Everyone has fallen in love at least once. It’s one of the most universal human experiences. Yet, in many ways, love remains a mystery. We know it when we have it, but we struggle to find it. Worse, it can slip away without us even realizing that it could be lost. While some couples remain contentedly married their whole lives, others only last a few years.
There are lots of things to enjoy in a love story. We delight in the come-hither now back-away dance of courtship. And we take pleasure in laughing at the foolishness that happens in the name of love. But a good love story does more than entertain and amuse. A good love story hits us in the guts. Whether it ultimately brings us to joy or to tears, a good love story strikes a powerful emotional chord that resounds long after we’ve put the book down.
Some might think love stories are easy to write. After all, the plot is often pretty basic: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. If only it were that simple. In love stories as in life, it’s the complications that matter. Romeo and Juliette are from feuding families. Catherine loves Heathcliff, yet she marries Edgar. Rose and Charlie face bloodthirsty parasites, mosquitos and rapids as they flee German invasion in a small steam boat called the African Queen.
Here are few ideas for creating a strong love story:
- Put love to the full test. Give your characters formidable obstacles and don’t allow them to obtain love until they have overcome those problems. The more difficult it is for the lovers to unite, the more compelling your story will be. It’s okay if your characters fail, either along the way or at the journey’s end. Many love stories end happily, but they don’t have to. Think of “Anna Karenina”.
- Define both characters equally well. Give them positive and negative traits. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries and feature strong personalities. We all like to believe there is somebody for everyone. While a love story about beautiful people might look pretty, it’s the love stories involving hunchbacks and large noses that really move us.
- Add a touch of realism. The interviews with actual couples in “When Harry Met Sally” greatly enrich the love story and they make it more credible. Think about the people in your life, gather anecdotes and insights, then look for creative ways of weaving this information into your story. I’m not suggesting that you pilfer the personal stories of family and friends, and pretend that’s fiction. I’m suggesting that you use those stories to explore for yourself the meaning of love and then share that with your readers.
- Evoke a full range of emotions. Vivid feelings are the driving force behind love stories. Don’t rely completely on sorrow and joy. Let your characters also experience fear, loathing, disappointment, frustration and anger. Love stories are about being human and all the mess that entails.
- Add internal obstacles. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Many of the most fascinating stories focus not on obstacles that come from outside, but on obstacles within the characters themselves. The obsessive compulsive in “As Good as It Gets” yearns for love, but messes up at every opportunity because he’s insensitive and narcissistic. Until he faces his flaws and works to change them, he cannot have love.
We all enjoy watching characters face challenges and undergo authentic change because it gives us reasons to hope. This is particularly true when the potential reward is something we all yearn for—lasting love.