This final week of July I’ll focus the “show don’t tell” discussion on using information from The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman to more deeply develop your characters’ relationship when writing your romance story.
For those not in the know, The 5 Love Languages refer to five different ways we prefer to receive (and give) love and affection:
- Word of Affirmation
- Physical Touch
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
FYI: Check out my Pinterest board that has some handy reference visuals.
I don’t think I need to explain why a book about ways to improve a relationship would be useful reading for a romance writer. I’m just here with ideas for using the information to enrich your stories – making them more interesting for both you and your readers.
Filling the Middle
I love middles. But I find a lot of authors don’t. They struggle. Why?
Most authors love the beginning (fresh idea, meet-cutes, the first flush of attraction. Ooh!) and the ending (professions of love, that clinch, the wedding and happily ever after-ing). Most authors know what these will look like before they begin, even if they’re pantsers.
But the middle becomes characterized as a “slog.” It’s anxiety-producing, vast and often where a writer will slip off the rails and abandon the story. Why? Conflict is everything in the middle. But the wrong sort of conflict can be overwrought, underwhelming, or ludicrously childish. As an editor I’ve seen it all.
The answer lies in deepening your characterizations. Use the five love languages to do that. Here’s how:
Determine the love language preferences of your main character
No one is all one love language to the exclusion of others. However, when you set out the top 2 or 3 ways they prefer to be shown love, you can mine those areas for actions the love interest can use when pursuing.
Here’s why it works: you will know what ways will reach your main character’s heart best and what won’t work or even, yep, cause conflict.
Determine the love language preferences of your love interest
Figuring out what love languages your love interest prioritizes for receiving love will let you gather information about their methods for showing love.
Here’s why it works: We human beings generally try to solve conflicts in ways that are familiar to us. There’s a whole psychology behind it but generally we think other people process the world the same way we do. Until we are shown differently.
“I love when I have food made for me,” becomes(character’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”)
“I’ll offer to cook her a meal.”
This can lead to actions that are either wildly successful or miserably fail. If characters are a match of priorities, the gesture of love is well received. They live happily ever after.
Using this to plot the middle
Plot is a series of conflicts and each scene has a character trying to resolve a conflict and reach their goal. In a romance the goal is finding a mate or partner to be happy with.
We writers know that having two characters completely sympatico from the start doesn’t make for very long – or interesting – stories. Shakespeare wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
When writing, ake the MC and LI love language preferences just enough out of sync so that the characters try to show their love in ways that create plot twists: misunderstandings, dismissal, even danger or distrust.
Going back to the example above, let’s say that the character’s love interest does have acts of service as a top 2 love language BUT she has a specialized diet that the pasta dish he thinks is no fail.
Unfortunately, it has high carbs she can’t eat. She pushes the dish away, says she’s not hungry. He’s upset that she’s rejected his gesture of love and thinks she hates him.
However, conflict is resolved when she expresses appreciation for the gesture, but then asks if he has some fresh zucchini or squash so she can make zoodles. The two then bond over mutual foodie-ness.
Voila, you, the writer, have just gotten through a muddled middle, making it stronger. You’re well on your way to a fantastically developed happy ever after — for you and your characters.
More interesting plot twists using Love Languages
- Have a character with very different love language priorities give advice
- Have a character use a despised love language gesture from the other’s ex
- Make the characters more out of sync so that several gestures misfire
Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in more on this topic.