Fictional Love

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” –I Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)

How is the concept of love represented in today’s literary world?

Sometimes, love in fiction seems so commonplace, that we forget it’s even there, or even take it for granted. Does anyone else find it oddly amusing that, for modern writers, dropping a “love interest” into a story is about as mundane and pedestrian as dropping an engine into a car?

Anyone?

I’ve spent so many years studying literature, fiction and writing that it doesn’t take much anymore to  pull me out of an experience. Some people may call me picky, and others may call me a spoil-sport, but I say, if the author wants my attention that badly, he shouldn’t insult my intelligence. Art imitates life, and no one knows life better than the people who live it. When the characters are no longer real to me and I don’t care what happens to them, I stop watching/reading it. End of story.

So many authors and screenwriters treat love as an emotion. And like all emotions in the field of writing, it comes with its own stereotypical shorthand for getting the maximum effect to the audience for as little work as possible. Ever wonder why television and grocery store romance stories are written like a teenager’s dramatic fantasy? It’s fast, easy, and requires little effort. To me, it’s the fastest, easiest, and most effortless way to make me throw the book across the room.

Love is not an emotion. It is a force to be reckoned with.

And just like any force, its effects change everything and react with other elements in the story. The first two laws of fiction writing are the same as Newton’s laws of physics. “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.” and “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction”.

When a character falls in love, it is 1) by decision and 2) not without a major change taking over the character. In real life, when a person falls in love, it involves more than the emotional outpouring. This character cannot live without another so badly that he literally rearranges his entire life just to accommodate her. Considering that we as human beings are egocentric and are uncomfortable outside  our “me” zone, this is a far more tremendous breakthrough than one would initially think.

True love turns one’s life completely upside down.

And this affects far more than just the body temperature and neurotransmitters. It affects the character’s entire outlook on life. Having a character fall in love should give us so much insight into the way the character thinks and should allow us to go along on a journey with him. The character should look back on life and reflect. We should see what he thinks of himself now as opposed to what he thought of himself then. If we are seeing the world in first-person through this character’s eyes, it becomes even more engaging as the feeling of discovery heightens. The work could be so much more meaningful, but instead, the author goes with the tried-and-true and writes nothing that a middle-schooler with a diary doesn’t already know.

This, in effect, cheapens the work as a whole as well as waters down the very concept of love itself. The sad thing is the number of people that see this as the unshakable norm and apply this reasoning to their own world-view. I’ll let the divorce rates speak for themselves. But with all this negativity, there must be a good example to counteract it, right?

Certainly.

George Eliot’s Silas Marner tells the story of a man who is so disillusioned and burned by the world, that he becomes a virtual hermit and covets the only thing that he believes can never hurt him, an ever-growing pile of gold coins. When the object of his affections is stolen, his life falls apart and he becomes even more self-centered and self-pitying. But when Eppie wanders into Silas’s cottage after her mother dies, he falls in love. And it’s not just a warm feeling of comfort or a fatherly sense of responsibility. Right then and there, he rethinks his past and completely restructures his life around this little girl. This is evident in his refusal to let anyone else care for her but himself. His very existence hinges on this little girl. His own needs and wants take a backseat to Eppie’s and his own happiness is directly dependent on hers. Everything he works for is for her benefit, and any benefit for himself is taken into the consideration that he needs to be healthy and dependable for her. And this is a far cry from the Silas Marner we met at the beginning of the novel.

Keep in mind that the author George Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans) was a woman.

Evans penned this novel under the guise of a man because she felt that no one would believe that a woman could write anything more substantial than a “lighthearted romance”. But who better to get an opinion of what love truly is than from a woman? There are so many angles from which to approach this topic, yet today’s literary world is so stuck in a rut that we can only see it from one, and it’s a shallow one indeed.

It’s natural to think, even in the world of art, that we are the product of years of tempering and progress, and this is as good as things get. Our view is correct and the views of others, as well as those of the past, are dated. But art is not a commodity. It is the by-product of thorough exploration and studies, and we as artists are explorers. Love is but one of the many unexplored quadrants of the literary atlas, and if we don’t take the initiative to chart it as explorers, then we have failed not only ourselves, but our readers, as artists.

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