All you need is love, or, failing that, alcohol. ~ Wendy Cope
As I mentioned briefly in the blog hop last week, I like to play with the different kinds of love in my writing. Love is one of the most powerful character drivers but it’s easy to get caught in the very common trap of portraying only one form of it. So I was delighted to see there was a Festival of Love, looking at the various types, going on in the Southbank Centre in London. I pottered along with a friend yesterday to see what they made of it. To be honest, it was rather disappointing on the whole but it did make me realise that generally people aren’t really aware of the variations. So, as a kind of research aid, I thought I’d briefly go into some of them here.
Selfless love. Most commonly described as ‘Christian love for all men’, but the term was around long before Christianity. In the original sense, it was less a love of people in general and more about spiritual or unconditional love that had nothing to do with anything physical. More modern usages liken it to great empathy for others. One of the best examples is the 1986 film The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro. This is probably the hardest type of love to use in storytelling, as it tends to be less immediately passionate, but it can work fantastically. After all, who doesn’t love Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel?
Passionate, physical love. This is the big one, the type of love that gets all the press. The type that 95% of stories are about, from Paris and Helen onwards. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t have to be about sex, although that’s very frequently a feature. It includes romance, ‘love at first sight’, and – in the original meaning – the appreciation of beauty, both within and without. Platonic eros is totally possible, although I can’t think of a literary example right now. A rare gap in the eros market!
Flirting, playful affection. This is generally the pre-cursor to eros, before it becomes something deeper and more passionate. This is the fun, light-hearted stage. This does get played with in plenty of stories but it generally turns into eros pretty quickly. Off the top of my head, the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally is probably the best extended example of ludus.
Self respect, self love. Not vanity but the ability to be happy with oneself. Getting this one licked in real life is a hell of a challenge for most people so it makes a great internal character arc. There was a quote in the Southbank Centre, which I can’t remember now, about how love offered from someone who doesn’t love themselves can’t be trusted. My favourite literary example of a character who has achieved philautia is Lord Arthur Goring from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, but he starts the play with it:
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.
Love between friends. Affection, regard and loyalty with an element of give and take. This is quite similar to agape, except that it refers to a specific and defined community. Next to eros, this is probably the type of love that gets the most coverage (although that isn’t saying much). The bond between a group of friends is a strong theme to play with. The Fellowship from Lord of the Rings, Harry and Hermione from Harry Potter, the 1985 film The Breakfast Club – these are all good examples and there are plenty more. PRAGMA (prag-mah)
Enduring, settled love. Another tough one to have as a character drive, as it is less passionate and more about commitment. It can be a development from eros or from philia. The relationship between Holmes and Watson towards the end of Conan Doyle’s books is a great example, as is Michael and Charity Carpenter in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Files. A challenging build for a writer, but very powerful if done right. Consider that a gauntlet thrown down.
Familial love. The bond between parent and child, or between siblings. Also, and far less commonly, used in the original meaning to represent acceptance – ‘loving the tyrant’. There’s a reasonable number of stories that deal with familial love, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Shelby and M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias. Plenty of room for more, though. It’s an emotion almost every reader can empathise with on a pretty fundamental level, which is great for immersion.
… And The Rest
Love of one’s ruler/commander. This is a Roman word which literally translates as ‘to esteem’. Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau, are fantastic examples. Almost all the characters are motivated by a devoted love of the king (or, because things get complicated, the man they consider to be king). Bernard Cornwall’s Richard Sharpe series also frequently alludes to it, particularly Harper’s devotion to Sharpe himself (especially in Sharpe’s Sword).
Love of one’s deity/ancestor/spaghetti monster of choice. Think about all the things that people have done for faith – building huge structures, undertaking incredible pilgrimages, moving mountains (metaphorical or otherwise). It’s impacted so much of our history, and it can completely define a person. Fantastic character trait material. Guy Gavriel Kaye’s Lions of Al-Rassan is a great example, as I might have mentioned before.
Love for one’s country. Patriotism seems to go in and out of fashion within cultures, I think, and at the moment it’s out. You can see it clearly in a lot of war poetry, though, as well as books like John Buchan’s Richard Hannay series. This is a very abstract love, focusing on an idea or ideal rather than a particular person or object, but it’s no less powerful for that. In fact, I’d say that patriotism has been the driver for many of the most heroic real-life stories. Given that it’s best showcased in conflict, this makes it a great character trait for a story.
The Dark Side
Of course there’s a dark side to love. There’s a dark side to any strong emotion, particularly when taken to extremes. I’m not even talking about the true but clichéd ‘love turns to hate’ thing. Just as love is far more nuanced than that, so are its corruptions. Eros turns to obsession, stalking or rape; philautia turns to narcissism; pragma turns to dependency; faith and patriotism turn to fanaticism. Greed is a kind of love – excessive love of a thing – and of course you’ve got the whole green world of jealousy to play with. ‘Hell hath no fury’ and all that. In the real world these are all bad, m’kay? In stories, they make for fantastic character arcs. Remember that the dark side is not the sole remit of your antagonist. Why shouldn’t your ‘good’ guys experience these? They are just as powerful motivators as any of the more positive variations listed above.
So, there’s 10 types of love (not including negative aspects) that you can use to motivate your characters, and I doubt this is an exhaustive list. What have I missed? And how many have you used, or even read about?
(And, just because I love the scene, an example of frustrated eros:)