Buying Into Romances

I don’t know if I’m picky or cynical or have just been reading too many YA books, but lately I’ve had trouble buying into some romances presented to me in books. I feel like President Snow as I read, saying…

convince-meHere’s what I’ve noticed generally doesn’t work for me…

Instalove or insta-attraction that becomes too serious too quickly.

shortstoryaboutloveIn my latest read Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, the characters are attracted to each other pretty instantly. OK, I’m fine with that. But they very quickly go from “attracted to each other but have barely talked” to “I LOVE YOU FOREVER!” I didn’t even have time to root for them to become a couple before they were one, much less before they started declaring undying love to one another. I’ll go into more details in a forthcoming review, but this bugged me a little and while I didn’t dislike the romance, I didn’t invest in it or care about it the way I believe the author wanted me to.

The characters are just unlikable.

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If I don’t care about one or both characters, I’m not going to care about the romance.

Badly done love triangles.

bones-throw-upWhat’s worse than a love triangle? A love triangle that ends badly, especially evident when the character chooses the wrong romantic interest. Boo hiss.

Examples: the Matched trilogy and The Maze Runner trilogy.

There is zero tension between the two leading up to a moment.

This sort of goes back to my first reason. There is not what feels like a proper build-up to “The Moment,” be it a kiss, a declaration, whatever. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel earned.

Example: Cia and Tomas in The Testing. “Oh, hey friend! Oh, you like me? Oh, OK, I guess I like you too…”

fauxlivia-uncertainThe couple just seems like an odd match.

You know when couples just don’t seem to completely “fit” together? Then it’s hard to buy their romance.

Their thoughts and actions just don’t seem to add up to love. 

Of course, I think this is the base of most unbelievable romances. Saying you love someone doesn’t mean you love them, especially if it’s clear you don’t respect them or care about them more than you care about yourself.

Grumpy-cat-no1Some other examples of romances I found to be just okay due to a variety of these reasons…

– Lilac and Tarver from These Broken Stars. I know this is an extremely unpopular opinion, and I didn’t dislike their relationship entirely. But (1) I had no problem believing they were quickly attracted to each other but (2) they seemed to have nothing in common even (3) after they went through a dangerous situation together, though I could believe in some sort of relationship but they (4) quickly jumped into that I’LL LOVE YOU FOREVER NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US NO ONE CAN STOP ME talk. I just didn’t buy it. They were in stressful circumstances that lead to these sudden intense feelings and quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they broke up sometime after the book. I wasn’t excited about them getting together because I just didn’t see it panning out. It probably helped I didn’t love either of the characters entirely.

– Kate and Sean from The Scorpio Races. I don’t dislike their romance at all, it might be my favorite among these examples, but what was supposed to be a slow burn felt more like “hey we’re hardly talking” to “hey we’ve talked a couple of times” to “oh hey, let’s kiss” to “we’re a work in progress.” I would like to have seen 3 and 4 reversed here. I like that their relationship isn’t fast and passionate, but I don’t feel there’s enough tension leading up to the first kiss. It’s like the author decided, “Oh characters kiss when they’re into each other so I should insert it here instead of waiting about five more chapters when it feels earned.”

– Lynn and Eli in Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn meets Eli, and there’s an attraction between them, and very quickly they’re flirting (though Lynn knows like nothing about flirting) and then they’re spooning and right then was when it stopped feeling like a natural progression of a relationship. It also doesn’t help that Lynn is kind of unlikable and I can never get a real read for her emotions.

– Tris and Tobias in the Divergent trilogy. They’re instantly attracted to each other. OK. They start a relationship, and it moves a little quickly. I still managed to be somewhat on board until the end of Divergent. Everything unraveled for me and their relationship in Insurgent and Allegiant. They are prime examples of their actions not matching up with their declarations of love. They lie to each other, they don’t trust each other, and they don’t fully respect each other. No, no, no. Bad romance. (And I don’t mean Lady Gaga).

Alright Picky Amy, then what do you want?

let-me-love-you– A slow buildup with tension (it can be negative or positive tension). Example: Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

– A couple that is clearly good for each other and can trust one another. Example: Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games

– A focus on character and personality as basis of attraction and love over attraction based solely on looks. Example: Addie and Trevor in Pivot Point

– Believable moments that bring the couple together. Example: Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion, Elliot and Kai in For Darkness Shows the Stars

– Two very likable characters. Example: Thorne and Scarlet in Cress, Persis and Justen in Across a Star-Swept Sea

What does it take to convince you of a romance in a story? What are the ones you buy the most and which do you not buy at all?

