Having written about ‘hate’, it would be very remiss of me not to write a piece about ‘love’. But unlike hate, love has more flavours than a jelly bean shop and more emotional levels than a ’70s soap opera, so I don’t have a hope of covering every facet of love in a small blog like this. You can love your spouse, kids, parents, relatives, friends, pets, job, lifestyle, country, god(s), etc. right down to loving the last film you saw, and every single one of them you’ll love in a different way. What I do hope to give you is a taste of the types of love that can be the most interesting in fictional writing, particularly for your readers. Unfortunately for the characters in your story, the interesting types of love are those that inflict the most pain.
It’s best not to head straight to ‘and they lived happily ever after’ without a bit of suffering to start with, otherwise the story will be very dull. You could start the story with characters who thought they were comfortably at the end of their fairy tale only for everything to go horribly wrong, but having a loving couple breeze through your story without having their love tested in the slightest, is going to leave your readers with a finger firmly wedged in their throat. Your characters have to work for the love of their life, or to avoid the love they don’t want, or even lose the love they so desperately wanted or had. Your readers can then empathise with your characters, because it’s human nature to want to see the good-guys overcome their hardships and end up with their heart’s desire. In fiction, as in real life, love truly does hurt. So let’s leave the lovey-dovey stuff behind and head straight into the types of love that work well, particularly in fantasy.
- Unrequited love – This can go two ways. Firstly you may have a character who adores someone else whom they can never hope to have. Secondly you may have a character who has managed to secure/marry the love of their life, but that person will never love them. I read a book many years ago by Guy Gavriel Kay called ‘A Song for Arbonne‘ in which he had both sides of the story; the man who had married the love of his life, while his wife did not love him and only loved a man she had briefly taken as a lover. You could call this a love triangle as well, but Guy did kill off the woman in the middle of the story early on at childbirth, leaving behind the two men who fought bitterly against each other, but who completely misunderstood the love they had for the same woman. The shock at the end of this tale was that all the horrible stories about the man who had married the woman at the centre of the story, were untrue, he had utterly loved her and the children she had borne. What this meant is that you were cheering for the man you thought was the good guy throughout the story, only to find out at the end that the man whom you thought was a villain, actually wasn’t – and you feel for that character. This is quite a clever way of pulling at the heart-strings of your readers.
- Ménage à trois – A threesome, or domestic polyamory, isn’t necessarily all about love – sometimes it can be more of a sexual arrangement or enforced through marriage or religion. But let’s look at it from a love angle. What many people consider normal or acceptable are only two people in a relationship, so having a third person happily enter the mix can add an element of shock to your story, particularly if the role or status of the third person is quite unexpected (e.g. a footman with the king and queen, or a theatre star appearing regularly in the home of a pair of decorated war heroes). Such relationships might also start out fairly amorous, but slowly break down over time, through friction, jealousy, trust-issues, a turned head, etc. After all, two’s company, three’s a crowd.
- Love triangle – A love triangle, where usually at least one person is unaware something is going on between the other two, can be more interesting than a threesome, as there are secrets involved and invariably someone gets hurt. Things get even trickier if two in the triangle are married and the third is a lover. Here you have the risk of being discovered and the potential for danger (for example, medieval queens and their lovers could be executed for having an affair behind the king’s back). But if you have someone who is deeply loved by the other two, but two thirds of the relationship is illegal, immoral and/or illicit, then you also have heart-rending decisions for your characters to make when they are eventually discovered. There can be conflict, broken trust, destroyed lives, friendships crushed and children left with a single parent (or even discarded or disinherited).
- Gay/lesbian love – You can mix any of the other types of love into gay/lesbian love, but where it is at its most powerful in fiction, is when there is an element of surprise included. You may have a character who appears to be heterosexual in every way, only to reveal their true love is of the same sex. How shocking or dangerous this is will depend upon the fantasy world you have created. If you have a world where any type of relationship is the norm, then the impact will be minimal. But if your fantasy world makes homosexual love illegal or punishable in some form, then you have a love that can never be or which could be deadly if they try to make it happen. This generates empathy in your audience. In my novel ‘Cry of the Elemental‘ the Empress privately mourns for her dead friend and protector throughout the story, but what becomes clear as the tale progresses is that there was a deeper love there for a woman whom she could never have taken as her lover.
- Destructive love – There are two aspects to this as well. The first is a type of love that becomes so zealous or obsessive that it becomes destructive. This can be a dramatic inclusion in any story. If someone loves so much that they will take extreme measures to obtain the object of their desire or to preserve the love they have (which could be a person, thing or ideal), then it becomes very dangerous and potentially sinister. There could also be things other than love driving the one who is destructive, such as political inclinations, honour, religious fervour, insanity, etc. This can make it a particularly complex type of love, because it’s working alongside pure hate. The other aspect of destructive love is when it becomes self-destructive, where someone loves someone or something so much that their own life becomes unimportant. This could happen as a consequence of unrequited love or the loss of a great love. Anyone who has loved deeply and lost the one they love will understand how much it hurts, but it starts to become problematic when self-destruction sinks in. Again, you can generate empathy in your readers or even sicken them depending on the character who is crumbling apart and what/who the object of their love happens to be.
- Love lost – As Paul Simon once sang, ‘losing love is like a window in your heart, everyone knows you’re blown apart’. It is a very painful thing. But it can be a very useful driver for the characters in your story. I’m sure you’ve read many stories where someone wins their love, then loses them, then manages to win them over again. But in fantasy you can be a bit darker than this. Losing your love and trying so hard to get them back, but having them or their love keep slipping through your fingers with the potential of it never returning, is a powerful plot driver. True, it can be over-used, such as in Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth‘ series, where you could almost lose the will to live reading about whether the two main miserable characters will ever get back together again. But if used carefully, losing love can be a very enticing page-turner, such as in Lian Hearn’s ‘Tales of the Otori‘ series. Apart from ‘Harsh Cry of the Heron‘ which uncomfortably shatters the work done on love lost and won in the previous 3 books, the initial trilogy quite brilliantly builds a simmering tension that finally brings the two lovers back together in the end. The story very cleverly has the two main characters go through many harrowing situations (and lose many friends and enemies) in a fabulously drawn Japanese fantasy world, just so that their love wins over all adversity.
- Innocent love – Love can also be entirely innocent, but possibly ignorant in that innocence. The recent Disney film ‘Malificent‘ was an interesting take on this, showing how a fairy and human fell in love in their childish innocence, but the human eventually betrayed the fairy. You may also have come across people who walked into a marriage all starry-eyed and blissfully happy (particularly those who are young), only to find out things about their partner that they wish they’d known beforehand. This is where it becomes interesting in fiction, taking the innocent and then warping it. It does sound like a horrible thing to do, but I’m afraid it does make for a more interesting read than heading straight to ‘and they lived happily ever after’.