4 Essential Elements of an Effective Love Interest Character

Last week, we looked at how character triangles are a great way to increase the complexity of your characters’ relationships, and how most (good) stories use triangular relationships to increase tension, interest and conflict.

This week, we’ll be looking at the love interest character. Love interests are a staple of some genres, and just like character triangles, they add extra depth to a story – provided they’re well-crafted. Here are 4 essential elements of an effective love interest character.

1. Character first; love interest second

The biggest mistake most people make with writing a love interest is that they create love interests as just that – a source of romantic fulfilment to the main character. This leads to a shallow, uninteresting and one-dimensional character.

By creating a compelling character first – and making them a love interest second – you add realism and depth. Readers will better connect with the love interest – which gives writers plenty of opportunities to hit them right in the feels.

For example, Ron and Hermione’s relationship in Harry Potter (while criticised by some readers who wanted Harry to get with Hermione) feels far more interesting than Harry’s relationship with Ginny. This is because Ginny lacked significant characterisation beyond just being a love interest. It was the comparative weakness of Ginny’s characterisation which made readers want Harry to end up with Hermione, showing why it’s important to make the love interest interesting in their own right).

2. They Progress the plot Story

Like everything in a story, a love interest must serve a purpose. Whether they act as a motivator (i.e. your typical ‘damsel in distress’ trope), a source of information or a means to propel the plot itself (i.e. Romeo and Juliet’s love in the play of the same name), a love interest should generate conflict. They should never be thrown in just to give your protagonist a pretty face to gaze at.

You’ll notice I saw story, not plot. This is because a love interest – like all narrative elements – doesn’t have to just drive the exterior movement of a story. They can also develop the interior movement (i.e. character growth) and/or the theme. For more about how plot, character and theme are interlinked, and NOT separate elements, please check out my earlier article.

3. Flaws

This goes hand-in-hand with number 1. Flaws are part of a realistic character, and if your love interest is perfect, they’ll be boring. What’s more, perfect, beautiful, talented, fantastic love interests who like nothing better than to praise/reward the main character are often a warning sign that your protagonist is a Mary Sue – an idealised depiction of you, the writer.

4. (Bonus Tip!) They’re part of a relationship triangle

As I’ve written before, character triangles (where strong relationships/attitudes/feelings exist between three characters) provides richness, conflict and emotional depth. Adding an hypotenuse to the relationship between the love interest and the protagonist is a great way to complicate your story. This third person can act as a barrier, preventing the protagonist from being with the love interest.

This third person doesn’t even have to be a person! It could be a job, an animal, or even society – what’s important is that they are complicating an otherwise straightforward relationship.

What are your thoughts on love interests? Have I left any essential traits off my list? What story has the most effectively used love interest you know of? I’d love to hear your opinion!

 

 

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7 thoughts on “4 Essential Elements of an Effective Love Interest Character

  1. Haha it was nice to read through this and mentally check my boxes.
    I’m glad you threw in that the third element of your triangle doesn’t have to be a person – i feel like that concept is neglected too often!
    While potentially falling under one of the aforementioned categories, wanted to add that your love interest needs to have conflict with your protagonist! I’m not sure theres anything worse than the love interest essentially being another version of your protagonist , with exactly the same ideals etc. Make them disagree – on politics, sex, their future, whatever, so long as they don’t perfectly align all. The. Time. This will destroy any depth you’ve tried to build for your character faster than any cliche or poorly written plot line.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your qualifier at the end that the third person doesn’t have to be a person. While every good story needs conflict and controversy, I would tire of reading about three-person story lines. (Just not a fan.)

    I also believe regardless of genre, there should be an element of humor. Doesn’t have to be slapstick gags and one-liners, but no one is serious all the time and humor can make for a great segue. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Felicia! It’s quite common to get wrapped up in thinking in terms of people when in comes to writing stories, but you’re right – sometimes non-human things can actually be more effective and engaging than an actual person. I totally agree with your point about humour – it’s a big part of most peoples’ lives, so makes little sense to leave out of fiction. Thanks for being part of the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Jed! And you’re absolutely right: Even having read all the Harry Potter books and seen the movie adaptations, I can still tell you nothing about Ginny’s character; I barely remember her. I was never particularly invested in her romance with Harry, and I didn’t consider it to be one of that epic’s great payoffs at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Sean! I’m glad you feel the same way about the character of Ginny – in a series that had some truly fantastic payoffs as you mentioned, her arc was quite weak. Part of me wonders if this is just because the other payoffs were far more emotionally satisfying, which weakened hers by comparison. Either way, it’s a great reminder that love interests need to be characters, not just love interests!

      Liked by 1 person

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