Write Better Characters Using the Love Languages

Forms of love are one thing, but how do they look in action? Without action on the part of the characters, there is no story. Many people seek self-help books for improvement in their personal lives, but the same advice can be a kind of instruction manual for storytellers. What could be a better character development manual than a book on how people really communicate? And what could it hurt to read up a little on common struggles people have, especially when trying to create a believable human being on paper? This post relies on the book The Five Love Languages as a manual for manipulating the relationships and behavior of characters in fiction.

Write Love with Action

So far, the discussion of this week has centered on the different types of love. Each can be portrayed as a scale from weak to strong, and each has a particular setting in which they’re most common. However, another dynamic to inter-character relationships is how they behave in love. Preferences are an angle to look at as well, since everyone enjoys different things and are gifted in a variety of ways.

This is an excellent example of a character arc mapped out. A similar map can be made of a couple’s progress by mapping each participant’s regard for the relationship on a scale of “I could care less” to “love of my life”.

Where each individual can go through several versions of love in many different relationships, their languages of love are fairly static. Each person has a couple of these love languages that they appreciate especially well, ones that are instantly recognized as affection that’s given to them. They might overlook or undervalue other languages. Individuals also have a couple of these behaviors that they are fluent in giving. Some individuals could be very giving by way of presents, and that’s how they show they care. Others might give praise, hugs, or stay close and give of their time more easily than others.

This book is worth a read for its effect on personal relationships and creative writing. Check it out on Amazon.

When using The Five Love Languages as a character building tool, select one to be their primary receiving love language and one as a secondary. This is a common pattern that appears when people take the official survey. Then do the same for their giving language. Making these choices can narrow down the options of interaction and shape potential scenes to provide character development and not just plot action.

Character relationships will start to build themselves when the love languages are in play. If a one character is excellent at giving praise, but another is only receptive to affection when spending quality time with them, then some difficulty might arise between them until this is either discussed or displayed plainly enough for them to catch on. When characters’ languages match up nicely, this can be a shortcut to showing a positive and strong relationship by showing and not telling.

As an example, a couple of characters might enter a scene separately, and nothing is known of their standing with each other. If character 1 pays character 2 a compliment, and it is well received, then character 2 delivers a hug which is also well-received, it indicates to the reader that these two are friends. It also sets up a chance to solidify that character 1 is a touchy-feely person, and character 2 enjoys verbal interactions. This can be reinforced and elaborated on with further interaction with other characters.

Summary of the Five Love Languages:

For more detail on each, read the book or visit the website included below.

Words of Affirmation – A person who receives Words of Affirmation well is often very trusting when someone says “I love you”. They also happily receive compliments and praise. When they have done something for their partner (or friend) and it isn’t commented on directly, it can be hard for them to believe their partner even noticed or was grateful at all.

A person who gives words of affirmation would write a lot of thank you notes, calls on birthdays, or is very articulate with emotion words and feeling terms. For them, a compliment is sincere and their confessions are genuine.

Acts of Service – Individuals who are good receivers of Acts of Service will get the warm-fuzzies when their partner brings them breakfast in bed, or does a chore without asking. They appreciate help when it’s offered and enjoy working alongside their partner/companion. These actions can be interpreted by them to mean, “You are valuable.”

Givers of service can wear themselves to the bone when attending to the needs of their friends/family/partner. If this is their strongest love language, they might seem distant or aloof, but the work that they do behind the scenes in the relationship demonstrates their affection for the people around them. These individuals may prepare, coordinate, and clean up after a party for someone. They might constantly keep a clean home, or on a smaller scale, bring their loved one a blanket if they so much as seem chilly.

Receiving Gifts – As love languages go, this one is the most commercially promoted. People for whom gifts really say, “I love you”, are always grateful. Any gift, no matter the size or usefulness has more meaning than just the item. It is a symbol of regard, value, and affection from the person giving it. These would be the kind of people who save a flower given to them some summer day and save it pressed in a book for years.

Gift givers, on the other hand, often put a great deal of thought into their gifts. This type of giver thinks of the perfect birthday gift for someone months in advance. Another type of giver is the spontaneous giver, or someone who volunteers to pay for dinner all the time, always brings the car back topped off with gas no matter how full the tank, or brings back random things like pretty flowers or a cool shaped rock from a walk.

Quality Time – Some people feel the most loved when they are given time. For these people, it doesn’t always matter what they do with their partner as long as they do it together. They most want their partner’s attention and to be a priority in their lives. These individuals want to spend all weekend with their partner, know where they are when they’re apart, and when they’ll be together again. This may sound childish, but this love type is present in maturity, not just in giddy teens dating. It can be handled by adults quite well.

Givers of time may be misunderstood by their partners, especially if the partner isn’t a time receiver. When a giver partners with someone for whom time is low on their love language list, they might feel rejected when their frequent presence is questioned. It’s interesting to note that if the giver isn’t a time receiver (rare occurrence), then the giver is more content to just be there even when absolutely nothing is going on. They’re being available, and that’s their way of saying, “I love you.”

Physical Touch – This is one of the most common of the love languages. For biological reasons, most men have physical touch as one of their top two receiving languages. While spouses and couples may equate this specifically toward sexual relations, a receiver of physical touch language is also sensitive to smaller expressions of affection. These are the people who feel good when their hand is held, feel acknowledged when someone touches their arm in passing, or is quickly soothed by a warm hug.

Givers of physical touch are a fascinating bunch. These people aren’t just touchy-feely; they speak the language of touch. There’s a whole world of touch language that is too deep to go into right now, but givers of touch have to walk a fine line of appropriateness in all kinds of social situations. And the same touch, like a touch on the arm, has a variety of messages depending on person, context, emotional climate, social status, etc. This is an excellent science, one that will be revisited. Yes, indeed!

Here’s the link to the Love Languages Site:

http://www.5lovelanguages.com/

Over this week, we’ve discussed a variety of love types, starting with the general types found in a person’s lifetime: Storge, Philia, and Eros. This was followed by patterns of love behavior that can appear within the general types: Ludus, Pragma, and Mania. Finally, the patterns of enacting loving feelings between people; the Five Love Languages. This should deepen the concept of love and provide material to infuse written relationships with realistic dynamics and interpersonal conflict. Go forth and write!

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