The majority of my writing is fiction based. I write stories, screenplays, pilots and they’re all either entirely fictional or fictional reworkings of real life events. As a result I often find myself in the shoes of my characters writing about events and experiences that are completely alien to me (for example I’ve never raced through London in a horse and cart…yet…) and I’m sure any writers reading this will understand.
Now, because I’m a sap and a sucker for romance I find myself writing about love triangles, eloping, secret trysts more often than is probably healthy, and to be honest it’s great fun. Toying with the reader as to which of the two unnaturally attractive men the heroine is going to end up with is a blast and there’s nothing better than throwing a good ol’ spanner into the works (hold on, he’s married!?). It’s fun because as a writer you get to jump into the shoes of your character and ‘deal’ with the utter agony of having several hotties fawn over you, relatable right? There it is. The word. Relatable.
I believe, in order to make a character’s experiences on paper great rather than good the writer has to be able to relate with their character somehow. In some cases it’s difficult, action scenes where you have 10 seconds to dismantle an atomic bomb aren’t often cases where you can ‘draw on your own experiences’ but if you try, you can conjure up the same feelings of panic and haste, remember that time you were smoking a joint in the bathroom and your mother came home early from work? If that’s not heart stopping what is? One thing though which can be difficult to write is the idea of unrequited love because unless you’ve been there, it’s very, very hard to understand.
Firstly, unless you’re Narcissus, there are always two sides to an unrequited love storyline. There’s the Admirer and the Beloved. And both are extremely difficult to write about unless you’ve been there. I’ve been in both situations in the past (and the present) and it can be as challenging to write it as it is to live it.*
Let’s start with the Admirer. Arguably this is the easier role to write . Let’s face it, we’ve all had moments when we ‘love’ someone who doesn’t love you back (the fact that Ryan Gosling still hasn’t come to his senses and found me is frankly devastating) it could be the guy who sits next to you in French class who’s only words to you have been ‘une tasse du thé, s’il vous plaît.‘ or that barista at Starbucks who once put a smiley next to your name and convinced you that true love really does exist.
These experiences are common enough but they don’t make for good writing. How can you expect the reader to take your character seriously when the extent of their unrequited love is a flutter of butterflies in their stomach when that certain someone smiles at them? This simply doesn’t work, why? Because when you’re the Admirer in an unrequited love situation it doesn’t feel good, it feels terrible. You will find yourself thinking about the Beloved constantly, pining over every second you’ve spent with them. You’ll over analyze every move you’ve made in their company and find yourself regretting the missed opportunities (why didn’t I go to that party last week? He was there!!) and also you’ll feel the devastating crash after the high you got from being in their company. You will spend hours agonizing over the missed opportunities and chances you should have taken. You’ll play scenes over in your head again and again (I should have told her she looked nice, I should have just told her!) but equally worry that you’re reading too much into things. You’ll have to use every last scrap of willpower to stop yourself from reaching out and holding their hand when you know full well that they’re in a relationship. You’ll feel intense guilt for simply imagining that you’ll be together one day because you know that they’re happy with someone else. Then there’s the waiting. If you send them a text a five minute wait for a reply will seem like a lifetime. You’ll find yourself thinking of conversation starters just so you can hear from them. You’ll become a needy, sappy, emotionally unstable mess who hates themselves for becoming this needy, sappy, emotionally unstable mess because you should know better than to reduce yourself to this!
On the other hand you could be the Beloved. Lucky you, sort of. You see there’s actually two types of Beloved in this situation. The Knowingly Beloved and the Unknowingly Beloved. Most stories use the Unknowingly Beloved aka the person who is blissfully unaware that there’s a wreck of a person thinking about them 24/7. They’ll be so ignorant to this admiration that they’ll often unwittingly make the situation worse with a kind gesture or warm words toward the Admirer. But they can’t be blamed, they don’t know and writing ignorance is easy.
The Knowingly Beloved is a very different character. When you know someone is in love with you but you don’t feel the same way it can put you in a very difficult situation. If you’re in a relationship yourself you have ammunition and can usually rely on the decency of the Admirer to simply admire from a distance with the hopes of it fizzling out. If you’re single it can be more complicated, you’ll feel guilty for coming up with excuses not to hang out with the Admirer. You’ll find yourself being meaner than usual in the hope that this will put them off. You might even take pity on them and agree to a lame ‘date’ at the bowling alley with a group of others just to give them some (false) hope. You’ll ultimately feel like an absolute jerk for not returning their calls or being rude to them which is against your very nature but the only way to let them down gently. Then, you have the worst situation of all for a Beloved. When you’re already in a relationship with the Admirer but you just don’t feel the same way. Sure, you maybe started off the same way or you thought you might ‘grow into’ the relationship but when this doesn’t work out having to let the Admirer down can be a tough, tough situation. Take all those feelings of guilt and shame and multiply them by 100. Your character will do a lot of soul searching if they’re in this situation. You’ll wonder how you could be so heartless, you’ll question your own good nature (why would I stay with someone if I don’t feel the same way) you’ll also start to resent them, every little thing they do will annoy you and you’ll wish they’d just cool off. You’ll have to plan the break up and prepare yourself for the backlash and abuse from their squad. You’ll also feel depressed because what you had is over and you’ll feel like you wasted those six months dating someone you don’t care for. You’ll resign yourself to a life of bachelorhood so that you’ll never have to deal with this situation ever again only to ‘settle’ for someone eight years later when your parents mention grandchildren one time too many.
All in all, if your characters in an unrequited love story don’t feel angry, depressed, shameful and guilty all at once then you’re doing it very, very wrong!
*A lie but it was the point of this piece!