A love story is not just a book with a compelling plot. It also shows the growth of a relationship between two people, very often through indifference or even definite hostility to liking and friendship to being in love to the ultimate fullness of total and unconditional love itself. To be truly satisfying, the ending of a love story should leave the reader sighing with contentment, convinced that these two people share the unbreakable bond of a love that will last forever and even beyond. It should give the impression of happily-ever-after yet the conviction too that these people are real and not just figures in a romantic fairy tale. In order to come to this feeling, the reader has to be drawn into the world of the story and into the minds and emotions and the very souls of the two lovers. The reader needs to feel these people, to be emotionally involved in their journey, almost to become them in imagination.
It is the writer’s job to make this happen.
But how is it done?
First, the characters have to seem real. Whether the hero is tall, dark, handsome and charismatic or something quite different, whether the heroine is cover model gorgeous or something else, they must feel like real people with whom the reader can relate and identify. They cannot be cardboard characters with little depth beyond some personality traits and background details the writer jotted down when creating them. They have to be living, breathing humans with strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures and problems, as full of flaws and contradictions as real people. But no matter what, the reader has to want to root for them in their struggles and must fall in love with them in their vulnerabilities. The reader must passionately want the love story to work, to end happily.
In order to make characters real, the writer has to know them inside and out—soul deep in fact. It is possible to know a great deal about other people without really knowing them at all. Sometimes we do not even fully know ourselves. Do you ever find yourself saying or doing something that takes you by surprise? Do you really know exactly how you would behave in unexpected circumstances, a life-and-death emergency for example? When I am writing a book, I stop and go back and rewrite time and again before I come to the end and usually it is because I need to adjust the story as I get to know the main characters better. Creating a whole story is never easy because I am not satisfied until I feel I have the lovers right. They are rarely willing to give up all their secrets early or at once. Sometimes—very often, in fact—I end up asking them where their deepest pain lies. There is always something. Once I know it, then I can set about bringing that character to healing so that he/she can get to the point of being able to love and accept love and settle to a lasting, meaningful love relationship. This must happen for both main characters, and they must both be involved in the revelations and the healing. They bring each other to healing and love and ultimate happiness. It is both an individual and a shared journey they are on.
Well, no one said writing a love story is easy. At least, no one who has ever tried it has ever made that claim!
There must be growth in the characters if the reader is going to invest time and emotion in their love story. Admittedly there are action stories in which very little growth of character or emotional involvement with them is necessary, but this is not often so with a love story. If the hero, for example, is just gorgeous and sexy and does nothing but macho things throughout—well the reader might enjoy reading about his exploits but there will be very little emotional empathy with him. He will be a basically lifeless figure. And there will be very little trust in him as the hero of a lifelong romance.
The best way I have found of getting depth of character and pulling the reader in emotionally is by making careful use of point of view. Point of view is the person through whose eyes and viewpoint the story is being told. It can be first person though then the action of the story can be seen only through the mind of one character (just as our own lives are viewed). I use what I call third person deep interior point of view. I usually alternate between the hero and heroine, telling one episode from the hero’s point of view and then one from the heroine’s. That way the reader gets to experience the story through the mind and emotions of the character experiencing that particular episode of the story. If you think about it, everything that happens in our lives has an emotional component. We are the ones who experience everything that happens in our own lives, and everything that happens is colored by our own experiences and character and values and background and emotions—mostly our emotions. Very little happens to us that does not carry some emotion with it. The aim of the writer should be to duplicate this with fictional characters. They must be living, emotional beings, and if their story is told from deep within them, then the reader will be there too, experiencing everything with them and feeling with them—living and loving with them. Creating this emotional connection among writer, character, and reader is one of the greatest challenges of writing a love story, but it is, I think, the key to its success. The author needs to make the reader laugh with the characters and cry with them—and fall in love with them. It should be hard to let them go at the end.
A great love story ought to be for everyone—not just the two fictional characters experiencing it. That is the whole point of writing it—and reading it.
To one person who leaves a comment below by Friday, March 29, I will send a signed copy of either SOMEONE TO TRUST, Book 5 of the Westcott series, or ONLY A KISS, Book 6 of the Survivors’ Club series—winner’s choice.[The winner is ALICE MATTHEWSON. Congratulations to her and thanks to everyone who commented. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.]