Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write something romantic… But, since Valentine’s Day also really annoys me (it’s cheesy, it’s commercialized, and why do we have to be romantic on this particular day when there are another 364 days in a year we could be romantic on?), I thought I’d write about something that annoys me too!
So, why do romantic subplots, specifically in young adult books, annoy me? Well, not all of them do. When done well, I do like romance in books. Unfortunately, a few too many for my liking seem to fall into the same pitfalls. Or maybe my standards are just too high 😛
Anyway, here are the things that annoy me most about romantic subplots!
Far too often, I find I can spot the love interest a mile off. Hint: he’s probably the super hot one. Extra points if he’s “brooding”, “chiseled”, and one of the first male characters our female protagonist meets.
Frankly, I just find this boring. In life, you can’t look at someone and know what role they’re going to play in your life. And yet, as a reader, it can be quite obvious that this is the guy the protagonist will get her Happy Ever After with from the moment we meet him. Usually because she’s attracted to him immediately, which I also happen to find unrealistic, but we’ll get to thatlater.
But it isn’t just boring; it’s annoying too. Unsurprisingly, “girl falls in love with Generically Attractive (Usually White) Guy” isn’t just predictable, it’s also repetitive (which is probably why it’s predictable; because we’ve read it so many times before). Why do they have to fall in love instead of becoming best friends? Why does the love interest always have to be The Hot Guy? Why does the love interest even have to be a guy at all?
Lack of Realisticness
Speaking of Hot Guy Love Interests, how many of those love interests are, according to the protagonist and the laws of conventional attractiveness, nothing less than perfect.
As in, they apparently all have beautiful faces, swoon-worthy muscles, and are ridiculously tall.
For one thing, I imagine only 5% of the male population – if that – actually look like that. And yet in books, apparently almost all of them look like that.
For another thing, not everyone finds tall and/or muscular attractive, and everyone’s idea of beauty is different. This applies not only to readers, but it should apply to characters too. So why should all male love interests be the same kind of attractive?
Thirdly, how many people are actually that attracted to someone at first sight? Personally I would find it much more realistic for characters to only start finding other characters attractive once they got to know them at least a little bit.
Finally, going back to my point of “why does the love interest even have to be a guy at all?”, not everyone is straight, so it’s not realistic for every character in every book to be straight.
Lack of Believability
This is the one I see most of all, and sometimes it just makes me less invested in the romance, but sometimes it is the most annoying thing on this list.
So we’ve established that these two characters are attracted to each other. The next step is for them to spend time together and form a bond.
But often, I find that this is done quite superficially. During the time spent together, the characters find each other more and more attractive, and they may also, at some point, share their backstories with each other.
And then the next thing we know, they’re claiming to be falling in love with each other – or worse, claiming to already be in love with each other.
To me, this just seems like a very underdeveloped relationship. Any emphasis on “chemistry” has been put on physical attraction, which may be enough to decide whether or not to go on a first date with someone, but it’s not enough to decide whether to get into a relationship with them, and certainly not enough to declare your love for them.
Do they get along well? How do their personalities affect each other? What do they have in common? Do they trust each other? How much time have they spent together? These are the questions that I want answers to if I’m to believe that these characters are in love with each other, and yet all I usually get is “they are very physically attracted to each other, and they know each others’ backstories; how much more do you need to know?”
Sometimes the problem at the root of this is that I don’t know the characters well enough: either they haven’t been fully developed, or their development hasn’t fully come across in the writing.
Obviously, some of these books have a lot of action and often high stakes, so sometimes I can forgive a character for not spending as much time as they should with their love interest. But this just means that the time they do spend together ought to be spent showing us why these characters like each other so much, rather than merely telling us that they do.
One example of an underdeveloped relationship is, in my opinion, An Ember In The Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir. I can’t speak for its sequel, as I haven’t read it, but I felt like there wasn’t much bringing our two characters together; I didn’t feel like they had much of a spark, never mind a deep enough connection.
But we are supposed to be celebrating love today, so let’s talk about some good romantic subplots too! I thought that Heartless by Marissa Meyer had a well-developed love interest who stood out and was charming to the reader as well as the protagonist, and their chemistry really had me rooting for their relationship to work out. I wrote a full review of Heartless here.
I’d also like to give an honourable mention to Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. Although it doesn’t have a romantic subplot involving the protagonist, it’s still a fantastic example of a well-developed fictional relationship. We get to see the characters spending time together and really getting to know each other, so the relationship feels genuine where many feel forced. I wrote a full review of Radio Silence here.
What annoys you about romantic subplots? Which are you favourites and least favourites?
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Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! 🙂