February 2, 2012

Heart Month and InstaL♥ve

I have never been a fan of Valentine's Day. In fact, I find the whole occasion to be a little on the cheesy/tacky side. Waxy chocolate, overpriced flowers, pink and red together in a totally clashing assault to the eyes (Strawberry Shortcake didn't get the memo), and of course an overwhelming amount of pressure to be in love and/or to act in love. I suppose I feel that there are 364 other days in the year (365 this year) where love matters, and not just this single day. Fortunately for me, my husband makes a whole year out of this love business and doesn't just store it all up for one day.

 Anyway, my intent here was not to slam the heck out of Valentine's Day (fail) but to discuss the issue of Love at First Sight, or as it's been so fondly named 'InstaLove'. Is there such a thing? Can it work in a story? Should writing it into our stories be avoided at all costs? Is it one of those things that makes you as a reader slam a book shut in disgust? 
  
Personally, I have nothing against stories with InstaLove, in fact I actually like them -- when they're based on something believable. What I'm talking about is not so much 'love at first sight' (based solely on appearance), but more like 'love at first real conversation' or 'first real interaction'.
  
I've mentioned here before that I love the song New York by Snow Patrol. Here's one of the lines that really appeals to me from that song:

"I'd tell you that I loved you
Before I ever knew you
'Cause I loved the simple thought of you"

Exactly! This is why I can buy into the concept of love at first interaction, or if you must call it InstaLove, so be it. It's the realization of everything that we've been waiting and hoping for, and not always consciously. Without necessarily meaning to, we build up an idea in our minds of the type of person we'd like to end up with and sometimes we're fortunate enough to meet them. Sometimes we're even surprised and happily so, by what we didn't even know we wanted. But none of this can be discovered until some kind of actual interaction, usually conversation, takes place. 

What I can't get behind is the 'his gorgeous wavy hair is just so...gorgeous' type of sentiment as a basis for love. The way I understand it, that's a little somethin' somethin' called lust. (Fact: Words like 'gorgeous', 'dreamy', 'sexy', and even 'brooding' on the backs of books make me twitchy. As in, almost twitchy enough to toss that sucker back on the shelf from whence it came.) There's nothing wrong with physical attraction, and appearance can also be intriguing, making us want to get to know someone (ie. unique fashion sense, etc.). Take this scenario as an example: 
  
Girl sees Boy standing in line in coffee shop. Boy has 'Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos' badge on his laptop case. Girl gets from this that Boy probably has sense of humor. Maybe Boy even likes older movies like she does? Girl gets an idea of what Boy might be like and based on this, decides that Boy is intriguing and she might like to meet and maybe get to know Boy. Call it InstaInterest.
  
From here, when actual interaction takes place it's not a giant leap to think that two people could fall in love based on realization of shared interests, values, or dreams. I know this can and does happen because this is how my husband and I fell in love. All it took was an in-depth conversation (albeit a 12 hours long 'chat') for each of us to know that here was somebody that we could spend the rest of our life with. And ten years later it's still true.

Veronica Roth wrote a blog post in the Fall entitled "Insta!Love and the Unconvinced Reader" wherein she suggests that InstaLove is possible and that it's a little "arrogant" of us to suggest to those "in the early stages of falling in love that what they're experiencing isn't real and that they're too blinded to know that". But it's our job as writers to make this case of InstaLove convincing. If readers don't buy it, it's not because they don't want to, it's because we've failed to make them believe in it. Roth states "the illness is not the timeline, it's the fact that we remain unpersuaded by the author." And I think she couldn't be more right about this.

Amy Plum, author of the YA novel Die For Me, adds to this discussion by pointing out that InstaLove is neither a new trend nor one that YA alone is guilty of. She cites Shakespeare, Star Wars, and even West Side Story as only a few examples of InstaLove perpetrators. Remember how Luke got all swoony at R2D2's projection of Leia -- um, his sister? InstaLove, however grody that may be. Romeo and Juliet (often treated as the greatest love story ever -- I disagree) see one another across the room at a ball. InstaLove and we all know how that one ended. Not well.
  