34 thoughts on “Buying Into Romances

  1. I totally agree with everything you wrote! Unrealistic or unlikable characters totally destroy the illusion.

    And, when it comes to buying a book, the story has to resonate. Like, it has make me feel, and it has to be something I’d read again.

  2. I haven’t read too many of the ones you’ve talked about, but I agree – the instalove can be a little too unbelievable, thus ruining the whole book. I’m 100% over love triangles. So lame. Love your examples of ones that work – I agree!

  3. I completely agree with all of this! For me, the slow build up is key to a good romance but that seems to becoming a rare thing lately in YA literature. And yes, I thought I was the only one that felt that way about the Divergent trilogy, it just sort of screamed cliche with the hot guy being obsessed with the plain girl after three days.

    I just finished reading Fangirl and I loved it! I thought it was a perfect example of how falling for each takes time and that love is actions not words. Great post!🙂

  4. Wait, there’s a love triangle in the Maze Runner? Oh there is no way I’m finishing that series now. The first book was iffy enough for me – a triangle would just kill it. Thanks for saving me the $30 I would have spent on them!

    Ahhh I totally have to agree with Lindsey about Fangirl – it was PERFECTLY done!

    • Yeah, if the first book was iffy for you and you don’t like love triangles I definitely wouldn’t finish. Very few of the questions you have from the first book are likely to be adequately answered anyway (which was the only reason I kept reading the books… Thankfully I had borrowed them).

  5. Great post, Amy! I really have to agree about the instalove and the lack of tension before a moment. I think a lot of YA authors are forgetting that it’s the build-up, all the TENSION, all the watching and waiting and HOPING the characters get together that drives readers to invest in these romances — at least, a lot of the time. When that is missing, it makes it a lot harder to care about the *amazing, passionate kiss* the couple just shared (on page five).

  6. So I wasn’t the only one annoyed with Tris and Four’s behavior towards one another. They constantly lied to one another. Then they would be hugging and loving, the next scene off to do something totally opposite of what they just talked about (or didn’t talk about depending what scene).

  7. I think you broke down the topic very well – all the factors you named are important to make the romance work for me! I am a bit disappointed to read that These Broken Stars had some issues for you in the romance department – I’ve been hoping to read it soon, so I’ll temper expectations. And I completely agree with you on Tris and Tobias! I was disappointed by so many things by the end of the series!

  8. I absolutely getting the feeling of buying into romances. . . especially if it’s a large focus of the book. I actually loved the romance in These Broken Stars, but I’ve read all the examples you gave in the “not really buying it” category, and I agree with ALL of them! Sean & Puck don’t bother me as much because even though they became a couple, there was so much focus on their separate personal growth and I did buy their friendship. I just wasn’t ready to cross to “yeah, they should be in a relationship” territory yet. And definitely agree with the other two.

    This is why I didn’t LOVE The Winner’s Curse–the romance was sort of “meh” for me. I could see how they would get there eventually, but it didn’t feel warranted yet or like the characters would have realized it in the way they actually did.

    • I agree with you about Sean and Puck… I definitely bought into the friendship and thought it could be more, but it seemed a little too soon that they were crossing into relationship territory.

      I know my opinion about Lilac and Tarver is not one commonly held, but yeah, for some reason it didn’t work for me. I’m glad it did for so many others though.

      I think every review I’ve seen of The Winner’s Curse has praised the story, and while most praised the romance, I’ve seen a few others like you where they were less certain. I’ll be intrigued to see what I think when I get around to reading it.

  9. It’s interesting that you used Katniss and Peeta as an example of a couple who were good for each other. I totally see what Peeta gives Katniss, but I don’t see what Katniss gives Peeta. And I’m also decidedly on the side where the romance was such a non-factor for me in that series, that I have a hard time picturing Katniss ending up with anyone. But that could be my personal bias affecting my ability to see the relationship as a good one.

    I was a big fan of Lilac and Tarver. I think I loved that they didn’t have anything in common, but they admired each other for the things they didn’t necessarily possess; I felt like they brought out the best in each other. I also totally felt the slow burn for Puck and Sean, but I can see how they made the leap from friendship into something more a little quickly if you weren’t hoping for them to make that jump.

