As I mentioned on Saturday, I'm holding Indie e-Con over on the GiraffeCrafts blog. BUT, just to make sure that you guys are aware of it, I am going to be posting a few articles over here. My own articles, that is, just as all of the other authors are posting articles on their blogs for cross-promotion. (Yay!)
Now, onto my article! Today's theme is romance, so into the untried waters of love I go.
I've never been in a relationship, yet I insist on writing romance into my writing (don't ask me why!). Therefore, most of what I write is based off either (a) observing people around me, and (b) reading - especially marriage counseling books. (Honestly, you'd think I WAS in a failing relationship with as many marriage counseling books as I've read.)
One of the books that I've found most helpful has been "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. Why? Because, like personality types, the book lays forward a "formula" that allows me to create deeper, more dynamic characters.
(Please note that the system itself is NOT a formula, I just use it as one when applying it to character creation.)
So, what are the five love languages? Well, I'm not going to spend too much time on each one, given that there's a whole book written on it (several books, more accurately), but I'll give some examples of each:
Touch: Hugging, kissing, snuggling, handholding - basically, positive physical contact.
Words of Affirmation: "I love you," "You're doing a good job," "That was beautiful cake you made," "Have I ever told you how much you mean to me?" Basically, verbal acknowledgments of love and empowerment.
Gifts: Flowers, a card, a car, jewelry, a stone you picked up by the side of the road - this can be anything really, just as long as you're giving an object.
Quality Time: Watching a movie together, going on a hike together, reading books together, deep conversations together - just, general emphasis on time spent together.
Acts of Service: Taking out the trash, cleaning a room, fixing the computer, doing a chore - basically, doing things for the other person. A lot like gifts, but with the emphasis on time and actions over money and objects.
No one of these languages is "better" than any of the others, and, in a healthy individual, none of them are a statement of hatred (there are exceptions, usually because someone in the person's past abused that love language), but everyone "speaks" them in a different order. Your primary love language means infinitely more to you than one from the bottom, for instance. And you're quicker to speak your first few than you ever will the latter ones. I've ordered the above in the order that I speak them, but my sister actually speaks them in pretty much opposite order (it makes our relationship interesting.)
So how does this affect writing? Well, in helping develop your characters and strengthen their relationships, of course.
I admit that I don't have a language order for every one of my characters, but I have them for most of my main couples, and I'm going to discuss three of them for the purpose of this post (but with names removed as some of them are spoilers.) All three couples come from very different backgrounds, and I will discuss that as well, because that can influence HOW the love languages are spoken.
(I also would like to state that knowing your own love language is vitally important, as it WILL creep in and affect your couples. I don't know how often I've had to dial back on handholding and hugging because it doesn't fit with a couple. The first couple that I will mention especially.)
So, couple #1.
Her love languages: Words, Time, Acts, Touch, Gifts
His love languages: Acts, Words, Gifts, Time, Touch.
This is a couple who started out as rivals. She's insecure in herself, especially as there were several people important to her who didn't speak her language very well, and he admires her but doesn't know what to do with her temper.
They fall in love when they're forced to spend time together and she finally hears him express his admiration for her. He offers to take her places that she's never been before, which for him is an act of service, but she interprets it through quality time.
Strains on their relationship: Mostly the fact that spending time together isn't as important to him as it is to her, and occasionally the fact that his acts of service can translate into protectiveness, and she is fiercely independent.
Her love languages: Words, Touch, Gifts, Time, Acts
His love languages: Acts, Time, Gifts, Words, Touch.
Now, this pair is fun, due to how little they seem to have in common. This is one of my arranged marriage couples, and neither of them is quite happy with the affair at first. However, the disparity of their love languages actually proves to be a saving grace for them, as her barbed insults don't hurt him as much as someone to whom words are everything. Another saving grace for them is the fact that his dad's primary love language was touch, so when confronted with the need to comfort his new wife, the fellow draws on the memory of his parents and offers physical comfort, even though it's not his natural inclination.
Strains on their relationship: The fact that their languages are in almost complete reverse of each other. When stress hits, frequently forget how to speak or understand the other's love language. Theirs is a very uphill battle all through their relationship. They love each other, but a lot of it is an "us against the world" mentality alongside a strong commitment to their marriage vows. I think I've plotted more out-and-out fights between this couple than I have for any other.
Her love languages: Time, Acts, Touch, Gifts, Words.
His love languages: Touch, Words, Time, Gifts, Acts.
This couple grew up together and were best friends before they were lovers. As such, they are well acquainted with each other's personalities. Even as the book opens, they're both already very good at speaking each other's languages - not perfect, by any means, but they still communicate easily, though she's a little bit better as she translates touch through acts of service. In fact, it's very possible that they are aware of their love languages. They live in our world, after all, and categorizing and research is an addiction of hers.
Strains on their relationship: When one forgets to speak the other's love language. Especially their secondary love languages. It doesn't happen very often, but stress will get to even the healthiest of relationships.
As you may gather from this list, there is no "perfect" formula. A healthy couple has their differences and learns to succeed despite those differences.
So, some tips to sum this up:
1. While it is possible for an action to be spoken one way, as in the case of couple 1, it can also be a source of letdown when the receiver realizes that they had misunderstood their partner.
2. Touch can be easily misunderstood and misinterpreted. It's more than just the passionate kissing. It's about the little moments of physical contact - brushing fingers, a pat on the back, kiss to the forehead - that anchors a person and says "you're not alone." Indeed, for me, since quality time is lower down, I don't even care for prolonged snuggling all that much. (Though that might also have to do with the fact that I live in Texas where it's hot).
3. Most healthy individuals do not interpret any of the love languages as hate, but abuse can destroy positive pathways - especially for a person's inferior languages. Someone who has been in a relationship where "I love you" was just lip service might no longer believe that the words even mean anything. My sister has a sensory processing disorder, and she can't stand being touched unless you're very gentle. Also, the further down a language is, the harder it is for them to restore the positive association.
So, do you know your Love Language? If you're a writer, can you name the love language of at least one of your characters?