How do your characters express love?

My previous post discussed how to find your character’s personality type, but what about the way they communicate their love and commitment to another?

For every person the way they convey feelings is different and, to maintain a harmonious relationship or friendship, you need to be aware of how your other half functions in the communications department.

Dr Gary Chapman developed the five love languages test to help people gain insight into how they can improve their communication with partners, friends or their children. Everyone will attach different degrees of importance to their types. Some people tend to favour one type in particular, while others have a top two or three. Either way, the deliberation of how we give or receive love will also help you in creating your characters.

Just like real-life human beings, your characters will have their own love language types, and they’ll stick to them throughout your story.
When two characters fail to communicate their feelings effectively, there will be conflict. (Hint: your antagonist might speak a completely different love language. Turn that into your advantage to increase tension.)

Reflect on your own life, how do you communicate your love to others?
Do you get upset when they express their love differently.

The Five Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

This type thrives on compliments, little post-it notes or text messages throughout the day to remind them why he or she is loved.

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Words can have an immense impact on your life, every writer knows that. Your ‘words of affirmation’ character will agree. Have your character’s boyfriend leave a voicemail to tell his partner that despite all the problems they are facing, everything will be alright in the end. Hearts will soar with appreciation. However, a verbal slight hurts these types more than others.

Quality time

Undivided attention is key for this type. Put your phone and laptop aside for a moment and listen to their thoughts.

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Characters of this type will put emphasis on spending one-on-one time with their loved ones. A young couple might try a new hobby or simply sit on the couch together doing nothing. A quality time person will be fulfilled with love as long as they have the other person’s attention. Time is their most important commodity. If it’s being wasted, they won’t be happy.

Receiving gifts

No, this type is not materialistic. The gesture of gift giving, for them, is about showing thoughtfulness and attention.

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Imagine, your character fell in love with a tiny bird sculpture she saw in an antics shop. Her husband had listened to her gush about it a few weeks ago. He makes the long drive to the shop and even wraps it in that hideous wrapping paper she giggled about on her birthday. The bird sculpture reminds her of her deceased mother, he knows how much she will appreciate the gesture. That’s mindful gifting your character will appreciate greatly.

Acts of service

This type will thrive when you do them favours or take off their excessive workload to show how much you care about them and value their presence.

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Doing the dishes, not out of obligation but support, will emphasise to the tired grandmother how much her grandchild values her. These types appreciate every genuine gesture of help and interpret them as acts of love. Broken promises or complete disregard for others’ needs, however, will make them prone to conflicts filled with accusations of neglect.

Physical touch

The name of this type is the game. Physical touch people love to hug, kiss or pat shoulders to signal others how much they care about them while also providing safety and warmth.

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These character types will prefer to hug someone for their achievements instead of complementing them. Denied touch or rejection will hurt them gravely, and they will probably not forget about the denial any time soon. A mother who fails to acknowledge her daughter’s longing for physical contact might deeply damage their relationship in the future.

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Why are love languages useful?

Change relationship dynamics

Awareness of how your characters communicate their love will be vital in dialogue and non-verbal communication. While it is subtle, a love language will give your fictional friend a more realistic presence, while also allowing to inject extra tension or care into relationships.

The physical touch trait plays an important role in the body language of your fictional figures. Interactions between characters who are on opposing scores of this trait may have a hard time liking each other. One will despise touchy people trying to invade their personal space, the other will feel misunderstood or like there’s something wrong with them. Consider how their body language might differ in crowds versus intimate moments.

Create misunderstandings

If you want to introduce conflict, it can be helpful to identify love languages to establish why characters struggle to find common ground.
Maybe, the protagonist is furious when someone’s promise of help is broken. The protagonist is an ‘acts of service’ guy. To him, the ‘breaker of promises’ is a threat to his cause. They argue and the conflict escalates. An antagonist is born.

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Adding the element of love languages into your stories will shape character’s dynamics, body language or even give way to add subplots as communication break-down drives a wedge between friends and enemies. It’s worth a shot if you are looking to expand the profile you have of your fictional friends.

© 2021 vic lejon