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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

What's love got to do with it?

There’s a thousand other song titles that could be used when a discussion about love is ensuing. And certainly too many to list in a short blog. So what does love have to do with it? Writing I mean. In the last couple of weeks the topic of love has been uppermost in my mind as I am grappling with characters in book two who are, themselves, struggling with what love means to them. Those of you who have read What Remains would know that the central character Lily O’Hara has not been one to chance her hand often in the love game. But she does find herself in a relationship in the last part of the story. Luckily for fans of Lily and Phillip that continues in book two.


But love remains hard to write about. A young student, and fellow writer, stated categorically in our Writers’ Club that she did not want to write about stereotypical relationships, none of that romantic nonsense for her characters. It made me have a long look at how writers convey the notion of ‘love’ in stories. And it’s hard to get away from something that looks like some form of ‘person meets person’ scenario. We have been fed a steady diet of fairy-tale romantic love with all its heart-thrumming giddiness and glided into rip-roaring notions of sexual attraction and the ‘anything goes’ kind in the 21st Century vampire/sadist/light-porn characterisation of love. And still it’s hard to escape writing about what seems to be terribly human or biological when attempting to create relationships for your characters.


There’s no escaping the fact that people fall in love. They also fall out of love. They hang on to love, seek it, manipulate it, desire it, and discard it. It is not just romance novels that deal with the complexities of this terribly human experience. Not that I’m saying falling in love is something every character must experience but if a relationship is essential to that character how do you avoid some of the stereotypical traits?


Many years ago in The Aphorism Club (the best writers’ club ever) we contemplated this very thing. Love was complex. So to deal with this we went straight to the BIBLE of love: How to Write A Mills and Boon Novel. I kid you not. It was full of directions for creating tempestuous/ bosom heaving /damsel in distress/ broken hero / diffident masculinity / star-crossed lover / arching back/ heart-beating / unrequited / or requited love. And not one of us in the group could manage a convincing attempt at it. It seemed that the experiences of these characters were not in our lexicon of relationships. We were relegated once more to the ‘person meets person’ scenario.


So in describing love the writer can go with the somewhat clichéd physical signs of flushing cheeks, eye widening, pupil dilation and sweaty palms. All of which are evident in research of men and women across cultures and time. Or some description of physical encounter...of the lip-locking kind or a simple brush of bodies igniting something somewhere. But if we are to completely avoid anything that might lend itself to stereotyping we might go neurological. I’m thinking that writers could whisk their characters in for a quick MRI and check out if the dopamine rich areas of the brain are lighting up. Writing thusly; her caudate nucleus and ventral tegmental were aflame with pleasure neurotransmitters. Or a little blood test to see if cortisol levels are up and serotonin are on the wane. What about checking for oxytocin or vasopressin to confirm if the brain is love-struck? Kevin was not surprised that after a quick blood test and trip to the lab that his oxytocin hormone level was increasing after his eyes met...


Or maybe we should give up on trying to be so clever in our attempts to avoid the hackneyed descriptions of love. Love in it all its forms is wonderful, complex, joyous, painful, delightful, confusing, overwhelming, complete, invigorating, exasperating, fearsome, wild and perhaps, dare I say, anything but stereotypical.  Maybe the trick is to keep it simple.

Perhaps Shakespeare could have the last say about the topic.


“I know no ways to mince it in love, but directly to say ‘I love you’.”   (Henry V – Act 5, Scene 2)

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