Want to steal away your readers’ hearts and create tension that sizzles off the page? Understanding the primary feature of your characters’ relationships can help you do just that.
What’s the colour of your character’s love?
I don’t mean literally (though that’s an interesting notion). Imagine for a moment that the three primary colours are all types of love and that the three secondary colours are blends of two of these types.
It paints quite the image, doesn’t it? If you can picture that, you already have a good overview of John Lee’s six styles, or colours, of love. And like the master word-painter you are, you can use those colours to make a captivating landscape for your characters—or create a clash of tones that leaves your readers blinking in surprise.
Oh, the power in your hands.
Though everyone has their own idea of what love is, there’s no consensus over the definition in psychology. That didn’t stop Lee outlining six “love styles” in 1976. Let’s take a closer look at what they entail.
Primary Love Styles
In the storgic love style, romantic feelings develop naturally from friendship. The relationship is built on trust and respect and will often endure even after a romantic break-up. In this type of love style, the emphasis is on friendship and intimacy over passion, and commitment is held in high regard.
Examples from literature: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; Percy Jackson and Annabeth Chase in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan.
Problems that can stem from the storgic love style:
- The emphasis on friendship can lead to a lack of passion in a relationship.
- Fear of ruining a friendship can prevent a strong romantic relationship from forming or lead to hesitation in taking it forward.
When we think of romantic relationships, this type of love style springs to mind. Erotic lovers are passionate and fly the ‘love at first sight’ flag. The instant attraction they feel towards a person—who might be a complete stranger—is powerful, intuitive and often based on physical appearance.
Examples from literature: Romeo in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare; Marius and Cosette in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.
Problems that can stem from the erotic love style:
- Physical attraction can fade, leaving little meaningful connection between former lovers.
- As the relationship is based on a sudden, gut feeling, usually without knowing the person beforehand, issues can arise when the lovers get to know each other—for example, personality clashes.
This is the love style of those who treat romance as a game. Relationships are fun, something to keep them busy, and the more of them they have—one after the other, or at the same time—the merrier. These are the folk who fear commitment and are more likely to be unfaithful.
Examples from literature: James Bond, created by Ian Fleming.
Problems that can stem from the ludic love style:
- Infidelity is a strong possibility, which has obvious negative consequences for the betrayed partner.
- Adultery can also cause the ludic lover problems, such as making sure partners don’t find out about each other and dealing with the consequences if they do.
Secondary Love Styles
The pragmatic lover is one who views love from a practical and rational standpoint. Their choice of partner is based on how well the person measures up to the list of characteristics they’re seeking and the relationship is likely to end if their partner doesn’t meet their expectancies. Arranged marriages often feature this kind of love style. Pragmatic love is considered a combination of storgic and ludic love.
Example from literature: Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Problems that can stem from the pragmatic love style:
- The relationship is based on logic rather than love, so lacks emotion and can feel cold and empty.
- Finding a partner who fulfils all of a pragmatic lover’s criteria can be an arduous, if not impossible, task.
This is the love style of the jealous lovers. Their low self-esteem and desperation to be in a relationship can make them possessive of their partners, to the point where their need can turn to obsession. Manic relationships are intense, but can be grown out of. Manic love is considered a combination of erotic and ludic love.
Example from literature: Othello in Othello by William Shakespeare.
Problems that can stem from the manic love style:
- Jealous, obsessive and possessive lovers might try to control their partners and dictate who they can and can’t see. In more extreme cases, it can lead to violence towards the partner.
- Their low self-esteem can result in disbelief in the affection manic lovers’ partners show them. Coupled with their intense and often irrational jealousy, this makes manic lovers incredibly unhappy.
Agapic love is characterised by selflessness and altruism. These lovers just love caring for their partners and will routinely put their needs before their own, without expectation of reciprocation. The thought of hurting their partners, for example, through infidelity, goes completely against the grain for them. Agapic love is considered a combination of erotic and storgic love.
Example from literature: Penelope in the Odyssey by Homer.
Problems that can stem from the agapic love style:
- The agapic lover spends so much time thinking about their partner’s feelings and needs that they often neglect their own. As a result, the relationship can become very one-sided.
- Guilt can eat away at agapic lovers when they consider their own needs instead of their partner’s.
If you don’t already know which love style your characters have, try completing the Love Attitudes Scale by Hendrick and Hendrick.
Applying Theory to Fiction
Crafting realistic relationships
If you already have an idea of your character’s love style, you could further develop it using the descriptions above. Conversely, if you have no idea what kind of love style your character has, you can pick the one that appeals to you most or creates the most conflict and tension and base their actions in a relationship on that.
Consider how each love style will pan out across a book/series. Ludic lovers will tend to have several short relationships; erotic lovers’ desires might die away later in the story; storgic lovers may grow in affection for each other as the plot progresses.
Cooking up conflict and tension
Use the problems with each associated love style to add conflict and tension to a relationship. For example, if your characters have developed a storgic love style over the course of the book/series, you may not have realised that more drama can follow from this.
A tidal wave of conflict and tension can be created through incompatibility between love styles. For example, imagine a relationship between ludic and agapic lovers, or pragmatic and manic lovers.