Still others bring up reminders of what it was like to be a teen -- intensely emotional, dramatic, and at times heart-breaking (from YAHighway's post Do As I Say, Not As I Do...Err Did). The falling-head-over-heels for someone thing is probably not in question here, but rather whether or not this can result in lasting love (high school sweethearts do exist). But that's a discussion for another day.

I read two YA Romances this month that come to mind in this discussion of love. Both had me sold that the characters were, if not completely in love, at the very least in intense like with one another. One is an example of InstaLove, while the other is of the more slow-burning variety:
  
- takes place over the course of about 24 hours beginning in an airport
- definite case of InstaLove, but I think it's totally believable
- probably closer to 'Love At First Interaction' than 'Love At First Sight'
- we get the sense that there's an instant connection between Hadley and Oliver
- there's never a 'He's so gorgeous, I think I'm in love' moment in this story
- being exactly what the other person needs and wants is kind of the key here

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
- this is more of a slow-burning kind of love rather than InstaLove
- Amy and Roger don't fall head over heels for each other right from the get go
- they start out as acquaintances, move toward friendship, and then to more
- the realization that this is the person they want and maybe even need takes some time -- further get-to-know-you moments, bearing of souls, and sparks flying between our protagonist and her love interest (also very appealing)


I loved both of these books, proving that there's no single formula for writing the correct type of romance. If it works, it works. If it doesn't...well, as VRoth would say, you just haven't done your job properly. You haven't been convincing enough in the lead up to this love no matter how great or small the timeline might be. I think it's definitely challenging, but it's certainly not impossible.

So what's your verdict on the case of InstaL♥ve in YA fiction -- Possible or  Really Bad Idea?

25 comments:

  1. I agree. There's attraction, infatuation, obsession, and a whole bunch of other feelings associated with having a very keen interest in someone. But I don't think you can really *love* someone until you know them. And that realization can happen over the space of an evening, or over the course of three movies (Han and Leia). However long it takes, there *has* to be some kind of interaction, some way to discover that this person is more than just a pretty face or a cool bumper sticker. That "chemistry" has to be apparent, and that doesn't happen just by gazing across a crowded room. IMO, anyway.

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    1. Well said, Colin. And you did it in a much more succinct fashion than I did :-) What can I say, I'm plagued with rambling and blabbing. I don't like when people write off quickly blooming love as InstaLove and therefore unbelievable. It does happen, but I don't believe that's the case with love at first sight. Worth thinking about in our writing, though.

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  2. I'm a huge fan of InstaInterest, but you're right: InstaLove is so hard to pull off, particularly when it focuses on the physical.

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    1. InstaInterest is great and is a lot easier to pull off. I think the reason why Statistical Probability works is because of the amount of time the two of them spend talking to each other right off the bat. Plenty of time to connect on an overseas flight :-)

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    2. InstaInterest - that covers it nicely. I agree.

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  3. Good points all! I agree that it's more about instawant than instalove...though I'm more likely to be sympathetic with the characters' feelings from a YA standpoint if the attraction is based on the person seeming unique in their looks and/or actions rather than because (like you said) they're so "gorgeous" or because of their crush-worthy position (quarterback or cheerleader)...those things turn me off.

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    1. Yeah, those things turn me off too:-) I don't mind if a character notices right away that somebody is attractive, but I don't like when that's what it's all about. There has to be more there for me to consider it more than just lust.

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  4. I'm on the fence about InstaLove. The cynic in me totally scoffs at it as unbelievable, but then I remember how everything is so intense right at first. I mean, I fell in love with my husband within a week.

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    1. I totally agree with you. I want to think it's a load of hogwash, but I'm a little much of a romantic, and I also know how little time it too me to fall in love with my husband too :-)

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  5. I just read both The Statistical Probability.. and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour. And I agree that they are really great examples of natural love stories. Great post. I am with you on the whole cheesy-ness of Valentine's day. But around this time of the year, I kind of give in to wanting to believe in InstaLove.

