Your Favourite Love Stories in Literature

by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Woman holding heart

It’s Valentine’s Day.

Whether you see the occasion as just a way for businesses to make a killing on flowers, chocolates, and dinner reservations, or whether you see it as an opportunity to spoil that special someone in your life, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity for us writers to think about L.O.V.E., and its significance in literature.

I daresay—it’s huge.

You don’t have to be a fan of romance novels to appreciate just how big a part love and romance play in fiction. Even the most suspenseful, horrific, or hilarious of stories can carry a romantic subplot.

What Makes a Good Love Story?

A good love story is one that:

  • Is believable: The characters feelings for one another must be plausible. If your characters share an unlikely romance (say, between a young man and a much older woman), then you need to give that situation context. Under what circumstances do they fall in love? What makes their match plausible?
  • Involves conflict: The characters must overcome conflict in order to be together or stay together. If there’s no conflict either between the couple or surrounding the couple, then there’s no story.
  • Engages the reader through emotion: In a good love story, the reader feels the characters’ pain and triumphs (perhaps by drawing on his or her own life experiences), and wants to see the couple succeed.

Your Favourite Love Stories

I’m a huge fan of realistic stories—those that mimic the trials and tribulations of everyday life. That’s why one of my favourite love stories is from Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Seven years before the story opens, Anne Elliot makes the biggest mistake of her life: she allows herself to be persuaded to not marry the young naval officer with whom she is in love. Now, verging on spinsterhood, Anne gets a second chance at love when Captain Wentworth steps back into her life.

Sounds simple enough, but I like the idea of the older-than-usual heroine getting another chance with ‘the one who got away’.

Like all good love stories, Persuasion hits the three key elements I noted above. The characters feelings for one another are believable, they must overcome conflict throughout the story in order to be together, and the story engages the reader by making us sympathize with the heroine’s plight.

And, it just goes to show that even the simplest of concepts can result in a gripping, well-told story.

Persuasion (1995)

What are your favourite love stories from literature? Why do they speak to you, in particular?

What do you think makes for a great love story?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

{ 13 comments }

jennifer blanchard February 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks is by far my favorite love story. It’s the most beautiful story and it’s beautifully told by Sparks. If I write a love story that even comes close to that one someday I will be a happy camper!

Suzannah February 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Haven’t read the book, but loved the movie!

Sunitha Mathew9 February 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I love all romantic fiction. I love Pride and Prejudice, like I hear a lot of people say, and I have to agree with you, Persuasion too. Of recent I have found Julie James books quite witty and engaging from the ‘contemporary romance genre.’ I can list many more but you get the idea

Suzannah February 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Pride and Prejudice is my favourite Austen book, but I still find the love story in Persuasion more touching.

natalie February 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Before I actually read this post, I got excited at the title and thought, “Oooh, I can’t wait to comment about Persuasion.” I guess you beat me to the punch! :)

Seriously, other than Capt. Wentworth (sigh) my biggest literary crush…um, I mean, my favorite romantic novel other than Persuasion is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Not strictly a romance, but since I first read it circa 1990, I’ve had a HUGE crush on Nat.

Suzannah February 14, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Yes, Capt. Wentworth is the best ;) Will have to add The Witch of Blackbird Pond to my reading list!

Cathy Yardley February 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I love the romance genre. Done well, the stories can really transport you. One of my favorites, hands down, is Jennifer Crusie’s BET ME. It takes a lot of romantic cliches, and twists them into something new. Also, I love that the heroine is more plus sized — more realistic! Otherwise, from a non-romance love story standpoint, I always loved THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. Sigh. :)

Suzannah February 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Cliches are something that do need to be upended in romantic (not necessarily genre romance) plots. If you can do something fresh with it, all the better!

Eporter70 February 15, 2011 at 2:35 am

I also like Pride and Prejudice.

Most of the love stories with which I’ve been enthralled recently take place on television screens. That being said, they usually involve love as a transformational experience that breaks down defenses so the characters can find their better selves. I suppose that idea holds true for Darcy and Elizabeth as well.

Someone I know said it this way: “You suck, but you don’t have to”. Love can provide that impetus for change and those are the stories I like.

Julie February 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Great points. I happen to like fiction that isn’t set in our reality (whether separated in time or space) but they do have to be ‘real’, or ‘true’. I adore conflict (from space battles to restrained Jane-Austen-style frowns); and I love to fall in love with the lead characters.

Good reminder of what I should be doing in my own writing! Thanks.

Anna February 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Oh my goodness, Persuasion is my very favorite romance, too! Is there anything more romantic that Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne at the end? One of my other favorites is Son of the Shadows, but Juliet Marillier.

Jim Thayer February 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I’m a big, tough, manly guy (I need to be quick before my wife reads this and starts to hoot), but I’ll never forget how Love Story by Erich Segal got to me. I dislike being seen blubbering. Love Story is proof of the power of romance in fiction.

Amoolya October 29, 2011 at 6:21 am

gone with the wind is a favorite. why? for one it tells a tale of great but mortal love which strikes a truth somewhere . for another ,the lead characters are brash,pompous ,selfish,unscrupulous in their ways …not your regular meat..which makes it all the more interesting and the characters real.the movie too for a change lives upto the novel.

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