I personally find myself enthralled by the many great tales of the world that have been passed down through history fact and fiction, great stories are perhaps one of my greatest obsessions. Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I can spurt out tidbits of knowledge from almost every historical era.
The core of any good story, of course, is conflict. Stories of war and destruction can be miserable, but we find them fascinating because of the conflict. Television show dramas are tacky, recycled and often a bit bland, but we find them interesting because of the conflict between the characters. The cast of shows like Neighbours or Home and Away must have experienced every single kind of natural and human-made disaster in the world. They’d certainly seem to rate as dangerous neighbourhoods.
Perhaps second in terms of the fascination that it holds for us in stories is love. It provides an added, deeper layer to conflict and it is something so pervasive throughout life that there can be (and often are) multiple layers of it within a story. Now when some people think on the nature of love within a story, they think about one of two things – the soppy, ‘prince and princess’ trope passed down from hundreds of years ago, or the trashy ‘soft erotica’ story that makes polite people blush and hide the novels from their significant others.
Love is something that is so widely pervasive throughout human society and, in fact, life in general, that no matter what one interpretation of love describes, there will always be someone that disagrees with it. That’s just the way love is. Love is so inimical to humans, yet so indescribable, that it could almost be said that many of us don’t know what it is. Countless people across history have attempted to define and describe love, but nothing ever seems to truly hit what it means. The only real answer is that love is what we make of it.
Regardless of what we write about love, there are always going to be people who criticise it at some level. Sure, there are times when it is very much warranted (abuse, manipulation and violence are never okay), but there are times when it really comes down to a subjective disagreement on the nature of love. A relationship of love between even two characters, as with two people in real life, is so complicated that it can be hard to give a true evaluation of it. When we criticise relationships, we often criticse them based on respect, on motivations, on trust and so on. It is so much harder to criticise the nature of love.
To help you understand, I want you to think about two people who you know who, one might say, are ‘in love’. Think about another couple who you would also say are ‘in love’. Now, what makes them ‘in love’. It sounds like that Australian insurance advert – “compare the pair”.
This exercise is probably something that will make you gnash your teeth. You might be annoyed. You might say “what’s the point?” You might say it’s foolish to compare two relationships, with all their myriad of different factors that make them up. You’d be right for having all these reactions, I would say.
The point is, love is complicated. It is really, damned complicated. It is such a knee jerk reaction for us to point out people and say whether or not they are ‘really’ in love. Love isn’t just limited to romantic relationships, either. One can love their friends, their family, their god.
This is why any writer that includes love in their story is always going to struggle. It’s always hard to show what love ‘really’ is, because it’s hard. It’s complex. It’s difficult. It’s so personal and subjective in so many ways that stories about love are really hard to write. They’re never going to be entirely perfect. I don’t think that there is, or ever will be, a story that shows some kind of ‘perfect love’.
I would say this is because love is never going to be entirely perfect between people. A part of love is about accepting the fact that there is an inescapable imperfection. I love Star Wars and that includes me loving all its many, many flaws. Let’s be honest, there are always going to be a lot of problems with the things and people that we love. That doesn’t (or, perhaps, shouldn’t) make us love them any less. Love happens in spite of these flaws.
So understand the flaws in the love that characters in a story show, or that people in your life show. Understand their trials, tribulations and their honest failings. Understand that there might have been things that they could have done better, or differently. Also understand that they weren’t perfect, but then, neither was their love.
Let me know what you think – maybe I’ve also got it wrong?