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?

Instalove 101: When Instalove Has the Chance to Grow

instalovebannerThanks to the lovely ladies at A Novel Idea for hosting this month’s Instalove 101, where we bloggers bring you lectures on the hard issues in fiction literature, like love triangles and instalove. Today I will be sharing what happens when instalove has the chance to grow, focusing specifically on the case study of Peeta Mellark.

peeta-stalkerSubject: Peeta Mellark. Evidence of Possible Instalove:

“Handsome lad like you. There must be some special girl. Come on, what’s her name?”says Caesar.
Peeta sighs.

“Well, there is this one girl. I’ve had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But I’m pretty sure she didn’t know I was alive until the reaping.”

… “She have another fellow?” asks Caesar.

“I don’t know, but a lot of boys like her,” says Peeta.

“So here’s what  you do. You win, you go home. She can’t turn you down then, eh?” says Caesar encouragingly.

“I don’t think it’s going to work out. Winning . . . won’t help in my case,” says Peeta.

“Why ever not?” says Caesar, mystified.

Peeta blushes beet red and stammers out. “Because . . . because. . . she came here with me.”peeta-caesar“So that day, in music assembly, the teacher asked who knew the valley song. Your hand shot right up in the air. She stood you up on a stool and had you sing it for us. And I swear, every bird outside the windows fell silent,” Peeta says.

“Oh please,” I say, laughing.

“No, it happened. And right when your song ended, I knew – just like your mother – I was a goner.” peeta-katniss-cave“Well Peeta, we know, from our days in the cave, that it was love at first sight for you from what, age five?” Caesar says.

“From the moment I laid eyes on her,” says Peeta. caesar-katniss-peeta

Diagnosis: Definitely Instalove

I know that I was not alone in swooning over Peeta’s story, even though it’s really quite silly. He says that when he was five years old, he fell in love with Katniss upon seeing her and hearing her sing. For 11 years his fascination has not dwindled, in fact, it has no doubt increased. And the poor guy gets pushed into a plant by Katniss. Of course, she’s highly suspicious that he’s going to kill her in the Games, and now isn’t exactly the time for him to be declaring his love for her, seeing as they both won’t make it out of the Games alive.

But they do, and Katniss has to pretend all the while that she loves Peeta. And though Peeta does care for Katniss, it’s hard for him to pretend they’re happy when he knows how she really feels.

They spend months apart before the Victory Tour, in which they have to play happy couple again. Peeta continues to show his kindness, not just towards Katniss but also to District 11, which is the moment when Katniss realizes that Peeta really is quite a catch.

Then the Quarter Quell is announced, and they’re both are going back to the arena. And even though Peeta lies to the whole country that he and Katniss are already married and that she’s pregnant, she’s not upset with him. She knows they’re on the same team now, and they have to stick together to fight against the Capitol’s system. But she also becomes determined to keep Peeta alive.

She starts to care more about his survival than hers, just as he has cared for her survival more than his. 

“If you die, and I live, there’s no life for me at all back in District Twelve. You’re my whole life,” he says. “I would never be happy again.” catching-fire-beachI realize only one person will be damaged beyond repair if Peeta dies. Me.

“I do,” I say. “I need you.”

…before he can talk, I stop his lips with a kiss.

I feel that thing again. The thing I only felt once before. In the cave last year, when I was trying to get Haymitch to send us food. I kissed Peeta about a thousand times during those Games and after. But there was only one kiss that made me want more.

As Katniss’ love grows to something true, Peeta has the chance to see what love with Katniss actually looks like.

Then Peeta is hijacked and it makes him a different person by the time he is rescued. He doesn’t remember loving Katniss, and their relationship has to start completely over.

Katniss has to take the initiative to save Peeta and a possible relationship between them.

“I must have loved you a lot.”

“You did.” My voice catches and I pretend to cough.

“And did you love me?” he asks.

I keep my eyes on the tiled floor. “Everyone says I did. Everyone says that’s why Snow had you tortured. To break me.”

