Why does love in so many books or movies get relegated to the narrow confines of romance? Yes, romance is love, though much of what is portrayed nowadays is a very shallow love at best. But there is so much more to love than a love triangle or tangled romance. Love can be deep or shallow, directed towards self or others, portrayed in a godly manner or otherwise. There is so much one can do with love as they create characters and stories, be it the presence of love or its absence. 

The most important love which affects your character’s life is their love for God.

Whether the story takes place in the real world, or in a fantasy one ruled by a Great King, the love (or absence of love) for God molds and shapes the character and his worldview. At one end is a character who loves because of the grace and love given to him, who follows such love by obeying the orders of their God, and who shows the same love to others. On the opposite end is the one who disregards the love of his King, who loves only himself and works only for his own gain.

Of course, between these two, there is a wide range of characters, from those who love but don’t trust, to those who are lukewarm, to those who love greatly but place their love on the wrong object or show it in the wrong ways.

There is always going to be some love somewhere: be it for self, for a child, for a leader, for a nation, or for a god. And that is where fascinating backstories can come into play. What does the character love most above everything in the world? Why does he love? And is the object and reason of his love the greatest there can ever be, or might someone else come to his aid and claim that love for his own? And does the love of one beget more love, as in the case of loving God, or does it cause bitterness and hate further down the road?

The most difficult love in your character’s life will probably be loving their enemy.

Of course, this will mainly affect your Christian characters, since the villain has no reason and no desire to love his enemies. And the only reason your ‘good’ characters love the enemy is because of their love for God and commitment to obey Him. Loving one’s enemy may be a character development process, a debate between characters, or a part of life. But, regardless, how does this look?

More generally, how does love itself look? The question isn’t as hard as it might seem. Who hasn’t heard the verse ‘greater love hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friend.’ Such sacrifices clearly show the love of a character for his sister, betrothed, father, or mother. But there are other ways too.

“One great act of love is commendable, but love with the small things, like giving up what one wants in favor of another, and repeating this action day in and day out, can be even harder.”

Love bears with others, forgives, and passes over annoyances.

Different characters will be more or less emotional about their love, some showing it in overt actions, while others are more subtle or even try to hide it. But, however it is portrayed, a simple way to show the love of your character towards anyone is for them to give of their own safety or comfort for another, whether it involves making oneself a target to lead soldiers away from a friend, or surrendering up the last piece of chocolate.

Love, however, is not the same as respect. One can love another because that is what they ought to do, and yet not respect the way their comrade behaves or the choices they make.

One can even love an enemy.

But loving an enemy doesn’t mean giving into them; by no means. A character who loves their enemy will pray for them. They will forgive them, fighting in defense of what lies behind, not for revenge against what lies before. They will show mercy if they are able, caring for an enemy if they find him wounded. They will give their enemy food and water and treat them with dignity, even if they can’t give them their freedom. But loving one’s enemy doesn’t mean the character loves his friends less. He will fight for those he loves, defending the weak. And if he and his enemy meet in battle, then battle it will be.

Finally, there is the most common love in stories: romance.

Most romance portrayed in movies and books today is simply emotion and passion. A longing to be with the other person. A warm feeling in the stomach. An echoing call to follow one’s heart. It is shallow and falls short of true love.

This isn’t to say there won’t be any emotion in love, especially when it comes to romance. But if that is all there is, then there’s a problem. If two characters simply like each other because of mutual attraction, what happens when someone else more attractive comes along? There needs to be reason mixed into love, not just emotion.

And characters should not be encouraged to follow their hearts unless it is a matter of character development. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and something which drives me crazy in books. The heart, which generally means the emotions, can be led astray very easily. The heart can be deceived. It is the mind, guided by other wiser minds and the Bible, which must guide and protect the heart and the emotions. It is the tempter which should give the advice to ‘follow your heart,’ not the mentor or mother. Even if a character does emotionally fall for another character, they should be wise enough to be able to examine the other’s life as well. Even if the heart and mind end up at the same place, the character needs to guide their heart there, making sure the one they like is indeed suitable for a relationship.

This isn’t to say there might not be some gazing into each other’s eyes (I’ve seen it myself with friends who are courting), but logic needs to be involved too. And make sure you set a good foundation for the romance. Looks might attract, but two characters should get to know each other and be able to respect the other’s character and actions as well.

One interesting twist to the common love story is to have an arranged marriage and, instead of the whole follow-your-heart-marry-someone-else storyline, have the couple learning to love each other after marriage. The Sunken Realm by Serena Chase is a very good example of this type of story. Actually, her whole series, The Eyes of E’veria, are great examples of well written romance and love, both romantic and otherwise.

Any romance in a Christian book should be kept pure and be based on true love.

The love that surrenders all for the other, be it giving one’s life or simply doing the dishes. And, as unromantic as it may sound, romance itself will actually be deeper when it isn’t just an ocean of emotions, but is based on a firm love for God as well as a respect and love of who the other person is. Despite their emotions, characters do have a choice. They can choose to love, or choose to not love. Surrendering to their emotions and saying ‘I love him so I will marry him’ is not the best course of action.

Love, the lack of love, and its effects all have a place in the backstory and the plotting of each character and book. Whether your story includes romance or not, figure out what your character loves more than anything, the reasons for their love, and the effects and outward manifestations of that love. Love is a very powerful motivator and shaper of characters; make sure you use it to the utmost.