Why do characters fall in love? Other than begging the question of why any of us tumble head over heels, what purpose does doing so serve for either a novel or narrative nonfiction?
Why is this of such importance to a great book? Or in the words of the song, what’s love got to do with it?
Many new writers want to gloss over this part of human existence, focusing instead on “deeper” or “more profound” pieces of the human condition. And while that’s all fine and good, even if you’re not writing Category Romance where love and lust provide the backdrop to whatever else occurs, matters of the heart bring with them all sorts of luscious twists for your characters.
Characters drive your story. Faced with all manner of psyche-bending events, your hero undergoes trials and tests that force him to change and grow, force her to tackle problems on the outside, which mirror those on the inside. This turns the plot in another direction, bringing with it a new host of problems our hero has to face.
The best characters have to solve the inner before resolving the outer, and those tribulations form opposite sides of one whole coin. And nothing turns a character inside out more effectively than a love situation. For other than a few freaks of nature, the Bard hit the essence when saying that the course of true love never did run true.
Everything, in any book, has to be there on purpose. We use love won or lost to propel our hero onward. Often loss happens in the beginning of a story; it’s what causes the main character to sign up to drive the herd to Montana. Or to board the Starship Arugula for the outer reaches of the galaxy. And even though she may be running from her heartache, in the end, she must find resolution for that sorrow, or drift endlessly at the mercy of the Intergalactic pirates.
Because it’s in the very efforts required to heal that shattered heart that our hero finds his own essence, his own strength, and lives to fight the bad guys (or his own neurosis) another day.
Many plot threads run through any book. That’s what gives a story layers, richness, texture, and depth.
Each and every one of those threads must weave together into the main theme throughout the course of the story, ultimately tying up (or failing to, on purpose) in the end. The cowboy doesn’t always get the girl. If he doesn’t though, and you’re worth your salt as a writer, you intend to set him up for book two in the series.
Love, lust, whatever you want to call it tends to lay bare all of our fears and hopes and shortcomings. It causes the strongest man, or the most sensible woman (or vice versa) to come undone, to act in ways contrary to normal. To have their friends shaking their heads and saying, “What the bleep is wrong with you!” And it gives you, the author, that plethora of ways to plunge them into chaos—the essence of what makes a book tick.
Your Political Thriller will have more meat if the morning the President’s hand covers the red phone, he’s just learned his wife had an affair with, well, whomever—pick a pivotal and hopefully antagonistic character in the novel. Your Literary novel will resonate as the geisha falls in love, destroying not only her livelihood but likely her life as well. Your Fantasy will be enriched as our witch must save not only the town from evil, but the man who kept her from being burned at the pyre as well.
Love ups the stakes. And upping the stakes is what makes your story move. Keeps it going. Causes the characters to grow.
Finally, it never dies. Okay, so love can be killed (again, bringing with it that whole new Pandora’s Box of plot twists), but the impetus to love never dies. We go to our graves with it. A good friend had to move her ninety-two-year-old mother to a nursing home. After finishing with the paper work, she went to find her mom—who was stepping down the hall, an elderly man (of about her age) holding her arm. Once inside her new room, my friend asked if this man was helpful.
Her mom said, a gleam in her pale eyes, “He let me use his walker.”
Ah, yes, that’s what love’s got to do with it.