By Alli Sinclair
Creating characters can be an exciting time for writers, but it can also cause headaches if we don’t understand what motivates them or how they should react to certain situations and people. Aside from doing questionnaires and asking the right questions, there are other ways we can dig deep into our character’s psyche so we can bring two very different characters together or, if we prefer, keep them apart with lots of wonderful conflict.
Gary Chapman, who has written the excellent book, The Five Love Languages, believes each of us have one or two distinct love languages that speak to our hearts, that make us feel loved and valued. These love languages are not just for romantic relationships, but also our relationships with siblings, parents, children, friends and even our co-workers and bosses. But first, what are the love languages?
Love languages can be broken into five categories:
Words of Affirmation
Affection is expressed through spoken word, praise or appreciation. Quotes, love notes, song lyrics and text messages can really make someone’s day if they speak this love language.
Someone who speaks this love language wants you to put down the phone, turn off the television, make eye contact and actively listen. They want your undivided attention and to feel that you are present in the moment with them and you want to be there.
Gifts are a symbol of love for someone who speaks this language. The gift itself is not important and it doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s the thought and effort that counts. For example, if your sister has a book series and one of them is missing from the out-of-print collection and you track down that missing copy, it will mean the world to her if receiving gifts is her love language.
Acts of Service
People who speak this language feel loved when others do things for them. It can be as simple as putting the dishes away or washing the car without them asking you to. These kind gestures warm their heart and people who value acts of service are always doing things for others.
This is not just about sex. People whose love language is physical touch show they care through hugs, holding hands, a small pat on someone’s arm, offering to give a massage at the end of your long day. Being in someone’s vicinity, not necessary touching, makes those who value physical touch very happy.
I’d like you to try this 5 Love Languages Quiz (it only takes a few minutes) and see what your love languages are. Once you’re done, think about a relationship you have with someone you love dearly—a family member or friend. Perhaps ask them to take the quiz to find out their exact love language. Now compare theirs to yours. What similarities do you possess, and can you see areas where there could be conflict?
For example, one of you might be an Acts of Service person while the other values Quality Time. What happens when the Acts of Service person spends a lot of time showing they care by doing thoughtful things such as doing the washing, doing the gardening or renovating the house for the Quality Time person, who would much prefer Acts of Service to sit down and be in the moment with them? Good intentions aside, this could cause an array of conflict and misunderstanding between two people.
This is where you can have a lot of fun devising various sources of conflict between characters. To discover your character’s love languages, take the quiz on their behalf and compare the answers to other characters in your story. This may help you find ways to make them allies, or you might find new ways to create barriers between them.
Love languages can vary depending on who your character is with. For instance, the protagonist’s main love language at work might be Words of Affirmation while their love language with their sister is Acts of Service. With their spouse it might be Physical Touch. The character may deeply love each of these people, but the message can get lost if they’re not speaking in a language that the other understands.
Love languages can also change based on the character’s stage of life. For someone who’s dating in their twenties, Physical Touch could be their love language. But in their forties, with a young family and a hectic work life, it might shift to Acts of Service.
(Download the Love Languages Checklist.)
Misunderstandings can easily occur when people are speaking two different verbal languages. You get the same result when people express and receive love differently. So taking some time to figure out the love languages for the important members of your cast can give you great ideas for how to bring them together or pull them apart.
What love language do you or your characters speak? Did the answers surprise you?
Resident Writing Coach
Alli is an Australian multi-award winning and bestselling author whose fact-based fiction explores little-known historical events. Alli’s books have been voted into the Top 100 Australian novels of all time and when she’s not writing novels, Alli is working on international film and TV projects as a screenwriter and producer.
Alli hosts the Writers at Sea cruise retreat for writers, presents writing workshops internationally, and volunteers as a role model for Books in Homes. Alli is an experienced manuscript assessor and loves to work with writers to help their manuscripts shine.
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