Friday, September 30, 2011
Effective writing stirs the emotions of the reader. Love is a powerful emotion with many dimensions. For the emotion of love to impact a scene, the writer must grasp how love influences the thinking of the characters involved. I recently witnessed a grandmother see her just-born grandchild for the first time. The countenance of happiness on her face struck me as an example of instant and unconditional love for this baby. It made me wonder about how we choose to love a person. It seems to me that it is a choice, and a deliberate one. Most grandmothers (or grandfathers) would give their lives to protect a grandbaby they barely knew. How can that magnitude of love exist so instantly? It was their choice. Romantic lovers rarely make such an instant choice, but at some point in their relationship they (often) experience a decision to fully commit to one another. Of course, there are different kinds of love – one definition of the primary type of love is: affection, friendship, erotic, and unconditional. (See The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis as an example.) It is this last type of love that I observed in the grandmother -- unconditional. This ultimate type of love doesn’t often happen so quickly (as in the case of the grandmother.) It can start out as any of the other three – based on familiarity, friendship, and/or romantic attraction. At some point the give-and-take type of love can become something more. A decision is made(maybe even subconsciously) to overlook the other person’s flaws, and this leads to unconditional love. Now the love is an illogical love that discounts circumstances, overlooks obvious defects, and forgives every infraction. A sweet, innocent girl can fall for an evil guy, and do anything and everything to comfort and protect him, even if he is a killer, a swindler, and a cheat. (A nice guy can also fall for a vixen.) In a story, having characters who are locked in mutual (or one-sided) unconditional love can result in illogical and irrational thinking – a perfect situation for conflict and drama. Of course, as humans, we are flawed in our attempts at unconditional love. Situations may become bad enough that we “break our vow” of unconditional love, and see a person for who they really are--again, a situation that lends itself to story conflict and drama. As you build characters, consider how they think about one another – do they exhibit one of the four kinds of love? How is it manifested? How does it cause the character to make decisions, how do they act in a crisis, how to they choose cover-up a truth, or to protect their lover/friend? What does it take to make them break their commitment? All of these are ingredients that add to the dimensionality of your characters.