Thursday, 2 September 2010

Love Bites: when romance makes me want to howl

Contemporary romance is my kind of charge.  Sarah Dessen was my gateway drug a few years back and now my need for good stuff grows strong.  I've moved into some more heavy stuff - Jennifer Echols, for instance - but my core needs stay the same....good writing.

But you see....I don't feel like I am seeing much of that of late.  Or I did feel that before I read Anna and the French Kiss (debut author Stephanie Perkins) and fell over with just how good it was.  I've become very used to inferior product and that gets me down, very down, rock bottom down.

What is getting me down, down, down? -

  • Characters - Talking about how in love you are doesn't excuse the fact that we don't know WHY you are in love.  One of the basic rules of writing is SHOW don't TELL.  And why is it when the writing is poor there seems to be more love declarations and less character development?  Coincidence?  I think not. 
  • Also, being gorgeous doesn't mean he's the love of your life/has a sparkling personality.   Saying "I love you" all the time doesn't make him automatically interesting.  If looks and love declarations were the end all and be all, I would find soapie actors much more desirable.
  • Love shouldn't always be revealed by a dangerous event.  You can just love someone by learning about them, talking with them.  You don't need to be bitten by a rabid dog or threatened by the convenient psycho girl at school to realise you have feelings for the guy (or girl).  If you love them because they saved you...make sure they have a personality.  ** Remember...hot doesn't equate to the ability to hold a conversation or you know, be interesting.
  • Love is with your heart, not your loins.  The two can coincide but not always.  The dude (or dudette) might get your motor running but that doesn't equal a love connection, alternatively being in love doesn't mean you can't spin each other's wheels.  Love doesn't equal purity, you can wear the white dress no matter what.  And why is the need for the white dress an issue anyway....you're still in high school!
  • Why do poorly constructed love triangles destroy their protagonist in order to have two hot side orders?  Seriously, you can't decide?  Really? (Oh wait, you're a character in a series...of course you can't decide, we have many more titles of dithering to suffer through.)
The last point really bugs me, specifically in poorly written titles, so I am going to go into more detail so my twitter rants will lessen (sorry followers). The simple truth of the matter is that most of the time I lose respect for the protagonist who ping pongs between suitors.  Not because I am jealous and wish I were in that position, exactly the opposite.  My big frustration is that often the author explains the lack of a choice away with indecision.

How can you be undecided?  Ultimately these girls (or guys) aren't and in the well written triangles even when there are tough decisions to be made, they already know the answer (eg Rose/Dmitri/Adrian or Katniss/Peeta/Gale). I always seem to be on the losing side as I often prefer the 'doucheboat' (douchebag +  dreamboat) over the likely choice.  Now in most cases I can give the protag the benefit of the doubt.  Lust versus like.  Old friend versus new enigma.  Mythical being versus paranormal being.  Whatever your triangle of choice.  I just don't buy the characters who are so deluded they don't know who they are leaning towards at least.  Teen girls can be oblivious but they also analyse things to death, specifically their love lives.  Obliviousness to their own feelings and others doesn't play.

But I take issue when the protagonist is so bland that the readers can easily place themselves into the storyline and/or the author wants to make the triangle hot even if it makes their main character horrid.  I recently read a fantastic book that had me ... with the exception to the love triangle.  The girl was undecided between love and duty...which I can understand but was alternating very hot scenes between both of them.  Not once but on multiple occasions.  Now I am not being harsh on my gender, I think a dude doing this is all kinds of ick too.  My problem was - she has feelings for both.  Fine.  Does that mean it is okay to be kissing, petting and other stuff with both?  No.  Am I being a prude?  No.  I have no problems with teens in YA being intimate but I do have a problem with a protagonist treating each boy so callously when they both have feelings for her.   It reflects poorly on her character, on her being, on her integrity and this wasn't a protagonist that I liked, empathised or even engaged with in the end.  I wrote her off as it was callous, not matter how oblvious the author tried to make her in the attempt to make her look innocent in her dealings with the boys.  It destroyed my enjoyment of the book and the otherwise great writing.

I object to a love triangle being the central conflict in a story.  Especially when the characters are all vanilla.  In settings where love declarations abound and ponies prance in forests of sugar plum fairies.  The protagonist always knows who she likes more.  I just wish there were more stories about the protagonist choosing and the other person sticking around.  Too often they are shuffled off so as not to be in the couple's periphery.  I loathe when that happens.  It isn't realistic.  The girl (or guy) should choose and live with the consequences - good, hot and bad.

What I loathe even more?  When the protagonist doesn't have to choose because the author creates some plot twist that renders the protagonist passive. Why create that conflict to begin with then?

You know the passive solutions I am talking about - when the third wheel:
  • dies
  • moves away 
  • (and the worst)has  a new significant other immediately who they instantly fall in love with which a) makes them look flighty and b) that their interest in the protagonist wasn't real to begin with making the protagonist's (not)choice the right one.  *shivers*

What do you think?  What is your YA romance deal breaker?


**I've mentioned The Hunger Games here but I would love it if you don't comment on Mockingjay. I have not yet read it and would prefer not to be spoiled as I have so far managed to avoid it other than hearing who Katniss picked - nothing else. Thanks xx A

32 comments:

Trish said...

I think contemporary YA is held to a higher, more heavily scrutinized standard, than paranormal--both by editors and readers alike. I have a friend whose romantic lead has been considered "too good to be true" by some reviewers, yet paranormal is rife with perfect love interests who get a free pass because they have fangs, fur, or the ability to fly.

On one hand, perhaps its a bit of a compliment to contemporary writers. We expect more from you and we're delighted that you deliver. But on the other... never mind. I think I'll just leave it at "we're delighted that you deliver". I guess as both a writer and avid reader of contemporary YA, I'm ready for more.