    • Katniss displays a strength that I think is good for Peeta. I mean, he’s strong in his own way, but I think she really can be a rock for him, like he also can be for her. I also think her balance of being more realistic then optimistic balances him.

      I didn’t mind Puck and Sean making the jump, but when it happened it didn’t make sense to me. I felt they barely knew each other. By the end of the book, it made a bit more sense.

  10. Oh I am definitely agreeing with ALL of these! I think I get the most annoyance out of instalove, because it just doesn’t seem genuine, and to me that’s important. But it’s also equally as mortifying when one or both of the characters are generally disagreeable. And although I didn’t feel as if Tris and Tobias liked each other instantly, I totally agree that once they were together, things went too fast, and consequently too fast downhill. And ouch, that’s never a good thing :O

  11. THORNE! CRESS! Still haven’t gotten over the two. :3 And there are some times when I just chuck the romance out of the window altogether and I just focus on the other things that give me feels. Like, for instance, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. The characters were mildly interesting, but the romance was a little too quick but at least they weren’t declaring love by the end of the book.

    I loved, though, how the main character dealt with her father’s marriage to another woman. It was sweet and nice to see how she struggled and came to terms with her father, and it just touched me. Mostly because I can’t fathom how she could forgive something like that; I would be the one just glaring at everyone in the corner. Haha.

    • I agree that sometimes the romance overpowers what is actually the most interesting story! I haven’t read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight yet, but at least the title is a warning of what I’ll get. I am glad to know they’re not declaring eternal love at the end!

  12. DEFINITELY agreeing with you here. A lot of YA romance titles seem to fall flat for me because of these reasons. Instalove or going from “hello nice to meet you” to “I WILL GIVE MY LIFE FOR YOU” right away is a sure-fire way to rile me up. When it’s a slow burn and careful build up through words AND actions really works for me.🙂

  13. I totally agree on Tris and Tobias. I was fine with them in Divergent but it all unraveled in the next two books. I did like Lilac and Tarver though, because I liked the way I perceived they changed each other. I felt like by the end it wasn’t just the intensity of their shared experience but that they each had an arc that brought them closer together and made them much more compatible in the end than they were in the beginning. But that was just how I read it🙂

    I totally agree with your point though – I have to buy into a romance for it to work and sometimes I just don’t (*cough* Thor)

    • Ha ha, I totally agree with you about Thor and Jane! I just didn’t believe it!

      I understand what you’re saying about Lilac and Tarver, and I don’t really disagree, but I just didn’t ship them or get swoony feelings about them or care how long their relationship lasted. I bought into a crush, I didn’t buy into true love.

  14. I was afraid I was going to start a fight bringing up Tris and Tobias… I suppose I’m in good company here. I’ll be honest, I only completely read the first book and read like 1/4 of the second–I couldn’t buy the relationship, and I think that’s a big part of the reason I decided to DNF the second book.

    As for love triangles, I wasn’t too bothered with the Matched trilogy (she ended up with the one I wanted her to end up with, but the other guy got that girlfriend and it was weird to me), and I absolutely must agree with you on The Maze Runner. When that *thing* happened to the girl I liked (trying to make this spoiler free if anyone else is reading this), I was like, NOOOOO. I honestly wish I’d stopped reading after the first book. The other two weren’t near as good in my opinion because I felt like the story just kept getting dragged out unnecessarily.

    And I should probably not get started on instalove. I believe in instaLIKE, absolutely. (That does not make it okay to start making out, like, the next day.) I think the love word is thrown around not only too quickly in YA, but also too much. There is nothing wrong with simply LIKING a guy!

    Okay, I’ll stop hijacking your post now. (But before I leave, I must add that I totally appreciate your Star Trek gifs.)

    • Yeah, I wish I had stopped reading after The Maze Runner too. I think the intrigue I built up in my mind was way more interesting than the weirdness that played out.

    • Oops, wasn’t finished. I was also going to say that I do agree instalike or insta-attraction are different from instalove, for sure!

      Star Trek is a love of mine so yes, Star Trek gifs are always a possibility.🙂

  15. I totally agree with everything you said. Another thing that really bugs me is when a romance is really generic. If there’s nothing different or special about them and their relationship, it’s hard for me to believe they’re actually in love because I don’t know what attracts them to one another besides looks, and I tend to brush by it without much thought.

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