid who secretly loves romantic comedies despite a predictably sappy ending. But when it comes to writing stories (and this might be a major moment), I disagree with the Beatles. Love is not all you need. Love at first sight? I have a hard time not rolling my eyes. The girls who sit at home by the phone (I’m dating myself–the girls who wait for their text messages or smartphones to light up?), I want to sit down and have a heart to heart with them. And damsels in distress? You can’t hear my sound effects, but my reaction is a little like this: Gross.

It’s my opinion that characters should progress in a natural way when writing. When writers introduce characters, we usually know how they’ll interact with each other. We know all about the love interest (regardless of how big a role they play) and expect a certain amount of emotions to come into play. It’s up to us to show the relationship develop, to make the reader believe, no matter what the storyline, that this protagonist and love interest want/need/should be together. We want readers to fall in love with our characters, with their history and future, to take concern when problems arise, and to cheer when a protagonist succeeds. When it comes to writing love, however, we have to make the reader absolutely cheer for them.

I knew my protagonist would have love interests. It helps create interest, round out other characters with their reactions, and hopefully make you like the story that much more. My thing was that I really didn’t want it to be the focus of the story; I wanted people to cheer for Lucy and whatever love interest she had, but more importantly, I wanted readers to cheer for LUCY. I want people to see her as strong and independent. She’s okay being by herself because it’s been that way the last half of her life. She stands up for herself, tries to protect others, and has no patience for knights in shining armor. That was my own personal rule: Lucy can find love, but it won’t become her everything. It would enrich her life (or drive her nuts), but it wouldn’t define her. (I plan to do a post on female protagonists being all “I am Woman, hear me roar” soon, too.)

My other problem is that I want love to be believable. I found when writing a magical circus that I wanted to stick to some rules and logic should applied to all of them to better help readers catch up to an already established world (also another post on that later). I’ve never believed in love at first sight and I made Lucy very practical. She’s 23, trying to establish a place for herself. That means that boys, while a nice bonus, are not all that matter to her when what she really wants is to be a part of the Donovan family. Writing her with one love interest was almost easy to me, because I knew their relationship so well. I’ve noticed other readers are rooting for them, because they can believe in it, yet they understand that it wouldn’t become Lucy’s entire world under any circumstances. What can I say? Girl’s got priorities.

Time counted for my rules, too. If each book is one city they visit (as is my hope), then I had to stretch out my time. I needed to keep a schedule of days for their show, because I didn’t want everything happening within three or four days; I wanted to show that the circus is in town for a while and in doing so, give Lucy time to fall for a boy or two in a realistic way (3 weeks might not be long either, but it’s better than insta-love in 3 days). By having my main character constantly think things through (thinking it’s nuts to fall in love instantly), realize her biggest priorities (clearing her name of murder), and stay focused to who she is (she wants nothing more than to be a great Firestarter), I feel I’ve kept her pretty real. At least I’d want to be friends with her because she’d try to come up with a plan if in trouble or at least not ditch me when a cute boy’s around.

M. Leighton and Courtney Cole both are great examples of terrific love stories. I love the main characters, their relationships with their favorite men, and the outcomes of their situations. The thing was with their stories, however, is that the characters already  knew their loves, had a history with them in particular ways. I think it could be easier to write love that’s, say, developed over the years through friendship (a best friend’s older brother), as opposed to strangers who just met twenty minutes ago. Lucy meets all these people for the first time and while she’s very attracted to a boy or two, she’s realistic enough to put herself first (think of it as career-oriented).

Teens are a little harder, as I’m finding out in my YA piece, because my main character Nova is also logical. That is, her circumstances have made her that way. After she loses someone close to her, she pushes her old self away (her old self being an energetic, normal, boy crazy teenage girl), and her priorities simply change (justice/vengeance). Boys are still super cute of course and she’d enjoy a makeout session, but her thoughts are otherwise occupied with finding a killer. However, with her being a teenager, and trying to move on with her life, I’m finally giving her a love interest that is wonderful for Nova, but doesn’t hold her back from her…evening activities. I want people to root for her, to come back from a dark time in her life and find light and love that’ll keep her on an even keel.

My point is, I think writers should tread carefully when writing in love and relationships. It’s one thing for one-night stands or whatever. I’m talking about “can’t live without you, would kill anyone who hurt you” kind of love and if you ask me (and several other readers I know), we don’t want to see insta-love. We want to see an organic relationship develop, even if it’s under extreme circumstances. No matter who saves my life, I won’t fall in love with them the next day; teens might feel “insta-love,” but it still needs to be explained well in order for the reader to believe it–and support it.

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