Tuesday, January 14

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 6 comments
During my blogging hiatus, I went on a big reading binge, gobbling up six books in under three weeks. I largely was catching up on recommendations and newer books by favorite authors including: Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins), Where She Went (Gayle Forman), Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein), The Story of Us (Deb Caletti), Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell), and The Future of Us (Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler).

image by paulabflat, morguefile.com
These books had some love triangles, some shaken long-term relationships and some beginning tingles, but happily no insta-love. You know what I mean by that term, don't you? It's an overwhelming die-for-you passion ignited by a single glance. I'll spare you a rant on why it makes me crazy. Suffice it to say it's not only an emotionally unhealthy way to approach romantic attachment, but also poor storytelling. 

Giving characters instant whammo-connection cuts in half the size of your emotional arc. There's little room for the characters to change and grow over the course of the story. Just like with conflict, romance needs space to escalate as the story progresses. (For more on this idea of escalation, see my post Emotional Arcs: the teaspoon problem.) Without escalation, the romance plot will be largely static. You'll be tempted to throw a lot of melodrama at the couple just to keep yourself from becoming entirely bored with them.  

There are a number of techniques one can use to widen that arc. In the coming weeks I'll share some of the best tips for slow-build romance I picked up from analyzing works that did it well.

What are your thoughts on insta-love? What are some of your favorite stories with dynamic romances?


  1. I completely agree. An example of insta love is Twilight. Though I enjoy Stephanie's writing, the relationship with Edward and Bella is over the top, melodramatic. No wonder I was on Team Jacob. The constant tension within that relationship was what kept me reading.

    I am really enjoying The Selection Series by Kiera Cass. At first America wants nothing to do with Maxon. Now she's unsure. I am literally biting my nails as I await the release of book 3. Who will she choose?

    It's books like the Selection that get me to finish a series, whereas books like Divergent, where the heroine gets the guy in book one and they kiss and do whatever else, have me yawning throughout the remaining sequels.

    1. I'd argue that what Bella has is enmeshment rather than love. She displays so little individual personality, but wants to be subsumed into someone else. In literary fiction, a writer might be able to go somewhere interesting with that kind of psychology. But for a plot-driven story, it's kind of boring.

      Love triangles can be interesting especially if there are two good options, versus one guy who's clearly wrong for the heroine but he's so "hot" that she doesn't care. (Ugh. Girls are more than hormones!)

      One thing I'll be talking about in the series is how physical attraction alone is too thin--and makes a protagonist seem shallow. There have to be multiple levels of connection in realistic, dynamic romance.

  2. You see it a lot in movies too. Very unbelievable.

    Moody Writing

    1. Film, as a medium, doesn't typically give us access to characters' inner worlds, so one could argue a certain amount of insta-love will naturally happen on screen.

  3. I don't think insta-love is always bad, as long as there's more than just a physical connection. I thought it was done well in Poison (Bridget Zinn) and Graceling, where the male character almost immediately was attracted, but the female characters had to come around and be more open and trusting.
    Also if you have a plot where the characters will be separated, you need to establish the connection rather quickly (as I'm working on in my own work).
    I also enjoyed your post about Emotional Teaspoons. Very helpful.

    1. What you're describing isn't insta-love, which is an immediate "all in" with no real basis for such deep trust and connection. It's arriving at an end point with no journey.

      I have no problem with initial strong attraction or intrigue. It's something that can grow both wider and deeper as the characters get to know each other. As the character ruminates on and questions how or why the attraction or intrigue exists, the sense of connection can actually build, even when they are apart.

      Conversely, if the character assumes the insta-beloved is "the one," no tension-building doubts or questions will arise, will they? That, sadly, takes away so much dramatic potential.