More than a few authors feel highly pressured to lustify their books with a steamy, dreamy romance or two so as not to disappoint the readers who have come to expect them.
And why not? Books are a business, and if Romance is where the money is, that’s where the majority of writers will feel obliged to go.
However, mature readers struggle to suspend their disbelief if the romance does not feel real to them. When this happens, most experts agree that the least forgivable trick the writer can play on his struggling reader is to add an insta-romance to his or her book.
Yes, the insta-romance; the fast-burning, lackluster courtship that might’ve been most succinctly summed up by The Doors in singing, “Hello. I love you. Won’t you tell me your name?” back in 1968.
Not a bad pick-up line. Intolerable as a plot or subplot.
Okay. Unpopular opinion time, guys. Contrary to expert opinion, I believe in my heart and soul there are at least 3 recurring romantic tropes that should be hated and maligned to a degree that at least equals the dreaded insta-romance.
- Haters who become lovers.
I get it. Opposites attract. Light needs dark. Ying needs Yang, and all that jazz. But when was the last real life experience when you hated someone at first site, and your gut instincts were wrong?
When this phenomenon overtakes me in meeting someone for the first time, my guts tense up and send the message, “Do not trust this person. It’ll end badly for you” to my unconscious mind. My stubborn faith in human nature prevails against this gut reaction and says, “You’re imagining things. Don’t be so negative. Everyone deserves a chance.” Then, between a month and ten years later, that person turns into the villain of my next book, and my gut goes, “Right the first time. Told you so, Stupid.”
The “I hate you on sight,” thing is what our civilized, latte-drinking, litter-recycling superego dismisses as “snap judgements” and tries to squash. Listening to your superego in this is a mistake. Gut instinct is a primitive-but-effective survival mechanism that dates back to a time in human history when trust in our fellow humans was even scarcer than it is, today. Cave men and women had to make snap judgements all the time about whether or not a stranger was good for the tribe or a nuisance, suitable for tiger bait and nothing else.
That said, love-hate relationships are nice and dysfunctional, which can give you lots of terrific, natural antagonism for your book.
I guess it makes sense for your protagonist to fool around with that guy or gal for a few chapters or even off and on throughout the series, ’til the real romance gets started.
But if the part time hater ends up being the romantic lead for real? Nah, y’all. There’s no way for that to end any way but badly. I guess that’s why most romance stories stop when they do. Maybe Shakespeare was a crap romance writer (?) If he tried to publish Taming of the Shrew, today, I’ll betcha the first 20 publishers he approached would tell him, “The psychological abuse is great, Bill, but does it have to happen after Petruchio and Kate get married? Our readers are kind of used to a wedding scene as a cue that we’ve reached the happy ending.”
Anyway, back to the list.
2. The Lovable Liar.
Liars are lovable. I’ve loved some liars. I’ve also threatened some liars with broken bottles and the terror of self-reflection when their lies get to be too much.
In your story, you are free to put in as many lovable liars as you want. They can be heart breakers, bank robbers, under *e-hem* cover agents, princes in disguise and a myriad of handsome, exciting strangers.
But is it satisfying for your hero or heroine to marry that pretender in the end? Ever wonder why there’s no Jane Eyre II? What happens when Jane’s the one locked up because Mr. Rochester got bored with her and accused her of madness?
I might be super off-base, here, but as consumers, I feel like we excuse a lot of bad behavior when the person behaving badly is hot, rich or both. Heath Ledger and Matthew Mcconaughey got the girl in the end of A Knight’s Tale and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and the women decide they love the man behind the lies for little reason other than hotness / richness. Jennifer Aniston plays a [f, dash, dash, dash]-ing rapist in The Hangover series. But guess what. Rape is wrong even when the rapist looks like Jennifer Aniston, and trusting a liar is futile, even if the liar looks like Heath Ledger or Matthew McConaughey.
Again, I’m not saying these liars don’t belong in our stories. Heroes and heroines getting taken in by con artists now and then makes them pretty damn relatable, and how other characters react to the liar makes for tremendous growth potential.
But maybe can we move past the idea that if you marry the liar, you can expect anything but a marriage of lies and misery?
3. Marry your best friend.
Sounds harmless, right? After all, romance as a genre takes us on our own, private flights of fancy with the writer as our tour guide, and at fantasy’s end, who wouldn’t want to marry his or her best friend?
Plus, it’s only fiction, anyway. The reader should smart enough to know fantasy from reality, right?
Here’s my personal problem with the “Marry your best friend” trope.
I’ve lost two best friends in my life, and it wasn’t because they died. I lost my first best friend because I wasn’t mature enough to be, “just friends.”I lost my second best friend because my friend wasn’t mature enough to be, “just friends.”
All three people involved in these 2 romantic disasters were intelligent, grounded people who were smart enough to know the difference between insta-romance and real life. Yet, two out of three of us fell for the “marry your best friend” concept because it’s a more plausible fabrication. That particular fantasy seems so attainable that it’s easy to hope that one comes true, and we hurt people, if we mistake it for the way the world works..
I’d like to let writers in on a secret in the knowledge that most of them are self-depreciating masochists who won’t go mad with power once they learn it:
Life reflects art as much as art reflects life.
Whether you meant for your book to be a frivolous pleasure read or an epiphany-inspiring life-changer, your book is going to have an effect on your readers.
Please, oh please, never assume that your words don’t matter and that you don’t have to choose them carefully. The best thing you can do is inspire your reader to do something, to write something, or read another book. The worst thing you can do to your reader is…
I’m not sure. Waste their time, I guess.
But if in your life, the worst thing you’ve put your audience through is the dissatisfaction of an insta-romance, fret not. It could be so much worse.