There are many things in life that we understand, but have a hard time defining or describing.
For example, what is happiness? What does it mean to be happy? As people, we know what happiness feels like and we can describe happy moments, but if pressed to put "happy" in a box, it can be difficult. It's a feeling; there aren't really words.
The same can be said of love. We all have experienced different kinds of love in our lives. It could have been romantic love, the love of a parent for their child, the love of country or the love of a place. There are other things too—like loving a song, loving a certain kind of food or loving an idea. Love goes many different places.
Because love can be hard to define or describe and because it can apply to so many things, it can be hard to write about it. How does a writer show love in words? How does a writer create emotion with text on a page?
The most obvious answer might simply be to say it through dialogue. One character could say they love another. A character could say they love a place. They could say they love a song.
Although this can work, and can be necessary at times, as some in relationships will attest, it's often not enough.
There are a lot of ways a character (either in fiction or poetry or possibly in nonfiction. depending on facts) could express love through dialogue. One character could compliment another character. They could say they understand how another character feels. They could say they will stand by another character. They could talk about something being their favorite. They could talk about a place feeling like home.
In an interesting twist, a character could express love, by not saying something. Imagine a character has something they are self-conscious about. If another character, who loves them, doesn't say anything about it, but speaks as if it isn't there, it can be an expression of love.
Despite this though, again, as some in relationships will attest, sometimes words aren't enough. Love needs to be shown.
Love could be shown in so many ways.
In terms of romance, think of a male character who loves a female character, but has a hard time saying it. Maybe, before the female character takes a road trip, the male character does all sorts of things for her car. He changes the oil, the wiper blades, the air filter, etc. He even packs tools and emergency supplies. His actions, although they might not look romantic, are an expression of love.
A subtle twist on showing love through action can be seen in My Joe: A Reflection by Phyllis M. Babrove. It is a short story that appeared on pages 17-19 in the June 2017 issue of Edify Fiction.
Although there are many expressions of love in the story, a subtle one can be seen at the beginning, in the memory of the main character. After more than sixty years, the main character can remember with detail the day she meet her husband. She describes the scene very specifically.
While remembering may not seem like an action, it is. The character had over eighty years full of memories and yet kept the specific details of this one in her mind. Not only must the moment have been significant for her, but also the results of it. The character loves her husband so much that she consciously remembers this specific moment. Her remembering is an action that expresses her love.
In terms of loving a thing or an idea, imagine a character who loves a type of music. Rather than overtly saying that or having the character say it, the character could instead be shown to be frequently listening to that type of music. They could also be shown doing things like wearing t-shirts for various bands, going to concerts, having stickers related to the type of music on their car, and having various ornamental items related to the type of music. A similar idea applies for food, entertainment programs, and places, as well as other things.
In terms of friendship, there are a lot of ways one friend can show another they love them (as a friend).
One example would be if a character did something with a social cost for another character they love as a friend. Imagine a group of people in a story is making fun of someone in the story. If the friend of the person being made fun of stands by the person, even if it means they too get made fun of, that is an expression of love.
An example of one friend showing how much they love another friend through their actions, can be seen in my novel The Finch. You can read it on my website at www.msakran.com/the-finch.html.
In the novel, the main characters Georgia and Hugo are best friends. Early in the novel, Hugo gets hurt in an accident: he is temporarily blinded by a bright light and his eyes are hurt.
Later in the novel, Georgia is kidnapped. When Hugo tries to rescue her, he comes to a situation where he feels his only choice is to temporarily blind her captors. This causes Hugo an ethical dilemma: how does he do something to others, knowing the pain of it himself?
Hugo has the dilemma, but chooses to temporarily blind the captors for the sake of his friend. He loves his friend Georgia to such an extent, that even though it goes against his ethics, he does what he feels he has to, in an effort to save her. After Georgia is rescued, she finds out what Hugo did for her and sees the strong emotion in it.
One way to express various kinds of love in a story is through sacrifice. Sacrifice can be a very strong expression of love.
There are many examples. The classic example might be someone enduring physical pain for someone else. Think of a character taking a bullet for someone else, or pushing another character out of the way of a car, only to get hit themselves. Other examples might include a person working long hours to support their family or someone being a caregiver for someone who is ill or disabled. Other further examples might be a person giving up something they want or doing without for someone else.
