I recently started working on a story that is about two sisters, their dreams and ambitions that are both independent of each other and undeniably intertwined with each other. The sister relationship is a tricky one because it’s the only connection I know of where someone can both love and hate equally, simultaneously, and then defend the other with unwavering conviction. The complication in this relationship, as near as I can tell, comes down to how the characters love and how they feel loved.
As it is now 2017, I’m working on the assumption that most readers have at least heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This 1995 book explored the ways that people demonstrate love and the ways that people feel loved, and I think the ideas presented within are essential for authors writing any kind of love relationship.
While I acknowledge there may be more ways for people to love than those expressed in the work, the fundamental ideas remain the same: two people in a loving relationship of any kind are going to love differently, a diversity that may expand as that character is placed in position of expressing different kinds of love. I’ve got a few forms to consider.
1. The Parent Relationship
I know some people who cannot think of their parents without a feeling of bitterness and betrayal. Others have an unwritten agreement of mutual politeness and still others will keep their parents apprised of the occurrences in their lives on a regular basis. There can be parents like the mother in His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and parents like the Weasley’s in Harry Potter.
The question for your character is how does he feel about his parents, and, if applicable, step-parents or guardians? How do they demonstrate those feelings when in proximity of these people, and is it similar to or different from how they express their feelings of their parents?
This can also be something to consider in the situation that character is the parent, how they feel about their children, how they think their children feel about them.
2. The Sibling Relationship
I had someone ask me one time how often I communicated now with my siblings. The short answer was, depends. I have a sister who I chat with often when things are frustrating because we have had many similar life experiences. I have a sister who is in a very different stage of life, so our communications tend to be about more broad topics because that’s where we can connect. A great depiction of the sibling relationship can be seen in the way that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet interact with each other in Pride and Prejudice, and the way that Marsha and Jan Brady perceive their relationship in The Brady Bunch. Both of these have times when a sister is frustrated; both have a time when a sister is supportive.
The question for your character is how does she feel about her siblings? If she’s an only child, how does she imagine it might have been to have someone to chat with? When something great happens for a sibling, does your character feel the draw to celebrate or perceive yet another mark on the sibling measuring stick which she will never be able to attain? What kind of an event would launch your siblings from the status of feuding to allied?
3. The Friend Relationship
It took a long time for me to realize what it meant to have and be a good friend. I don’t think I’m alone in that, and, I’m ashamed to admit, many of my friendships were colored with popularity-colored glasses. I am also very happy to admit that I have come into the incredible fortune of having friends who are kind and supportive and encouraging. But just as with any friendship, there are going to be moments when someone is going to do something that annoys someone else. That’s the reality of life. The question is how does your character respond when they have been hurt by someone or when they discover they were the reason someone else felt as a less than? In The Lord of the Rings, we get to see the love that exists between Samwise and Frodo AND we get to see the frustration (acknowledging that some of this is impacted by magical things) that these two feel. The friendship between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also a good depiction of admiration and annoyance.
The question for your character is does he feel loved by the people who he associates with? How does he communicate with his friends? What would be considered the ultimate betrayal for these friends and what would be the thing, the only thing, that could heal that betrayal?
4. The Love Relationship
Whether you have characters who are meeting or dating or engaged or married, there is a depth of courage and vulnerability that must be present within a relationship that is going to be built on love. I just celebrated my 18th wedding anniversary and I’m happy to tell anyone who cares that I love my husband WAY more than when we got married. I am also happy to tell them that we had quite a bit of negotiating (aka “heated discussions” aka “silent treatments” aka “a few good fights”) to figure out how to be open and honest with each other. The love that we get to see in Me Before You goes through these ebbs and flows, moments of anger and celebration. This is also the reason that I love watching Madam Secretary, because there is an exploration of what it means to be married and raising kids and working jobs and . . .
The question for you character is what does she want beyond the clichéd roses and chocolate? How does she demonstrate love for someone with depth and vulnerability? What is she willing to hide to get the person she wants to be with? What is it about her connection with this significant other that makes her willing to fight to stay together when there are so many reasons she could run?
The trickiest thing about writing about love between characters is the mandate that we, as the authors, explore how these kinds of love feel and look and sound. The fun part is observing others, the hard part is understanding our own tendencies and how they may work within our own stories.
What stories showcase one of your favorite forms of love? Can you think of a love relationship category that I didn’t consider?
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.