Tag Archives: love

I Got That Loving Feeling… But Which One?

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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.

The Greeks…

Not how I'd originally envisioned Percy Blakeney

Percy Blakeney

AGAPE (a-gah-pay)

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?

EROS (eh-ross)

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!

LUDUS (loo-dus)

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.

PHILAUTIA (fill-out-ee-a)

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.

PHILIA (fill-ee-a)

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. band of brothers 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.

STORGE (stor-gay)

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

DILIGERE (dill-id-jair-ay)

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).

FAITHspaghetti monster

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.

PATRIOTISM

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:)

Romance Without Romeo: Telling a Love Story sans Soppiness

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I often tell myself that I can’t write love stories. Deliberately building that kind of delicate, ephemeral sentiment on the page in solid ink is something that seems utterly beyond me. Not only that, it makes me feel ridiculously self-conscious, both about the words I’m choosing and about the skill with which I’m deploying them. Writing love is sodding difficult. This should be no surprise, since living love is pretty challenging.

The thing is, the scenes that flat-out say what the emotions are tend to be awkward to read as well as write. That’s due at least in part to the fact that they’re unbelievable. Seriously, who really goes around gazing wide-eyed at their beloved and exchanging tender devotions? That isn’t how people work. Love is occasionally shown in words, but far more often in actions and the silences around other words. To quote M. Night Shymalan’s The Village:

Sometimes we don’t do things we want to do so that others won’t know we want to do them.      ~ Ivy Walker

Not an obvious couple

I have been playing my way through The Wolf Among Us – a point-and-click adventure by Telltale Games, featuring all your favourite characters from Bill Willingham’s Fables graphic novel series. In both the novels and the game, one of the central threads to the story is Bigby Wolf’s love for Snow White. It’s never ever stated in bald words, but he tries to reign in his bad behaviour around her. He does his best to protect her, both in body and reputation, and to support her whenever it’s needed. No one else gets anything like that sort of treatment from him, so it makes his feelings blazingly obvious. And the understated nature of it makes it beautiful.

Love stories happen around other things. They might be the central point of the story, but they cannot exist in a vacuum and they read much better if the majority of that plot line is subtext. Even in Romeo & Juliet the central action is about murder and feuding families, with love hanging from those hooks. Once you realise that, writing a love story becomes… well, still not easy. But marginally more approachable.

Now, many people who know me will be somewhat surprised by this post. The stories that I’ve written – and those that I tend to play out in LARP – are, at base, driven by fairly devoted (indeed, an argument could be made for ‘fanatical’) love, whether that be for a god or a family member or a partner. Surely that means I know how to tell them? No, it means I know how they feel. They feel powerful. This is pretty much my biggest worry as a writer – how to convey the power that I feel onto the page so everyone else can feel it just as strongly. Words can do that, but they have to be the right words at the right time in the right way. Silences can often do it better but that involves putting even more trust in your readers to join the dots. Not a bad thing, but a scary one.

The upshot is that I’ve given this some thought and I’ve got a couple of tips for conveying love without actually writing it:

1. Changing behaviour: just like Bigby Wolf not being a violent psychopath around Snow White, an alteration in personality and behavioural patterns can be used as a silent flag for conveying one character’s opinion of another. Are they making an effort, trying to impress or acting with rare respect? Best of all, they might not even realise themselves that they’re doing it. That way the audience gets the added smugness of knowing more than the character.

2. Not saying it: I don’t mean double entendre. I mean awkward lines, clumsily corrected by the character. Mundane conversations that clearly aren’t about the topic being discussed. Shared jokes and interests and all the little exchanges that make a real relationship… real. For an excellent demonstration of this, I recommend Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract, which is basically about how to build a marriage.

3. Character priorities: as Conan Doyle said via Sherlock Holmes, ‘it’s amazing how fire exposes our priorities’. In a crisis, what do your characters care about first? Is it each other? You don’t need to mention anything about romance – unveiling love through violence or desperation is far more powerful.

