Masterplots Theater: U is for Unrequited Love

U is for Unrequited LoveWelcome back to Masterplots Theater. This is our last week of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge and we have a fabulous final lineup!

Love is messy; it’s messy in real life and it’s messy in stories. This ill-fated type of affection is at the heart of just as many romantic comedies as tragedies. It’s ideal for writers who want to twist the knife into their character’s soul, or leave them on their knees searching for their dignity.

Unrequited Love Plot Notes:

The important thing to remember is this love is one-sided, or at least unbalanced. The two (or more) characters are not enjoying the same level of infatuation. One character might like the other character just fine, perhaps enough to date for a while, but that special zing just isn’t there for any deeper affections to grow, while the lovestruck character is sure they’ve met their soul mate. They will delude themselves with fantasies about creating something permanent. It’s the fantasy the love stuck character can’t let go of and not the reality.

The protagonist in this story can play either part: the object of affection, or the smitten one. Also both roles in this masterplot are gender neutral. This masterplot also adores creating tension by mismatching the two character’s sexual orientation. Love triangles are highly common in this masterplot.

It’s a highly emotional story and it’s often the cornerstone of some dramatic (and even scary) stories because unrequited love can turn nasty and vindictive. Examples: FATAL ATTRACTION and JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE.

It’s often the less emotionally invested character who pays the price, but not always. It’s possible for unethical characters to use the situation for emotional blackmail.

It’s often the social outsider that falls madly in love with a person who shows them kindness. The character’s lack of romantic acumen leads them to misread the social cues. What follows is a string of embarrassing and potentially life-scarring encounters as they try to win the other character’s love. In the end, the character often gives up, finds their social grove (usually in the form of a makeover), or finds a fresh person to focus their affections on. Example of this used in a critical subplot is Severus Snape’s love of Lily Evans-Potter in the HARRY POTTER Series.

I think this masterplot works best when it’s used as a complication plot point within the stages of the normal rules of attraction. The story starts out by following a typical romance formula, but something goes wrong at one of the stages. It might be the timing; one person is always in a relationship when the other is free. Or it might be that the first lust stage stalls out. Priorities often get in the way of love, one person wants a family, while the other wants a career. Example 500 DAYS OF SUMMER.

Unrequited love is sometimes used in rejection as foreplay stories. With the pervasiveness of rape culture and the current predilection for stalking in the world, personally I find that use distasteful and ill-conceived.

Example to Study:hunchback-notre-dame-victor-hugo-paperback-cover-art

I’m picking Victor Hugo’sTHE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (AKA Notre-Dame de Paris) because Hugo is a master of unrequited love. He also used it in Les Misérables.

·SOCIAL OUTSIDER: It’s hard to find anyone who is more of the outside than Quasimodo. Physical deformity makes him shun public interactions. Esmeralda is also an outsider, a gypsy who knows public scorn and even out right hatred.

·FANTASY LOVE: Quasimodo has known little to no affection in his life, so when the beautiful Esmeralda offers him kindness, he is forever infatuated with her.

·LOVE TRIANGLES ABOUND: Esmeralda is already desired by many, but has selected her object of affection, Captain Phoebus. However, her love is also unrequited. Phoebus in engaged to another woman, Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier. Fleur suffers from unrequited love of Phoebus, and although the two will marry, it will be a one-sided love and unhappy union.

Future Research:

Movies worship this masterplot, and some of these example even manage to bring this bad beginning around to an HEA of sorts. RUNAWAY BRIDE, BEST FRIENDS WEDDING, and CHASING AMY.

Books also favor it. Take GONE WITH THE WIND: Scarlet’s unrequited love of Ashley Wilkes is literary legend. Another good bet is REMAINS OF THE DAY. For a more tragic take read THE HOUSE OF MIRTH or DANGEROUS LIAISONS. There is also a long list of books about unrequited love at Goodreads.

This masterplot has around forty common tropes and I couldn’t begin to cover them all in a single blog post. If you decide to write this masterplot, check out this blog post on five must read writing tips for unrequited love stories.

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed U is for Unrequited Love. We invite you back tomorrow for the next installment of Masterplots Theater, V is for Vengeance.

For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:

A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After
I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal
K is for Kinsmen
L is for Love Story
M is for Metamorphosis
N is for Nemesis
O is for Out of the Bottle 

P is for Pursuit
Q is for Quest
R is for Rite of Passage
S is for Sacrifice
T is for Thriller

And please share your favorite Unrequited Love stories in the comments.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

17 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: U is for Unrequited Love”

  1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame broke my heart as a kid, and it still tugs at my heartstrings today! And yet, as much as it bothers me when there’s unrequited love in a story, it’s what keeps me reading, and is something I incorporate in my own stories.
    A bit ironic, isn’t it?

  2. Got to have some unrequited love – it makes the world go round, even if the rotation is backwards. There’s at least a bit of unrequited love in all three of my books, causing agony and bad decisions for one character. Yummy!

  3. Unrequited love…what a happy plot to start our week with. 🙂

    Though you are right, and sometimes, unrequited love can turn into a happy ending, as it does in “Mansfield Park,” where Fanny is in love with Edmund, in an unrequited way until just before the very end. And, technically, as Knightley is with Emma in the novel that bears her name, and Mr. Darcy is with Elizabeth, until she changes her mind; given that one person has to start loving the other first (unless they both fall in love in the same moment, Romeo-and-Juliet style,) there seems to always be a period of unrequited love. (Though, naturally, it may not feel like unrequited love if the reader is unaware of what is going on or the love lost is not lamented.)

    This is turning into quite an interesting thought. Thanks for getting me started. 🙂

    1. I’m glad the post sparked something interesting. I suspect a story is brewing. : ) Keep me posted if one does result. It would be exciting news.

    1. I didn’t think of those, but I bet you’re right. I’ll have to do some research and see if I can find some titles that fit.

    1. Who ever heard of a smooth love story? It would be too dull to write, let alone read. I want things to get messy. Make those darn characters work for that HEA.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed our A to Z theme. : ) It was a fun to work on. Plus Heather and I learned a lot about plots that were well outside our normal comfort zone by doing all the research.

  4. Great summary of the main features, dear Robin… I have thought of examples as I read along… most of which come from movies… Then I think of a book I read a long time ago and wanted to ask you if it might fit here…
    I am making reference to Goethe’s “Werther”… the main character is himself the victim, being the paradigmatic case of `Romantic love´in the sense give during the 19th century… Speaking of which I have the impression that it could be the case as Werther was an outsider and there was also a love triangle… but I am not sure, though. If you read it maybe, I guess that you can tell me… Sending best wishes. Happy week ahead. Aquileana 😉

    1. Yes, The Sorrows of Young Werther is a perfect example. I’m so glad you mentioned it. Such a tragic version of the Unrequited Love Masterplot. He was clearly a bit of an outsider as I recall, and their was a love triangle. Great suggestion!

  5. This is indeed a very common plot inside larger stories, and I think is a good one if used wisely. I’m normally not very keen on pure love stories, but I do like a good one when it’s part of a more complex overall story.

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. I’m not a huge fan of this one either. But I can understand how unrequited love can be used as an emotional motivator for a character’s out of character actions. I think Snape is the perfect example of that. It just helps add a lot of story complexity.

We love comments and questions.

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