An example of sacrificing for love can be seen in the Bible story of Jacob and Rachel. Although there is a lot to the story, one part of it is that Jacob agrees to work seven years to be able to marry Rachel, and he ends up working fourteen. He made a large sacrifice to marry her.
Another way to show love—and this may seem counter intuitive at first—is to show sadness. If a character loves a piece of land (maybe they are a farmer in a story) and that land is ruined (maybe by a fire), if the character is shown to be devastated by what happened, that can express the love the person had for their land.
In another situation, think of a character by a hospital bed. They are by another character who is critically ill or injured. If they are shown to have sadness at the situation (they are crying, rocking back and forth, can't sleep, and so forth) that sadness can show the love they have.
An example of love shown through sadness, can be seen in the way Tiny Tim's family reacts to his death, in the premonition of its potential occurrence, in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. A number of things happen in the scene that express the family's sadness. Some of them include: the family being together, the quietness of the children, the tears in the mother's eyes, Bob Cratchit's walking slower without Tim, the children comforting their father, Bob visiting Tim's grave site and mentioning a commitment to do so, and Bob explicitly grieving over the death.
Love can also be shown in writing through the setting you create. Obviously, a romantic setting, such as with a candle lit dinner, roses, soft lighting, etc. comes to mind, but there are other settings as well.
Think of a well-tended grave or memorial site in a story. Although this can obviously feel sad, assuming the tending is done by someone who loved the deceased, the appearance of the site can express love.
Another example of a setting, that is a bit lighter, might be a party for someone in a story. Imagine the decorations, the cake, the gifts, the music and all the people. The entire setting, and the entire scene of the party, are expressions of love for the character in the story for whom the party is for.
If you are writing poetry, you might wonder how you can express love, when the style of writing can be so different from prose. One way is to use one of the strengths of poetry: expression through metaphor and symbolism.
Because of the nature of poetry, you can express love in many less than overt ways. Colors, descriptions of music, references to characters in literature, symbolism through objects, and so forth can all be used to show the love a person has for someone or something.
On my blog, there is a poem that expresses an idea of love both overtly and through symbolism. You can read it here: msakran.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/a-poem-flowers.
In the poem, a little girl picks flowers. She then proceeds to give them to her cat, the fish, the dog, her dolls, to pictures, her brother, the floor, her dad and finally puts some on her mother's grave. The girl loves so many people and things, and shows this love through the flowers she gives.
Although there is quite a bit to the poem, here is some of the symbolism and how it reflects ideas of love:
The girl in the poem picks brightly colored flowers in spring and picks as many as she can hold. The season and brightness of the flowers reflects the brightness of her emotion and the idea that she picks as many as she can hold reflects the extent of it.
The girl's cat purrs when it gets flowers, a sign the cat loves the girl.
The girl puts flowers on picture frames as a way to indicate that she loves the people in the pictures.
She hides the flower for her brother because she cares about him, but doesn't think he will like the gift.
She drops flowers on the floor to show she loves the house.
She gives her dad five flowers, more than is noted for anyone or thing else up to that point, to show that she loves him to a great extent.
She visits her mother's grave and gives her mother all the flowers she has left. This shows that her mother gets all the love that remains in the girl.
If you are thinking about how to show love in writing, you might try to write from a few prompts as way to practice and get started. Here are some you can use:
• Write a scene about a couple who are splitting up, but who are obviously still in love. As you write, think about the contrast of actions and feelings. Also, think about the contrast of the result the characters expect (they split), with the result they might want (they stay together).
• Write a poem about the relationship between a parent and a child. You might try to write at different time periods, such as when the child is an infant, a small child, a teenager, a young adult and an older adult.
• Write about a setting or a place that you love. Focus on descriptions that show the emotion you have.
• Write about a character who sacrifices something for another character they love. You might write about a small sacrifice (one character gives another character the last of the candy they have) or a large sacrifice (one character gives a kidney to another).
• Write a scene where one character loves another (either romantic, friendship, or love of a relative for another). In the scene, show the love the person has only through their actions and setting. Don't have the person speak.
M. Sakran is that guy who walks those dogs. He is usually found standing by the side of the road while one of his dogs plays in a ditch and the other wonders why he isn't getting a treat right now. When not catering to canines, he tries to be a writer. He's had over seventy items published, including a collection of poetry called First Try, and has also self-published an eBook called Understanding: poems with explanations. You can find his poetry related blog at msakran.wordpress.com and his website at msakran.com.
M. Sakran is that guy who