Nothing says romance like the living dead

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like the living dead

4. A fact of life: if this isn’t a story about falling in love, but about an existing relationship, you still don’t have to say it for the reader to get the point. The relationship is a given for the characters. They don’t talk about it because what is there to talk about? This may sound a little dull, but I’m going to blow my own trumpet for a moment and say that it really isn’t. This pretty much sums up the central love story in Spiritus, and is the foundation for the events of Corpus. The best example I can come up with right now is Rick and Evelyn in The Mummy Returns (I love that film). There must be better ones but I’m writing this late at night so I can’t bring them to mind.

5. Physical contact: obviously this ties into body language, but it can be used much more strongly. I refer you again to the quote from The Village above. Because we are naturally such hands-on creatures, restricted physical contact can be very telling and the moments when it does happen become correspondingly more powerful. This is something I’ve played with in the LARP field. It may sound simple but it can carry an astonishing amount of impact.

6. Other problems: like I said, love stories don’t exist in a vacuum. Concentrate on writing an adventure, or a mystery, or an apocalypse. If your characters are in love, it’ll come out naturally in their responses to everything else. And ‘naturally’ is very much the point.

Anyway, I hope that helps. It certainly isn’t something I’ve got totally cracked so if anyone has any other tips they’d like to share, I’d be very grateful!

National Poetry Day

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Today was National Poetry Day in the UK, and I almost missed it. I haven’t subjected you to any poetry for a while, so this seems like a good excuse. This was one of my favourites as a child, which may explain why I now find writing happy endings a challenge. It’s a good story too. In fact, it’s best you think of it as a story rather than a poem, because people tend to be more tolerant of short stories than of long poems, and this is both.

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THE HIGHWAYMAN by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

I

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
……Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
……His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
……Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
……The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
……Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
……(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
……Marching—marching—
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
……And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
……Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
……Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
……Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain.

VI

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
……Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
……Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
……The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
……Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
……Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
……Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

The Red Thread

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I only heard this phrase yesterday, but it’s a great image and something that often gets ignored. The red thread is in every single story – it’s what the author wants to happen. Now, you might be justified in thinking ‘yeah, that’s the plot’. But it’s more complicated than that. So long as you can’t see the red thread, everything’s fine and dandy. But what happens when you can?

That needs a bit of explaining. Think of it this way: characters are people too, right? There has to be a reason for them taking the path – telling the story – that they do. Boy meets Girl, Boy falls for Girl, Happy Ever After… but why does Boy fall for Girl? If – as in the example I was reading yesterday – Boy spends the entire time being bossy and disappointed in Girl, and Girl is overawed or downright intimidated by Boy, then why on earth do they end up together? Because the author wants them to. And that’s where the red thread comes into view. These two people spend more and more time in each other’s company, despite clearly not enjoying it, because that’s what the author wants to happen. If the characters were left to their own devices the story would probably be very different, but the red thread is holding them to this specific course.

If the plot falls apart when you take the red thread – the author’s determination – away then you’ve got a problem. Deus ex could be seen as a machination of the red thread – something that wouldn’t happen naturally without the author getting actively involved in pushing the plot forwards. If you as a reader are jarred out of submersion by a strong feeling of ‘that wouldn’t happen’, you’ve just run into a visible red thread. The author’s job is to make this stuff believable (suspension of disbelief notwithstanding), so at no point should their exertion show.

This kind of goes for ‘look how clever I’ve been here’ syndrome as well. Yes, well done, you know a fancy word or found a particularly obscure piece of research. Maybe you spent a long time tracking this down, but if it doesn’t actively contribute to the story in a natural way then does the audience really need to see it? Resist the Urge to Explain, less is more, etc etc.

Basically, as writers we’re all weaving with red thread. Our job is to do it so subtly that no one notices.

That Loving Feeling

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The trouble with love is… I can’t seem to write it. Whilst there’s usually a romantic sub-plot in my stories, it is either a story that has already happened (i.e. the couple are together) or it isn’t the story you think it is. The first book that I finished seemed to be based around a spy falling for an heiress; in actual fact he was pretending to fall for her to throw his enemies off the scent, whilst secretly he was in love with his best friend. Because the central love affair was fake I found it easy to write. It wasn’t a love affair, it was a manipulation, and the interaction between the real lovers was only ever seen on the surface as friendship.

