Monday, February 24, 2014

The Many Forms of Love

February is the month of “Love” and we’ve been discussing this theme in our writing all month.

Love is an emotion. I have found that emotion is the KEY to rounded character development. If you write Sean loved Mary with all his heart, do you “feel” that love? Do you identify with him? Empathize? No?

How can you “show” emotion without “telling” your reader what to feel? Here’s an exercise to put yourself “in the mood,” so to speak:

• Close your eyes and think of the word Love and remember a time when you felt that emotion.
• How is your body reacting? What are some of your physical reactions?
• What are you thinking?
• What do you see? Any specific colors? What color is love?
• Is there a certain smell that goes with the feeling? (lilacs, Old-Spice aftershave, Neco Wafers?)
• A taste? What does love taste like? (cinnamon, licorice, scotch?)
• A sound. What does love sound like?
Write for ten minutes based on your feelings without using the word “love”.

Here’s an excerpt from my novel, Follow the Dream:
Nettie gazed at the bundle in her arms and pushed the rocking chair into a soothing rhythm with her toes. She couldn’t help studying her sleeping son’s face, his forehead as it wrinkled then smoothed, the whorls of his ears, his pursed mouth. The rosebud lips smacked, then settled into a smile. She watched his red-mottled hands open and close and wondered at fingernails so tiny and yet so perfect. She held her breath as he sighed, laughed when he yawned, and was surprised at his strong grasp on her thumb.

In the month since he’d been born, time held no meaning for her. She could not get her fill of looking at him. She sat, entranced, until her arm became numb. When Neil stirred, opened his eyes and whimpered, she held him gratefully to her breast or changed his diaper. Then she put him into his cradle, rocked him back to sleep, and settled on the sofa for a welcome nap, if only for a few minutes.

A void she’d never noticed seemed to have been filled with the birth of this child, as though a piece of her had been missing and was now restored.

This is a different kind of love than what we’ve been discussing, but it is love, a real emotion. I don’t write explicit “love scenes”, but I like to use the five senses to set up a sensual moment that leaves the most to the imagination.

Agree or disagree?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


  1. Translating emotions to the page heightens the reader's experience, no matter what. It's important for authors to make notes about how they respond to situations, not just take pictures to describe scenes. Margie Lawson explains this very well in her writing courses. Suz Brockmann once interviewed a SEAL, and he was expecting her to ask questions about all the weapons and techniques, but she wanted to know what it felt like, not what he did.

  2. There are many types of love and reactions to love. I get excited when a writer describes a common feeling in a way that I never considered.

  3. What a beautiful word picture of the love this mother has for her newborn child! The skill it took to write that is transferable to a man/woman relationship because uses the senses to engage the reader. This is a great piece, Heidi, and it touches on one of the areas I need to be mindful of in my own writing.

  4. Loved the excerpt from your story, Heidi, and it so perfectly showed how to show a reader what love is. I could feel the tenderness and joy and thrill that woman was feeling. Good writing!!!


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