Monday, October 8, 2018

In Defense of Insta-Love in YA Books

A post by Mary Fan
Many YA novels include a healthy dose of romance. It’s a staple of the genre, practically woven into its DNA. Even books that aren’t specifically written to be teen romances – that is, if you take out the romance, the bulk of the storyline still exists – often have fun, dramatic, tumultuous, and thoroughly entertaining subplots about two people in a romantic relationship of some kind. Of course, not every YA main character has to have a love interest, and it’s not an absolute requirement, but suffice it to say that romance thrives in books about teens for teens.

Personally, I love it – both as a reader and a writer of YA fiction. In fact, the first full-length YA novel I published, Starswept, is an unabashedly fairytale-esque romance. And whenever I pick up a new YA book to read and there’s a romantic subplot, I know I’m going to enjoy it that much more for all the heightened passions and emotions teen relationships—“Will they or won’t they? Of course they will, but how?”

I'll use any excuse to show
off my book cover again ;-)
But like I said, not everyone enjoys romance in YA books, and even those who do often have critiques of how particular ones are written. Which is all fair, of course. One of the most common complaints about teen romance is the trope of “insta-love” – that is, the main character and the love interest falling in love pretty much as soon as they meet.

What counts as insta-love? It’s hard to say. For Starswept, I’ve had some people call it insta-love and some people call it a slow burn… which are pretty much on opposite ends of the romantic speed spectrum.

It’s become almost a knee-jerk reaction to criticize teens falling in love quickly as bad writing. But I think that’s oversimplifying things – kind of like how some people have a knee-jerk reaction to adverbs simply because so much writing advice calls them bad (everything in moderation, folks!).  In my reading, I’ve come across some egregious examples of insta-love, where two characters who just met and have barely interacted are magically in love… and some cases where the two characters fall in love really fast, but it works. Really, it comes down to the quality of the writing, and to claim that ALL insta-love is bad is like claiming that you should never, ever, in a million years use an adverb for any reason whatsoever. That kind of scorch-the-earth criticism ignores nuance and, frankly, has started to irritate me a great deal.

I’ve thought about doing a post in defense of YA insta-love for some time now, but this tweet from last week was the kick in the pants I needed to actually write it:

That was a post that had me like

Here are some reasons why insta-love in YA deserves a little love of its own:

1. In the real world, a lot of teens DO fall in love fast

Really, they do. I remember going to week-long summer programs back in high school and watching my fellow teens meet on Day 1, start dating on Day 2, and by the time it was time to pack up and go home on Day 7, be so infatuated with each other and so distressed by their parting that you’d think they were Romeo and Juliet. Who, by the way, were insta-love teens themselves (more on that in a bit).

Teens tend to be wonderfully passionate, energetic, and impulsive in everything they do. They aren’t hampered by a lot of the cautions and filters we adopt as time and experience wears us down. So why shouldn’t that apply to romance as well? Plus, time passes slower when you’re a teen… A month can feel like a lifetime. What may feel “instant” to adults could feel like a slow burn to younger folks.

William Shakespeare,
author of teen romances
with lots of insta-love
2. Sometimes, you need it for the plot

In some books, the main character and the love interest meet early on, spend a good chunk of the book together, and finally get together at the end – and that’s how the plot’s structured. But in others, the plot needs the romantic pair to get together FAST for the rest of it to work. For instance, maybe the conflict isn’t “will they or won’t they,” but “they ARE, but the world keeps trying to tear them apart.” I again point to Romeo and Juliet. The bulk of the story is about these star-crossed lovers trying to find a way to be together and failing. Which means for the pacing to work, they’ve got to get together right away so they can spend the rest of the story agonizing over how this is going to work (or not work). Or how about stories where the love interest is taken away – kidnapped by the villain, vanished into the wilderness, etc. – and the plot is about the main character trying to get them back? Or where the drama is that they desperately want to be together but can’t – because one’s promised to someone else, or the families object, or they’re on opposite sides of an intergalactic war? (Lost Stars, I’m still waiting for my heart to heal!)

Some books get around this by having the main pair already be together at the beginning of the book, depriving us of the meet-cute. That can work, but personally, I always feel a little cheated.

3. It’s cute… and it’s classic

I think it’s human nature for many of us to want to see two people get together. It’s why real-time stalker-ish social media posts about two strangers who seem to have chemistry go viral so easily. And it’s why our oldest stories often feature love at first sight. Fairytales, myths, legends… and, of course, Shakespeare. So many enduring narratives involve insta-love.

And why not? It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s entrancing. There’s something special about watching two characters on a stage lock eyes for the first time, then start reciting beautifully poetic monologues, or singing a devastatingly passionate duets, or spilling their emotions into intimately personal paragraphs.

So let’s dial back the knee-jerk criticism and embrace insta-love for what it is: a trope that, like, any trope, can be done well or not depending on the strength of the writing.


Karissa Laurel said...

I second everything said here. When you retweeted that insta-love tweet, I cheered too. Great post, Mary!

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I don't hate instalove, but I do love a good, slow burn. I agree we need to chill about the insta-hate to insta-love.

Unknown said...

I love this and I agree with everything you've said here. I love a slow-burn romance in stories, but we shouldn't be so quick to automatically label insta-love as bad for all the reasons you pointed out.

Mary Fan said...

Thank you!!

Mary Fan said...

I like both! Hah, insta-hate to insta-love is exactly what we're getting a lot of...

Mary Fan said...

Thank you!! Yeah I really enjoy reading both.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Another great post Mary, always informative and interesting especially since I’m not engaged with YA novels very often. The last YA novel I read was with my girls, a vampire series and instalove was definitely the theme. I think it’s a wonderful genre and a big part of encouraging reading with our youth. Keep the love flowing!

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs