Hello, I Love You?

In a recent screenplay I am (finally) in the stages of wrapping up, I had to resolve the relationship of the protagonist (male) and one of the other main characters (female). They started as strangers, became reluctant cohorts, fell out, then reunited against a common issue. By the end of the story they were on the same side, friendly even, but they weren’t “in love”.

Did I screw it up?

Believable Love

In real life, love is usually a hard won, messy ordeal. In spite of the overly banged mantra in “When Harry Met Sally” humans with opposing reproductive organs are able to relate without falling in love or even hopping in the sack together. In my case, the story spans about two weeks of time, which is far less than it takes most total strangers to even start meeting for coffee, let alone professing love.

Yet this is what Hollywood trains us to expect. Strong Male Character + Strong Female Character = Impending Clothing Removal. It’s just nonsense. If your characters are going to fall in love, make it somewhat believable.

Respect the Characters

Most characters, like most people, are not love-drunk fools. They have many other goals than their libido. Don’t force them into something their character doesn’t support. You wouldn’t have your pious nun rob a bank just to fit your plot, so why have your otherwise motivated characters fall in love?  Let your characters tell you where they need to go and they’ll take you somewhere more interesting than a cliche.

Depth of Field

The best reason of all might be that there are just more interesting relationships out there than being in love. Not that Love isn’t all that and a side of coleslaw, but think about all the interesting dynamics you see between your friends, your neighbors, or your coworkers. How many are really about falling in love? Could your characters be friends after the same goal? Foes united against a common enemy? Friends pushed into battle by external forces? And those are just the broad strokes.

“Love” is a great payoff for characters when it really works and is part of your story, but just because you have two characters of opposing genders shouldn’t make it a given. If this is happening in one of your stories, consider giving your characters a cold shower and devote those story moments to other parts of your plot.