Writing about love is not my forte; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever attempted it other than in fat-lettered diary entries from when I was twelve. Due to a current project it’s something I need to work on however; so I sat down and wrote these exercises to warm the cockles of my pen.
If there’s one thing I know (and I don’t know much), it’s that all love is ‘strange.’ ‘Normal relationships’ don’t exist and in creating three-dimensional characters in love, things are going to get both beautifully messy and messily beautiful! After completing these exercises, you’ll have developed skills in:
- Using everyday objects to generate story ideas.
- Turning writing clichés on their head.
- World building.
- Writing from an ‘unusual’ perspective.
1. The Language of Flowers
The use of flowers as a means of communication is an ancient practice most recently popularised by the Victorians. For this exercise, your character wants to send a secret message to his or her suitor.
Choose three or more from the following list. Will it be loving? Deadly? Ambiguous? Will they send a bouquet in return? The choice is yours.
♡ Primrose—I can’t live without you
♡ Witch Hazel—I cast a spell on you.
♡ Pink Camellia—I long for you.
♡ Dog Rose—I shall bring you both pleasure and pain
♡ Olive Branch—Let’s be friends/forgive me
♡ Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)— I’m secretly false/secretly deadly.
♡ Mistletoe—Kiss me
♡ Nasturtium—I will be victorious
♡ Straw-Flower (Broken)—I’ve broken our agreement/my promise
♡ Moss Rose— I confess my love to you
♡ Parsley—I possess knowledge useful to you.
♡ Yellow Hyacinth— I’m jealous of another.
♡ Forget-Me-Not— I will be faithful to you.
♡ Love in a Mist—I don’t understand you.
♡ Nutmeg Geranium—I want to meet you soon.
♡ Viscaria—Will you dance with me?
♡ Lady’s Slipper— Fight for me
♡ Yellow Carnation—I reject you
♡ Purple Lilac—You’re my first love.
Did you know?: My character’s combination was parsley, yellow hyacinth and nutmeg geranium…can you guess the meaning?
2. Mr and Mrs Lonelyhearts
Two people deeply in love are unable to be together due to social and religious differences. Their only safe method of communication is through the personal ads in the local newspaper.
There are hidden messages behind the ordinary looking text. What are they? And what is their secret code? Jot down your ideas.
This particular dynamic has been a common theme since time immemorial. But can you switch it up? Could you write a short story that includes a love rhombus, a love pentagon or even a love octagon?
Let your mind drift and be inspired. Perhaps you could remain with the triangle theme but put a new spin on it. Perhaps one of the three characters does not appear in your story at all. Maybe they’re not a person but an animal or object.
However you wish for them to be, have fun with this geometry!
4. I’m Your Venus
Diving into the realms of the fantastical, draw up this list in your notebook to create your very own God or Goddess of love.
Feel free to add an illustration if you like to draw! Designing one deity may lead to the creation of a whole new mythology.
- What’s their name? Does it have any special meanings? Do they have more than one? Are people allowed to use it freely?
- How did they come into being? e.g. the greek goddess Aphrodite was born from the crest of a wave. Conversely are they offspring of gods themselves? Were they created at the same time as the universe or after?
- What’s their orientation? If relevant, are they heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual?
- Are they monogamous, polyamorous etc? Are they romantically involved with other gods? With humans?
- Do they have any special powers or perform a specific ritual? (e.g. Yue Lao of Chinese mythology binds couples who are predestined to be together with a piece of invisible string).
- What’s their physical appearance? Do they resemble a human, an animal or something else?
- What particular characteristics define them? What are their associations and symbols? (Xōchiquetzal the Aztec goddess of love was followed around continuously by butterflies).
- What kind of personality to they have? Are they fiery and vengeful? Peaceful and gentle? Both?
5. Like Water for Pot Noodle
Congratulations! Your character’s got themselves a Valentine’s Day Dinner Date! There is one condition however: they’re only allowed to make the meal from the ingredients from your last shopping receipt.
This is a writing game of luck and chance. Either their date’s going to be super impressed by the gastronomical delights or be seriously miffed if the last thing you bought was a pot noodle and a can of Lucozade from the corner shop. So will it be food heaven or a St. Valentine’s Day massacre?
Write the scene.
6. ‘Le Ragoût d’Amour’: The Stew of Love
I’m calling it this because just like a delicious stew I’m going to put in a lot of tasty words as well as a whole lot of love. But I only want you to take four items out. Use them to write a synopsis for a romantic story (or romance within another genre) of around 250 words:
Ancient Egypt, swimming, a shadow, the moon, a web, a secret letter, a key, a feather, a moment, Paris, a cat, a lesson, shallow, a whirlpool, a spell, a whisper, a forest, a memory, secluded, an embrace, a jealous woman, Buenos Aires, ethereal, a lie, a sculpture, a dream, an abandoned house, a rendezvous, drunk, milk and honey, a rebel, jasmine perfume, a shark, a heart, a thief, a storm, bitter almonds, a somnambulist, an old god, a library, serendipity, a scream, gold, Havana, a mask, figs, a cello, a ghost, dusk, a playing card, medieval, chocolate, a sigh, Venice, loyalty, an old rose, a summer night, velvet, a publication, black coffee, an apology, tango, a fisherman, gloomy, a townhouse, abundance, oil, a lake.
7. The One with the Two Ex-Lovers Stuck in a Toilet
A man and a woman once madly in love (or so they think?) decide to meet a few years later for a light lunch at a mediocre restaurant with (as they will soon find out) a subpar toilet. Farcically they both somehow end up getting locked in the confined space. It’s smelly, it’s dirty and they’re starting to get cranky with both their present situation and past history.
You are the maintenance man called in to fix the problem. Write down the conversation you hear through the door.
8. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
The wonderful game we play as children originates in France as ‘effeuiller la marguerite’ or ‘pluck the daisy.’ While the English version only has two options, the French includes finer shades of meaning when it comes to romance. With each petal it goes: he loves me a little, a lot, passionately, to madness or not at all.
Begin a short story with a character playing this game or play it yourself to decide if another character has feelings for them. There were no daisies harmed in the making of this post.
Like many people, I first heard about Lupercalia from my favourite Netflix show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which includes the ancient Roman festival in one or two episodes.
Supposedly the origin of our modern Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia had all the crazy things a pagan partygoer needed: sex, goat sacrifice, blood symbols and my personal favourite; running naked around Palatine Hill.
Imagine you’re an ancient party planner…design an advertising poster for the event encouraging people to come and buy those tickets. Remember, sex sells!
If you need more help with this exercise, check out this entry from the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
10. Punch Drunk Love
I couldn’t end this post without including a love potion somewhere.
So this is the game. Think of a quote about love or the title of a book/ film/play and put it into an online anagram maker such as this one and click ‘words’. Out of the words generated, find the name of your new potion and include it somehow within your next story.
Note: From Judy Garland’s “I can live without money, but I cannot live without love” I got ‘noctambulation’ and from Romeo and Juliet, I got ‘adulterine’; so it does work!
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I’d love to know if any of these exercises inspired you and if you’re feeling brave, an extract from your work in the comments section!
Until next time,