Examining Emotions for Writers · Life · Writing

Examining Emotions for Writers: Love (Part 1)

Almost every story out there touches on love of some kind; romantic, platonic, familial, the list goes on. So today we’re going to examine some of the more nitty-gritty details of love to help burgeoning writers make it convincing! This is part of a new series I’m working on, Examining Emotions for Writers. So lets get going.

Now, the problem with ‘Love’ is that it comes in so many forms. So for this particular examination, we are going to break it down into the four greek types; Eros, Agape, Philia, and Storge. Each of these elicit different physical reactions, and come about in different situations. Today we’ll be examining just one, and we will touch on the others at a later time.

EROS: love conceived by Plato as a fundamental creative impulse having a sensual element

This is the typical first though when people hear about ‘love’ in books. This is romantic, passionate, sexual love. The love someone has for a spouse, or the instinctive ‘love at first sight’. Paris and Helen; Aphrodite, Eros (Or Cupid) were all examples, harbingers, and victims of eros.

Lets look at some of the typical reactions to eros people have.

Physical: Warmth, heightened blood pressure, dry mouth, tingly appendages, increased heart rate, heavy tongue, flushed cheeks, shifting, squirming, leaning towards the object of their affections, craving physical contact, unsettled stomach.

Mental: Agitated, excited, thoughts disappearing, inability to form coherent sentences, anxiety,  obsessively examining interactions, obsessively planning future interactions, constantly considering the other person while making decisions.

Now, these are probably the nervous/excited emotions that you expected. The problem is that a lot of writers STOP here, but emotional responses are wide ranging and change from person to person. So while one person may get tongue tied, another may spout off tirades of facts, or come across as overly charming. Don’t limit yourself to television stereotypes of love. Examine you character!

The other thing that most writers seem to forget it that this type of love doesn’t stay the same. I find this is a big problem in a lot of novels, but also in real life. People expect to feel butterflies every time they see their love. Forever. As someone who has been married for five years, and together with her partner for ten, I can tell you, this is not the case.

This doesn’t mean I don’t feel a sexual and passionate love for my husband. Admittedly we are edging closer to Storge here, but I feel like it’s important to distinguish. Passionate love changes with the length of relationship. You can’t expect your main character to get tongue tied around their partner of years!

So what are some reactions people have to a familiar romantic partner?

Physical: Lowered heart rate, warmth, casual reaffirming physical contact.

Mental: Increased confidence, lower anxiety, affection, lowering of mental/verbal filters.

The key here is comfort. You are comfortable around your partner, and find them and their present comforting.

But wait, don’t you get excited around your partner? Of course I do. He can still make my heart race, and my hands tingle! But that isn’t what I feel all the time. Like I said, this can probably edge closer to Storge, but we’ll discuss that one again later.

Love at first sight:

Alright, welcome to my pet peeve. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the trope of ‘love at first sight’, it’s over used but fine in certain situations. My issue is when that is all there is to it.

I was commissioned to ghost write a romance novel for a client. Before I do that, I like to dig into their head and make sure I know what exactly they expect. He wanted a ‘love at first sight’ story, similar to Borne Identity. Boy accidentally drags girl into dangerous situation and they fall in love.

So I asked, ‘Why does he find himself attracted to her?’

‘Because it was love at first sight.’

‘So is it just physical attraction?’ I tried to clarify.

‘No, he fell in love with her, it isn’t just sex.’

‘But he is a very practical man, and she’s just a random girl from the southern states. What is it about her that he’s attracted to?’

‘He’s attracted to the fact that he’s in love with her!’

…needless to say the final product was lackluster at best, and horrifically trite at worst. People don’t risk their lives because of ‘love at first sight’. They fall in love with a persons optimism. They are attracted to their body. They become obsessed with a conflicting worldview from their own.

Don’t fall into this trap! There is nothing wrong with love at first sight, and nothing wrong with love based initially on physical attraction. Love is attraction based on qualities; figure out WHY your character is intrigued. Don’t be lazy!

Lastly, lets look at a few quick examples;

One of the characters I spend a lot of time on is a vampire named Morgana. She was abused for a long time, and convinced that love wasn’t something she deserves. This means that when she loves, she compulsively tries to become worthy. She takes care of her partners, brings them gifts, and goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure they have anything and everything they want. She is often upset when they try and return the favor, feeling as though that somehow negates her own efforts. She often looses her ability to understand or notice sarcasm in her desperation to find more things to be able to ‘provide’. This is exacerbated by her vampiristic/predatory nature; she provides for her coven and protects them, to the bitter end.

cynthiaOn the other end of the spectrum is Cynthia. Cynthia is a bard, a performer, and dramatic as all get out. She’s spent her entire life as the center of attention as the daughter of the Countess of a small town. She is talented, gifted even, and adored by her father and many of the locals. She is used to people falling for her charms with no effort. So, when things don’t go her way, her temper is epic. When she’s in love, she expects to be loved in return. This expectation means that she will flare up dramatically when she feels she isn’t the center of her partners attention. She is extremely confident, so when she gives gifts they are often things she has written, or gifts of her time/attention. When she feels she’s been wronged, she expect people to grovel at her feet for her forgiveness. When she is flustered, she doesn’t stumble over her words, she simply becomes a character of herself, pulling pretty speeches from every play and song she’s ever performed.

So, what are some things to note about Eros for writers?

  1. Everyone feels love differently! Don’t go with stereotypes – examine your character and think hard about how they would react and WHY. The why is the most important part.
  2. Love changes! After ten years, your day to day interactions with your partner are different, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still passion.
  3. Examine your past relationships! I bet the love your felt for each of those people was different. Make a list of physical and mental reactions you had to each and compare it. I bet it’ll be interesting.

That’s all for Eros. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know!


S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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