Love in Literature

This is a compilation of our “Love in Literature” themed week here at SeaGlass.

The world of writing is bound up in the world of the living. We pour our lives into our art and the stories we tell hold the deepest parts of ourselves in them. The most impactful of these stories reflect our world, show us into the depths of ourselves, and reveal emotion we can barely articulate. Love is one such emotion, possibly the beginning of them all when written right, and can evoke the most passionate or heart-wrenching story. 

We will be looking at all the different types of love in literature. How is it portrayed? Why does it grasp people’s attention? What can you do to write great love in your stories? This will divide the who, what, where, when, why, and how of writing love into stories and the different types of written love. What kinds of love do you find in stories? 

First, an exercise: We want you to think of the most famous love story. Why do you think it is that famous? Why has it stayed in the hearts of people for so long? And next, think of your favorite love story. What is similar or different about them? How do the authors of each approach the subject of love? Keep this story in mind as you read.

Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

The Seven Types of Love (Thank you to the Greeks)

There are 7 types of love found in literature terms: Eros, Philia, Storge, Agape, Ludus, Pragma, and Philautia. Taken from Greek, these seven terms represent the different types of love found in the stories we read and watch. More than one can be in a story at a time and these categories are fluid with each other. This breakdown of the different kinds of love will help you to better understand how the love in your story works in relation to the plot and characters. 


‘erotic or passionate love’

Also referred to as life energy. It is where we get the word ‘erotic’ in the English language. Eros is thought of as sensual or passionate love and is often expressed as physical love between people.

 Examples in literature: Romeo and Juliet


‘Affectionate or friendship love’

Most commonly portrayed as between friends and family. This is love without romantic attraction or an equal love. In terms of a romantic relationship, those cannot be sustained on just eros. Plato argued that Philia is the best version of love because friendship can lead and create a solid foundation to romantic love. 

Examples in literature: The One and Only Ivan, Piecing Me Together, Pride and Prejudice


‘familial love’

While having elements of Philia love this is more the bond between parent and child. An unconditional, protective love that can be more one-sided and require sacrifice. Is sometimes seen as ‘natural’ or ‘instinctual’

Examples in literature: Little Women, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, Pachinko


‘flirtatious or playful love’

Having a light hearted quality. Think of the honeymoon phase of a relationship in its undemanding nature. As easy as laughter between two people or games to keep each person on their toes. 

Examples in literature: Pride and Prejudice, Gentleman Prefer Blondes


‘committed love’

Long-term, committed love. It is endurance, companionship, and sharing of a life. Includes family, friends, loved ones. 

Examples in literature: Pachinko, Washington Square


‘universal love’

A deep, selfless love for others and the world. This can be toward religious figures, nature, and strangers. As with others this has nothing to do with a personal bond and some refer to it as a spiritual love. 

Examples in literature: A Psalm for the Wild-Built, If Cats Disappeared From the World, Lord of the Rings



Self-compassion. Self-esteem. Refers to how a person views themselves, both body and mind. Sometimes the most challenging to people.

Examples in literature: Becoming, The Magic Fish, Jane Eyre 

Six Writing Prompts to Master Love

Now that we know what kinds of love can be found. Let’s dive into ways we can write love in our own stories. Here are six writing prompts.

  1. Write about a character who risks everything to pursue their heart’s desires.
  2. Two siblings have a huge fight. One of them says something so hurtful, the other wonders if they’ll ever speak again. How do they make up? 
  3. Think of a famous love story. Rewrite it in a different universe, time period, or setting.
  4. Tell a love story solely through love letters. 
  5. Write about a character who risks everything to pursue their heart’s desires.
  6. How does love help people get through difficult times in their life? 

Take some time and see what happens. Is there one type of love that fits better in a certain type of story? 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Book Recommendations and a Word from Ocean Vuong

Now that we’ve learned the types of love and have dived into writing it ourselves, let’s take a look at books that further our love on the brain’s agenda. We also have a variety of short stories, poems, and flash fiction on our website. Check it out and get inspiration from our amazing staff writers.

  • If you’re learning to love to write, we recommend looking at The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick and Why I Write by George Orwell.
  • If you want friendship that pulls on the heartstrings, we recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury and When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk.
  • If you want to fall in love with the world, read The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green and If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura.
  • If you want to feel the love in families read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Alicia Miles.
  • And lastly, if you want love with a hint of obsession read Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. 

An Outside Word

Another fabulous resource is an article from the LARB, or Los Angeles Review of Books with Ocean Vuong and Viet Thanh Nguyen.

“I think why I fell in love with poetry was that it allowed freedom in articulation. And so, what does it mean when a poem ends without a period? What does that mean for the voice? Was it cut off? Was it unfinished? All of a sudden, the removal of punctuation adds those questions, amplifies those concerns. I believe in one of Whitman’s versions of Leaves of Grass, after “Song of Myself,” he left out the period by accident. I thought that was the best version, because it ends with, “I stop somewhere waiting for you,” with no period. I have to participate in that perioding. I think formal manipulations add meaning the way body adds meaning, the way we sit, the way we talk, our voice, all those pressures are also language.

The way you touch someone, the pressure of the hand on the skin, that’s language. We all know that. I think that, when the poem starts to investigate form — and break form, redefine form — it’s a radical act of reinvention and articulating beyond language. Think of Dickinson, her famous slashes, the dashes. For me, in the context of a patriarchal structure, where all the men around her at that time were silencing her, rejecting her voice and imagination, what does the dash mean? It’s this moment of visceral response, when language is not enough, I have this. This is my attempt to keep speaking. I think she had to knife the page in order to speak again on the left margin. When we look at this form, everything matters. Everything matters about it, and I think poetry allows for that space for me.” 

The Antithesis to Love (Or is it?)

Finally, to end our ‘Love in Literature’ week. We bring you “Hate Poem” by Julie Sheehan. Hate and love are often thought of as two edges of the same sword as they demand intense emotion and this poem illustrates that perfectly. According to Sheehan, she began the poem with the line, “I love you truly” and later switched ‘love’ to ‘hate’. Does this change the way you read the poem? Try channeling each emotion and see the way your writing changes, or stays the same. 

Hate Poem 

By Julie Sheehan

I hate you truly. Truly I do.

Everything about me hates everything about you.

The flick of my wrist hates you.

The way I hold my pencil hates you.

The sound made by my tiniest bones were they trapped in the jaws of a moray eel hates you.

Each corpuscle singing in its capillary hates you.

Look out! Fore! I hate you.

The little blue-green speck of sock lint I’m trying to dig from under my third toenail, left foot, hates you.

The history of this keychain hates you.

My sigh in the background as you pick out the cashews hates you.

The goldfish of my genius hates you.

My aorta hates you. Also my ancestors.

A closed window is both a closed window and an obvious symbol of how I hate you.

My voice curt as a hairshirt: hate.

My hesitation when you invite me for a drive: hate.

My pleasant “good morning”: hate.

You know how when I’m sleepy I nuzzle my head under your arm? Hate.

The whites of my target-eyes articulate hate. My wit practices it.

My breasts relaxing in their holster from morning to night hate you.

Layers of hate, a parfait.

Hours after our latest row, brandishing the sharp glee of hate,

I dissect you cell by cell, so that I might hate each one individually and at leisure.

My lungs, duplicitous twins, expand with the utter validity of my hate, which can never have enough of you,

Breathlessly, like two idealists in a broken submarine.

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