“That’s not an answer,” he tells me. peeta“But I think it’s time you flipped this little scenario around in your head. If you’d been taken by the Capitol, and hijacked, and then tried to kill Peeta, is that the way he would be treating you?” demands Haymitch.

I fall silent. It isn’t. It isn’t how he would be treating me at all. He would be trying to get me back at any cost. Not shutting me out, abandoning me, greeting me with hostility at every turn.

“You and me, we made a deal to try and save him. Remember?”

haymitch-catching-fireThrough time, through persistence, and through patience, Katniss fell in love with Peeta, and he fell back in love with her. And this time, it meant much more than seeing a cute girl at the age of 5. Now it was deeper, more devoted. The two literally went through hell and back again together, then faced their own demons separately. Needless to say, what started out as instalove for Peeta grew to become a well-earned love relationship.

Are you much more open to a story about instalove if it has the chance to grow? Do you know of a good example of this besides Peeta? When do you think Katniss realized she loved Peeta too?

5 Types of Love Relationships in Stories

I was trying to think of how many different ways a (romantic) love relationship in a story can be packaged, and what was most commonly seen in stories. Though I know there are more than five approaches (I found a blog post that listed 13, though some overlap with my list), here are five that came to my mind:

1. Young Love

Peeta-and-KatnissThis is an affection that starts when the characters are young, like Peeta was five when he first noticed Katniss,  or like Rudy’s care for Liesel in The Book Thief. I don’t think a real, devoted love can actually start when one is five, but then again, I don’t know what the magic age would be. However, I still find this premise very cute in general.

“Well Peeta, we know, from our days in the cave, that it was love at first sight for you from what, age five?” Caesar says.

“From the moment I laid eyes on her,” says Peeta. (The Hunger Games)

2. Friendship That Turns Into Love

emma&knightleyI also love it when two friends in a story, especially if they’re best friends or childhood friends (again going somewhat with the idea of young love) fall in love. I think a classic example of this is Emma and Knightley in Emma. They’ve known each other for most all their lives, but it takes time for both of them to both fall in love and to realize it.

It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! (Emma)

3. Resistant Love


Jane Austen also made this a classic love relationship found in stories with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, as well as with Marianne and Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. I also enjoy this type of story because it creates such great tension. I was going to call this “antagonistic love,” but sometimes you can be friends with someone and still resist the thought of being with them for one reason or another.

“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” (Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice)

4. Insta-Love (AKA Love at First Sight)

Film Review Les Miserables

Generally, this one frustrates me. I guess it may sound hypocritical to like young love stories of Peeta vying for Katniss at five and not love at first sight stories that take place years later, but at least as a child has several years to make up their mind if they actually love the person. So for teens and adults I tend to not find these insta-love situations not realistic or enjoyable, but for some reason I had next to no problem with Marius and Cosette and the 2012 Les Miserables film. Now, I will acknowledge that I have heard that in the book they have more of a relationship, but I have actually not read the book. I did, however, see the 1998 film, which doesn’t include as much of the story as the 2012 film, but somehow better develops Marius and Cosette’s relationship, so maybe that helped me not be as prejudiced towards it. Who knows, maybe it’s because they sing the entire movie and I just accept everything because it was so beautifully done. I can’t think of any good examples from books where I really accepted it. Does anyone else have one?


5. Unrequited Love


Laurie for Jo, Gale for Katniss, Rudy for Liesel, Harriet for Mr. Elton, Eponine for Marius, the list goes on… these are the stingers, when someone loves somebody and they just don’t love them back. It makes our soul ache, especially when we would have loved to see them as a couple. Or sometimes you know they wouldn’t be a good couple and you’re relieved! But you still probably feel at least a little bad. There are also a couple of great and tragic examples of this from the show Babylon 5 that I really want to share, but I don’t want to spoil the show, so just go watch all five seasons and then we’ll chat about it. Instead, I leave you with a quote from the show…

“All love is unrequited, Stephen. All of it.” (Susan Ivanova, Babylon 5)

What type of love relationships are your favorite to see in stories? What are you tired of seeing? What other love relationship types from stories can you think of?