It’s possible you were taken aback at the title of this article. Maybe you once read a novel about happy people doing happy things in a happy world that caused you to cry in agony and run as fast as you could in search of a caged fight. Love means nothing ever happens, right? If people get along perfectly, where’s the conflict? And who wants to read a book about people who adore each other?
As if romance isn’t a popular genre.
But I’m not talking about romance. I’m talking about love in general. Your characters should love each other, and despite the legitimate objections against this, your story will benefit. Here I will explain how.
Love Vitalizes a Novel
If you believe love is poison to a good plot, you’re probably confusing characters loving each other with characters getting along. Getting along is passive, while loving is active. Getting along is merely a void—no conflict, but no relationship building either. Love, however, is goal based. Love seeks to continually deepen relationships, help others improve, and remove conflict or overcome it.
Love yearns to inspire and be reciprocated. This is the difference between two characters in the middle of a war placidly agreeing with each other about politics, and a father trying to bring home a wayward son. This is the difference between a couple who strive for a frictionless relationship, and a couple who wish to be honest with each other.
If you’re still skeptical, look at Lord of the Rings. What were some of the best parts of the story? The affection between Frodo and Sam. The love between Faramir and Eowyn. The camaraderie between Gimli and Legolas.
Love Adds Complexity to Characters
I hope now you understand that characters loving each other isn’t as subversive as it sounds. But aren’t characters supposed to hate each other to generate conflict? And what about the villain? Surely he can’t love people!
Although hate usually equals conflict, it doesn’t always equal good conflict. The typical formula for conflict is: goal + obstacle = conflict. If you make your characters despise each other without a reason, the equation will lack a goal, and conflict can’t exist without it. You need to consider how a personal conflict would obstruct a character’s goal. A prime example is the Avengers. Their initial inability to get along hampered their mission of saving the world.
However, I thought the discord among the Avengers was too forced, especially between Cap and Iron Man. The producers forgot that the characters didn’t just hate each other, they also cared about each other. That’s one of the keys to writing realistic characters. They are duplicitous and capable of experiencing contradicting emotions (both love and hate).
But is it okay to have characters who only feel love? Absolutely! Sometimes this type of character is my favorite. People love love, so you’ve got no problem there. However, the moral simplicity of such a character means he probably wouldn’t be suitable as a protagonist.
As for antagonists, many classic villains are entirely devoid of love, which generally works fine. But, if at all possible, depict characters who both hate and love. I’d like to present Kylo Ren (my all-time-favorite villain) as a case in point. I realize there are different interpretations of his actions and who he is on the inside, but none of that is relevant here. From the way I see it, Kylo Ren loved Han … a lot. I’m convinced he loved Rey too. It doesn’t matter whether my convictions are correct, because if Kylo truly did love Han and Rey, then he is an extremely dynamic character who should be pitied, adored, feared, and cheered for.
Creating characters who love each other won’t tarnish your reputation as a writer. In fact, you’ll probably seem even crazier than before.
Love Increases Conflict
Let’s veer away from the galaxy and revisit Lord of the Rings to analyze the relationship between Sam, Frodo, and Gollum. Sam and Frodo both have affection for each other. But Sam resents Gollum because Gollum loves Frodo, who both loves and detests Gollum. Gollum loathes Sam, whereas he loves Frodo until he decides he treasures the ring more and then he hates Frodo. Aren’t you reeling from that incredible relational complexity? This is how you create a thrilling and compelling novel.
The two great commandments are to love God and your neighbor, thus relationships must be more important than almost anything else in the universe. Since relationships are so valuable, putting them at stake raises the tension. Compare these two scenarios:
- A super awesome couple who love each other deeply. The husband goes off to war. Nooooo!
- A couple who absolutely can’t stand each other. The husband goes off to war. Boy, we sure hope the battle teaches him a lesson!
You’ve got it! Love love, and it will love you.
Love Makes Your Story Matter
It’s all about the shire!
That’s the conclusion I once heard regarding the heart of Lord of the Rings. And it’s completely true. Yes, the goal of the story was to destroy the ring, but what was the reason behind it?
Why did the hobbits risk the jaws of death to destroy a tiny metal object? Because they cherished their world of gardens, beer, smokes with old wizard friends, maps, and birthday parties. They were willing to fight to protect the shire, because it was a place of love.
Love It or Leave It
As writers, we tend to foster our inner villain. We relish conflict and squabbles and dilemmas. This is as it should be, but often we forget the equally important aspect of love. Love strengthens and enhances a story.
It’s good to hammer in lessons when you learn them, so I have some homework for you. Examine the characters your protagonist interacts with in your story and see if he loves them. If so, is it clear? If not, can you change it? Finally, ask yourself what the “shire” is in your story. What is your character fighting for, and is it evident? Following these steps will help make your story shine.
What are some literary examples of two characters whose love for each other heightened the conflict and tension in a story? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!