Classical Love Types
February and its love-rich holiday, Valentine’s Day, is a time to observe what love means. Here’s the thing: the English language epic fails at defining love! Yes, it’s a romantic notion to say “I love you”, but this means different things between lovers, family, best friends, and friends in general. This is a source of drama in real life, not to mention a major source of misunderstanding, social pressure, and emotional confusion in storytelling. This week, Art of Stories is discussing types of love, hopefully widening the palette of tools for this crucial element in writing character relationships.
Physical vs. Emotional
To set the stage for the following discussion, the two overarching types need to be hashed out. Love can be physical or purely emotional without sexual attraction or activity. Physical love (which includes sexual expression) constitutes much of what is used in TV, film, and advertising. It’s the fastest way to show a relationship between two people, and anything with this theme is a hardline to the limbic system which evokes emotional reactions in audience members. This isn’t all sexual, however. Physical love also constitutes acts of service, hand-holding, proximity, or just trying to be in another person’s presence. This is love in action.
Emotional love, the purely internal and often the motivational source for physical love, covers an extensive range of feelings. This is where the single term “love” comes up short. The emotional response to seeing a parent is very different than the response to seeing one’s boyfriend/girlfriend. And early on in a relationship, the emotional profile is different than seeing one’s spouse after several years of marriage. Thankfully, there has been a great deal of history behind defining these different types of emotion, and terms for each type can be combined in different degrees to help describe any loving relationship with more color and accuracy.
Classical Love Types
In the Greek language, there are four specific words for love. Each was used to describe different types of common love relationships, giving more clarity to representations in theater as well as religious services. Although these would confuse the typical reader (since they’re Latin words, not widely adopted in conversational English), knowing these will help direct scene construction, character mapping, and make relationships more clear.
Storge – Affection, family-type love. The love of a mother to her children would be an example of storge, as well as that of a father to children, or a child to either parent. Sibling relationships, when healthy, are also places where storge would be expressed. Showing this type of love can be difficult, considering the way that families are just as much a source of painful conflict as a source of love. Some of the scenes where storge shows up most often are when a family comes under fire for something, or one member is in trouble. Something a bit like a brother punching out the guy who jilted his sister, or when a family member sacrifices something on their own list of priorities in order to support needs of the family. Storge is one of the most powerful types in that it can motivate very serious decisions and sometimes violent action.
Philia – Love in friendship. Many of the finest works in literature exhibit this type of love in some form. The team motif in fiction, especially in adventure/fantasy fiction like Lord of the Rings, is held together in the development of friendship ties and love. They work through the discomfort of determining who is truly loyal and interested in creating real ties among the group. Scenes that “break the ice” of a group, like a candid discussion around a fire or a shared joke, are the place for demonstrating the presence of philial love.
Eros – Romantic/passionate love. This is the most common of popular fiction’s love forms. Honestly, this is because this is an addictive written drug. People, like other animals, have an instinctual attraction to things that light up the emotional areas with as much intensity as even simulated passionate encounters. This term, however, also means the milder, early stages including infatuation and mutual interest. When including eros between characters, realistic situations with solid plot structure are crucial to keeping the work from being insubstantial.
Agape – Unconditional, charitable love. Where these classic love types are concerned, agape is the most difficult to convey. The reason for this is that agape is the most difficult type of love to cultivate in a person. This word was used by the Greek translators who took on the Hebrew bible to describe the all-loving nature of God and Christ in the New Testament. Use of agape in fiction is generally limited to a couple main options. The first is to have a character, who is often symbolic of a theme of the work, and for whom agape is a fixed character trait. This can be seen in prophet-type characters, or in biographies on people like M. Ghandi or Martin Luther King, as a device used to attempt explaining the power of the heart that made them famous. The second option is to use the attainment of agape as a character growth arc. As there are all different levels of agape from occasional kindness to people at large, all the way to powerful, unconditional love for everyone, any significant milestone can be used to mark the progress of a character toward emotional wholeness.
These types only scratch the surface of how to use love-types in writing. However, being more aware of the types and taking some time to evaluate where these might be present can flesh out works that involve dynamic character relationships. Creative non-fiction, especially in the field of personal/family history, can benefit greatly from questioning who would have had which type of love for the central figure.
This post is one of a series! Continue reading about love types, styles, and languages here: