A lot of books about writing describe the importance of a “Love Interest.” Other books see a Love Interest as unnecessary and cliché. What does Dramatica Say? As with most dramatic concepts, Dramatica pulls away the storytelling to take a clear look at the underlying structure.
A Love Interest has both
storytelling and structural components. The storytelling side is what most
people think of – A Love Interest is the character with whom the “hero” or
“heroine” is in love. Simple! But what does that tell us about the kind of
person the Love Interest is, or even what kind of relationship the two have
between them? Not a whole lot!
For example, the Love Interest might be
the leader of the enemy camp, in which case he or she is the Antagonist! Or, the
Love Interest might be the supportive, stay-in-the-background type, in which
case he or she is the Sidekick. In both cases, the hero is in love with this
person, but structurally each positions the relationship on different sides of
the effort to achieve the story goal. Also, the Love Interest might be a person
of noble heart, a misguided do-gooder, or even a crook! And, any of these types
of people might fit into either of the two example scenarios we’ve just
As we can see, the structural and storytelling elements have
little to do with one another, other than the fact that there will be some of
each. So, what can Dramatica do to help provide some guidelines for developing a
Love Interest that works?
Lets start with some basics. Dramatica sees
there being two types of characters in every story (and a prize in every box!).
The first type contains the Objective Characters such as the Protagonist,
Antagonist, Sidekick, or Guardian, who are defined by their dramatic
The Protagonist strives to achieve the goal; the Antagonist
tries to prevent that, for example. In and of itself, this aspect of character
outlines how the participants line up in regard to the logistic issues of the
story. But there is a second side of the dynamics of every story that center on
the second type of characters – the Subjective Characters.
There are two
Subjective Characters, and unlike their Objective relatives who represent
functions, the Subjective Characters represent points of view. These characters
are the Main Character and the Obstacle Character. The Main Character represents
the audience position in the story. The Obstacle Character represents the point
of view, ideology, or belief system opposite that of the Main
The Objective Characters represent the “headline” in the story
and the Subjective Characters represent the “heartline.” Often, the character
who is the Protagonist is also given the Main Character job as well. This
creates the archetypal “hero” who drives the story forward, but who also
represents the audience position in the story. Of course, the Main Character
(audience position) might be with ANY of the Objective Characters, not just the
Protagonist. For example, in most of the James Bond films, Bond is actually the
Antagonist and Main Character because although he represents the audience
position, he is also called into play AFTER the real Protagonist (the villain)
has made his first move to achieve a goal (of world conquest.) It is Bond’s
functional role as Antagonist to try and stop it!
Not quite as often, the
Antagonist is given the extra job of also being the Obstacle Character. In such
a case, not only does the Antagonist try to stop the Protagonist, but he (or
she) also tries to change the belief system of the Main Character, whether the
Main Character is the Protagonist or another of the Objective Characters by
The worst thing you can do is to make the Protagonist the Main
Character and the Antagonist the Obstacle Character. Why? Because then the two
“players” in the story are not only diametrically opposed in function regarding
the story goal, but are also diametrically opposed in belief system. As a
result, it is difficult for the audience to figure out which of the two
throughlines them is being developed by any given event between
What’s worse, as an author it is easy to get caught up in the
momentum of the drama between them so that one skips steps in the development of
one throughline because the other “carries” it. Well it may carry the vigor, but
it doesn’t hold water. Both throughlines must each be fully developed or you end
up with a melodrama or worse, plot holes you could drive a truck
The solution is either to assign the Main Character and
Protagonist functions to one character and split the Antagonist/Obstacle
Character functions into two separate characters, or vice versa.
brings us to the Dramatic Triangle and how it is used to create a sound Love
First, let’s assume we assign the Main Character
and Protagonist jobs to the same player to create an archetypal hero. Now, this
hero (we’ll call him Joe) is a race car driver who is vying with the Antagonist
for the title of best overall driver of the year. Each race is a new contest
between them with their balance so close that it all comes down to the last race
of the season.
But there is something troubling Joe’s heart – his
relationship with Sally. Sally is very supportive of Joe (a Sidekick, in fact)
but Joe feels that if he really loves Sally, he should quit racing to avoid the
potential of an accident that would leave him dead or crippled and ruin her
life. Why does he feel like this? Because his own dad was a racer, whose
untimely death on the track left his mother devastated, and ultimately committed
to an asylum. (Hey, I never said this example would be creative!)
event, Sally doesn’t feel that way at all. She would rather see Joe go out in a
blaze of glory having done his best than to spend her life with a limp shell.
She tries to tell him, but he just won’t be convinced. He starts to play it
safer and safer as his worries grow (because the closer he gets to the final
race, the more it resembles the chain of events that happened to his dad.)
Finally, he has lost his edge and his lead and it all comes down to that final
Now, realizing that she would never be able to live with Joe if
she felt that he lost the title because of her, Sally tells him at the final pit
stop that if he doesn’t win the race, she is leaving him. Joe must now decide
whether he should stick with his approach born from fear of hurting another, or
let Sally be her own judge of what is right for her and put the pedal to the
What does he do? Up to you the author. He wins the race and
Sally’s heart. He hasn’t got the courage and loses both race and girl. He loses
the race, but Sally realizes how deep his love must be and decides to stay with
him. He wins the race, but there is such a dangerous near-fatal crash that Sally
realizes Joe was right and leaves him anyway because she discovers she really
can’t take it after all.
Or, you could have Sally want him to quit and Joe
refuse, resulting in four other endings with a more cliché flavor.
this long example, to show how the conflict of the logistics of the plot occur
between Joe and the Antagonist, but the emotions of the personal relationship
occur between Joe and the Sidekick, Sally.
If you charted it out, there
are two throughlines. Both hinge on Joe, and then they split farther and farther
apart to connect to the Antagonist on one and to the Obstacle Character, Sally
on the other. In this way, the events that happen in the growth of each
relationship are much easier to see for the audience and much easier to complete
for the author, yet they both converge on the “hero” to give him the greatest
possible dramatic strength.
Now, you could hinge them both on the
Antagonist, as in a James Bond film, and slip the Protagonist from the Obstacle
Character. Look at “Tomorrow Never Dies.” The Protagonist is the mad newspaper
mogul. The Obstacle Character is the beautiful Chinese agent (whose function is
muddled dramatically by Bond’s relationship with the mogul’s wife). Bond is
Antagonist AND Main Character, but the dramatic triangle is still
Silence of the Lambs: Starling is the Main Character /
Antagonist, Jamie Gumm (Buffalo Bill) is the Protagonist (after all, she didn’t
go looking for a crime and THEN he committed one!) Hannibal is the Obstacle
Character and perhaps a Love Interest of a sort (as described by the director on
the Criterion Edition DVD.)
For a different approach, consider Witness:
John Book is the Obstacle Character / Antagonist, the crooked Chief of Police is
the Protagonist. Rachel, the Amish Girl is the Love Interest and Main Character.
Or is John Book (Harrison Ford) the Love Interest to Rachel? It’s hard to tell
because John is such an active Objective Character that he carries more momentum
than Rachel, even though we are positioned in her shoes. The important point is
that even if the Protagonist is made to be the Obstacle Character and the
Antagonist and Main Character are split into two different people, the dramatic
triangle still exists!
The dramatic triangle is one of the best
structural ways to focus attention on one character even while splitting the
headline and heartline to make a more pleasing and complete story. It can be
used for “buddy” pictures and even used when the heartline isn’t between lovers
or even likers but between two people who would like to see each other’s
emotions destroyed by slyly manipulating the other to change his or her beliefs.
Think of all those “cheat the devil” stories in which the Main
Character/Protagonist is after something and the devil tries to convince the
Main Character to sell his soul to get it. Yep, the dramatic triangle at work
So, in considering whether or not to have a Love Interest in your
story, simply consider whether that would make your storytelling cliché or not.
Either way, consider the dramatic triangle as a means of putting heart into an
otherwise logistically mechanical plot.