Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Righting Relationships: The Four Loves

Haha, see what I did there? Righting..Writing Relationships? Excuse me a moment while I bask in my punny-ness.
Ahem. Moving on.

In today's post I want to talk about the power of a non-romantic relationship in a story. I've been finding in my own writing and in mainstream YA books, the love interest gets more thought and more page space than the best friend, sister, brother or any other relationship that doesn't involve romance. Regardless of what other characters exist (and how well-developed their relationship is with the MC) , it always seems like the love interest gets the most page space.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Katniss and Peeta/Gale
We've got some other relationships that are interesting and meaningful, like Prim or Haymitch. However, the love triangle gets more attention.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - Tris and Four
We see Tris's relationships with other Divergent initiates, and her family, but Four gets the most page time, through Tris's thoughts and his physical presence in a scene.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers - Bella and Edward
Do I even need to explain this one?

Why do the love interests dominate the page?
At the very root of it, we're obsessed with love and we write about our obsessions, whether we mean to or not. Our society is all about romantic love. It's why the soaps are still on; its why we look at bridal boards on Pinterest when we're not engaged or even dating anybody! It's why we emphasize our love interests.

Now, this isn't a bad thing. Who doesn't want to have a good love interest? I know I thoroughly enjoy reading a good romance every once and awhile.

However, we get into dangerous territory, as writers, when we start to believe that romantic love is the only love that can be powerful and moving in our stories. Readers pick up on our romantic mindset and protest - "This is corny!" "This is cliche! "This doesn't ring true." - because they know (even if they don't realize they know it) that there is more to love than romance.

The Four Loves and How You Can Use Them in Your Story:

1. Agape describes this love as "unselfish love of one person for another without sexual implications."
This is unconditional love. Arguably the most powerful love out there, because it doesn't come naturally, and it has to be worked at. The immediate example that I think of is a spiritual one, as in God's love for humanity. However, this type of love can extend to all sorts of relationships. This is a sacrificial love. Using agape love or failure at agape love, in a character relationship is a great way to make the reader think about their own lives and their own ability to love.

Will and Jem in Clockwork Angel series by Cassandra Claire
Katniss volunteering for Prim in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Aslan sacrificing himself to save Edmund in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

2. Eros
Wikipedia describes this love as ""physical" passionate love, with sensual desire and longing."
This is the type of love that you're used to reading about. The romantic, boyfriend-girlfriend, love-at-first-sight, love. It's perfectly fine to use the eros love, so long as we're intentional about it and not automatically using it because it's what's expected. Using eros love in a character relationship is a great way of offering escapism, excitement and the "swoon factor" to the reader. To avoid "fakeness" consider letting your eros relationship take on some of the unselfish tendencies of agape love as the relationship progresses. Eros love isn't usually longstanding.

Romeo and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
Daisy and Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. Philia 
Wikipedia describes this love as "affectionate regard or friendship"
This is more of a mental love that describes mutual fondness between two people. The options are endless in how you can use this type of love in your story. Try to make the friends of your MC realistic and let them have their own agendas. Avoid friends who only exist to serve the MC.

Aristotle says that there are three types of friendships:

a)Friendship of Utility
This is a shallow friendship, or as it is better known, an acquaintance. There is little regard for the other person, but this relationship works because each person has something to offer. Think: buyer and seller.
Example: Peeta and Haymitch from The Hunger Games 

b)Friendship of Pleasure
This is a friendship where two people share an interest and enjoy taking part in their shared interest together. This relationship can easily dissolve when their shared interest changes. Think: golf buddies.
Example: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys in Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys: Super Mystery by Carolyn Keene

c) Friendship of Good
This friendship forms because both people enjoy each others' characteristics. This could be called "true friendship" and will be hard to break, unless personalities change in the people involved. Think: two ladies who let their kids call their BFF "Aunt".
Example: Anne and Dianna from Anne of Green Gables

4. Storge
C.S. Lewis describes storge love as " fondness through familiarity (a brotherly love), especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance"
This is the most natural of loves. It overrides annoying characteristics and the lack of common interests, which is what makes it unique. This is the type of love that occurs when people spend a lot of time together or are very familiar with each other.

This would be an interesting type of relationship to explore in your writing. What happens when people your MC doesn't really like, but spends lots of time with, fall into this category? What happens when people sharing storge love are separated? Does their love stand up? How can storage love transition to agape?

Tris and Caleb from Divergent by Veronica Roth
Dudley and Harry from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling would be a good example of a relationship starting with storge love then transitioning to romance.

The real power in understanding the four loves it that you can be intentional of the character relationships that you're writing. We all know that good characters change over the course of a story; showing your character transition through these different types of love is a great way to show character development. Don't forget that most relationships are a combination two or three of these four loves.

Let me know in the comments what you think of the four loves and what your secret is to writing authentic character relationships!

Reading: Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Listening: Coeur de Pirate
Watching: The X Files


  1. Interesting read, and when you think about it love interests hog alot of pages in life too, guess it is only natural ;)

    1. Haha, good call!

      Glad to have provided some interest to your day:)

  2. You've summed up why I don't like a lot of young adult books. Even if there is a good romance, I still want the character to interact with a best friend or sibling. I want to see them with their other relationships. And when this is lacking, I kind of give up on the book. That is one of the reasons I read, because I love characters and I love to see them with those around them, not just the person they love.
    Seraphina is a good example. It has a romance, but it is kind of in the back ground and we get to see Phina's relationship with her uncle and her friend as well as the fellow she likes.

    1. I can definitely relate to the way you're feeling. I'm finding that I'm getting a bit jaded after reading so many YA books.

      Hmm, I'll have to look up Seraphina. I've never heard of it before!
      Thanks for the comment/recommendation!

  3. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.


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