But a genuine, simple ‘falling in love’ story? Turns out I struggle with those something chronic. Doubtless that says something deep and unpleasant about my psyche. But the thing is, there’s no logical reason for people to fall in love, or the way they do it. It just happens. And how do you write something that just… happens?

People do. The shelves of airport bookshops are rammed full of chick lit, Mills & Boon, etc. And, going on the theory that authors write best what they know, I ought to be home and dry. I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful, loving boyfriend; if even that weren’t enough, I have been involved in more than one LARP love story. But it still doesn’t seem to be helping right now.

Perhaps this is testing how good a writer I am. Perhaps the trouble is that it’s outside my writing comfort zone. Perhaps it’s the characters (although that feels like blaming one’s tools). Either way, it’s very frustrating. I think the best solution for the moment is to go and read some Georgette Heyer, which is as close to chick lit as my library gets. And maybe talk to a psychiatrist.

Self Indulgence

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It’s Friday, the sun’s out, and I’m feeling good about myself. So here’s one of my poems. Feel free to not read this post!

OVIDIAN

A night at Venice Carnivale, court of Fate and Chance.
The swirl of rainbow silks, the flashing jewels, and over all
The masks, the masks, the paper people playing at the Fool.
A night to fall in circled arms – come, stranger, shall we dance?
A crimson violin is singing tangos to a star;
The gondolier is crooning as he slides us from the street
And into shadowed ways. In shadowed passages lips meet;
A sweeter dance, my painted one. Ars Amatoria.

But, thoughtless as a diamond, dawn will not withhold its light.
I wake and she’s already gone. I never knew her name.
Our masks can’t last forever – all that glitters is not gold;
The music dies, the shadows fade, and fantasy takes flight.
Do I feel tears upon my hand? A kiss? Or only rain?
The streets are paved with rubbish, and the gondola is old.

The Trouble With Love

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Yesterday’s post was a little emotionally squishy, so I’m making it up to you by talking today about the trouble romance in storytelling can cause.

Let’s start with the obvious: Mills & Boon, et al. Yes, I read them as a teenager. It’s practically a requirement of being a girl (especially one at a single-sex boarding school). Leaving the plot and writing quality aside, the stories engender entirely unrealistic expectations of love and romance. The hero is always handsome, flawed in some way that won’t actually cause problems later, and fantastically good in bed. There’s usually an element of mystery, or some great trial / misunderstanding that the couple have to go through, but it all works out fine in the end. Oh, and there’s only ever one Mr. Right.

Yeah, right.

Even Shakespeare’s at fault with his whole ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ thing (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1.1.132-140). And, of course, there’s Romeo, Romeo. At least his protagonists have the mitigating factor of being complete idiots occasionally – I’m thinking primarily of the entire cast of Much Ado About Nothing here – but the expectations of love are still set at 1) fall in love, 2) some trauma, challenge or other excitement, 3) happy ever after / tragically glorious death together (more on this later). It’s such a pervasive technique of storytelling that it bleeds into our expectations of life. That’s very dangerous.

I have come across one piece of literature that I think covers this. (I’m sure there are others out there, I just haven’t found them yet). I’d like to share it with you. It’s by one of my favourite poets and it can be read as dismissive or depressing, but I see in it a simple sweetness. Make of it what you will.

Song by Rupert Brooke

“Oh! Love,” they said, “is King of Kings,
And Triumph is his crown.
Earth fades in flame before his wings,
And Sun and Moon bow down.” —
But that, I knew, would never do;
And Heaven is all too high.
So whenever I meet a Queen, I said,
I will not catch her eye.

“Oh! Love,” they said, and “Love,” they said,
“The gift of Love is this;
A crown of thorns about thy head,
And vinegar to thy kiss!” —
But Tragedy is not for me;
And I’m content to be gay.
So whenever I spied a Tragic Lady,
I went another way.

And so I never feared to see
You wander down the street,
Or come across the fields to me
On ordinary feet.
For what they’d never told me of,
And what I never knew;
It was that all the time, my love,
Love would be merely you.