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    1. Isn't that the truth? Valentine's Day drives me nuts and yet I can't help but like that there's actually a holiday that celebrates love :-)

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  6. This is great! I concur about InstaInterest. Age and timeline are not as much of a factor when it comes to love, but the way the relationship grows IS. Humans need interaction and connection and that doesn't grow from a distance and isn't sparked at first sight in my humble opinion. A great conversation changes everything. I read a lot of YA romance and I struggle when there's an "I've always loved you"... from afar... even though you were with that other guy, etc. kind of mentality. Do I enjoy the book, still? Yes. Do I find it realistic? Not often.

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    1. I think you raise a good point: a book can have InstaLove and be totally enjoyable but at the same time, completely unrealistic. I hope that in my story that I'm writing that I've managed to have both -- enjoyability and believability :-)

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  7. Very good points. I think there can be an attraction for someone, but that doesn't usually last long if there isn't any meat to the relationship. He's hot, He's cute. Is fine, but I think even as teenagers--depending on maturity level--you do want someone that goes beyond that. My two cents.

    Great post.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly with your two cents :-)

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  8. I definitely agree! I can't the stand of trope of "he's so dreamy, I'm in love," because while that might be how teenagers can feel, it doesn't engage the reader. And love at first interaction is a way you can really fall in love with someone (as opposed to falling in lust with them). Great post!

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    1. I think I'm bothered by InstaLove a lot less than other people, but I felt it was important to make the distinction between love at first sight and love at first interaction. I don't believe in the former, but I do in the latter for sure. :-)

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  9. I definitely remember the feeling of InstaLove, only to have it crushed by InstaRudeness or InstaCreepiness when I got up the nerve to talk to the subjects. But for the time it took me to say hi? Oh yes, across the crowded youth group conference, or up on stage, or at the next lunch table, I could tell, that was the ONE. (My favorite YA Contemps make me remember this feeling. It's a fun place to visit when your hormones have settled down and you're happily married, but man, it was rough living there.) So as long as I don't get the sense that the MC lives happily every after with EVERY attractive person s/he locks eyes with, then yeah, I buy it. But there need to be complications or rough patches or misunderstandings or stupidity to screw things up at some point.

    P.S. Stop by my blog--got an award fer ye!

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    1. Oh yeah, I totally hear you on the InstaRudeness or InstaCreepiness thing. And I totally remember that youth group tunnel vision over the ONE. The story of my adolescent life, if I'm being honest :-) So I guess that's why I'm not so bothered by the swoony InstaLove thing (as long as it has some believable basis).

      P.S. Thanks for the award! :-)

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  10. I think Instalove! can happen, especially with teenagers. As for it in writing, I don't think it happens QUITE as often as it does in YA novels. Well, let me rephrase that. Teens fall in "love" across the room, then when they go to talk to their intended, they discover the love was really only lust. The instalove staying instalove does happen, but not quite that often, for any of us, regardless of age.

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    1. I think it can happen too, but like I wrote above, you need to convince me :-)

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  11. I was a total "instalove" teenager... and now we're married with four kids! LOL. Though with writing, I think authors have to be soooo careful. I don't buy into the instalove thing very easily, unless the author does a good job of making it original and believable. :D

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    1. I know high school sweethearts too, so on that basis alone I can totally buy into InstaLove. Writers just need to make sure there's more basis to it than just thinking someone is 'hot', you know? :-)

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  12. I love your take on Love at first sight. Like I wrote in response to Amy's blog post on the subject, I've never experienced it, myself. I'm more of a "love at first write" person-- I'm a sucker for a well written e-mail or skype convo, so your t-shirt example really resonated with me.

    (and as someone who usually hate instalove stories like Romeo and Juliet, I do have to say that I was a total sucker for "Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight!")

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    1. STATISTICAL PROBABILITY was really good, and I like that Hadley wasn't head over heels for Oliver the moment she laid eyes on him. It was more, "There's something interesting about this guy, and I'd like to get to know him". And she did. I can totally buy into that :-)

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