Adele said...

Many of the flaws I was venting about are the ones that are running rife in paranormal themed books. I think that's why I responded so well to Perkins' debut as it was plain contemp with a progression that was realistic, characters that were consistent to previous behaviours and more importantly, felt real.

You're right, Trish. We hold contemp to a higher standard and that's not fair.

Amy said...

I like love triangles, but the kind you just described bothers me. I think for example, in THG the love triangle has a lot to do with showing us who Katniss is and so that one works for me. But the sake of drama, or endlessly drawing out the romantic tension--I don't. I can't think of an example of one that really bothered me in books, but on TV I wearied quickly of the Kate/Jack/Sawyer love triangle on LOST and it made me hate the character of Kate.

Megan Hoover-Swicegood said...

The love triangle thing is such a button pusher for me, when done really well - it's fantastic, but when it's done poorly (and usually it is) it ruins the entire book for me. I hate the indecision thing too! Oh my God - even when you have feelings for more than one person in real life you always know who you're leaning towards and why. The bland protagonist with no real conviction in her choice drives me so crazy.

Such a great post!

Brenny said...

Amen. That is seriously all I have to say.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I am getting so bored with love triangles. It is like every single book I read lately has one. BLAH. Boring.

Also, I recently read that Halo book right, and was driven nuts by how boring the romance was. He's hot. They fall in love. They do nothing but make out and talk about how perfect the other is. *yawn*


I totally agree with how paranormal really should be held to the same standard as contemporary. It's half the reason I am so critical in my paranormal YA reviews, because the relationship is terrible, or the love interest is a major creeper.

Caroline said...

Amazing post Adele!
I do agree with you that most romance in YA seems to lean on the boring and over done side.
I get actually more bored by the fact that all characters are handsome/pretty. It appears that being beautiful is a valid and sufficient reason to fall in love with them, no matter what the personality is inside. I have read quite a few paranormal romance books where this is the only thing that explains why they fall in love, which is ridiculous and not very believable.
It's an interesting point you've made about love triangles, and the fact that the third wheel gets suddenly (and conveniently) thrown out of the way. I hate the girl characters who happen to have two love interests (a blond and a dark-haired guy *of course*) in the same week and can't make up their minds...
I'm also getting bored of the soul-mates across centuries plot line... It takes away the actual choice, doesn't it?

Angiegirl said...

I think we should just raise a glass right here right now for the doucheboat. Love 'em.

And that third passive solution is an absolute deal breaker for me. I hates it, Adele!

Carla said...

When the love triangle is done good, its just so ridiculously GOOD that it kind of makes my heart speed up. When its done bad, i kind of want to whack the author over their head with their OWN book (preferrably a hardcover) and ask them what they were thinking. And like you said, it's not because I get jealous of the protag having 2 hot boys after her (because they are always both really hot) its because the girl gets so underestimated in the euthors opinion.

Teenagers are not stupid, they may struggle with trig, they may wish they had bigger boobs, BUT you always always know which guy you like the most. Even if its just a smidge, and when they are passive it really fracks me off.

Amen, and YES you doucheboat away my fellow douche, for I am in the same boat as you.

melissa @ 1lbr said...

Excellent, excellent points. I am with you on all of them. I think I need to go find me some nice contemporary romance. I've definitely maxed out on paranormal.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

YES! You mention so many of my romance pet peeves. I want to fall in love with the characters and I want to know WHY they love each other and I want to be with them as their relationship develops. No more of this, you're hot, one date, I'm in lust..I mean love, we're soulmates crap. I think this happens in contemps more-they actually show a relationship where in paranormal it's perfectly acceptable and normal even to fall for the bad boy who's hot-so annoying!!

I also hate love triangles especially where there's no reason the two love interests should be interested in the main character. I think Hunger Games does it well because she has the old friend and the new friend and I think deep down Katniss knows her choice. Also I don't mind it because it's not the main plot driving the whole book-it's a side story and it's much more about Katniss than Gale and Peeta fighting over her.

StoryLove said...

I agree with every one of your points. If you're looking for a book that is adorable and romantic, but is still realistic and packed with substance, read Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler. You might be skeptical when you look at the cover (trust me, I was), but it's really a charming read that's definitely worthwhile.

flagline18 said...

Excellent points. I love the Rose/Dimitri/Adrian love triangle, just because Rose is such a strong female character (and the guys are totally hot). But Rose admits she makes mistakes. She knows what she's doing when she is intimate with both. And I like that. Plus, the paranormal element is done well. I think that may be my favorite series. It's definetly my favorite vampire series. But it's not only a vampire series.

cat said...

I hate love triangles. I think they mess up a perfectly good story if the story isn't ABOUT the love triangle. Your first point about the difference between HOW in love you and and WHY you are in love is a big one for me. I am so tired of shallow, flat "I love you" stories. As I call them - lustmances, not romances.

Love is so much deeper than just saying I love you or thinking the other person is hot. If I don't see the connection between the characters it means nothing to me.

william said...

i've always thought the twilight love triangle seemed forced. like she thought of it afterward. not that i'm busting her chops but i just don't get it.

Donna said...

I tend to avoid romance altogether since it's not my bag to begin with but when I do pick someone up that has a romantic plot line, I like it realistic. I like torn feelings (and not between multiple people), indecision (not between multiple people), self doubt and so on. I like to read real emotions in romance. Not, OMG stalker boy is sooooo hot! No.

shabbygeek said...

I would say I LOVED this post, except I'm stuck between loving this post and another post. And except I'm not sure which one I should love more.

I think I'll just make out with both of them.

Melissa said...

I'm okay with love triangles on the condition that there is an actual reason for there to be a love triangle. And for the MC to be in love with -- or at least undecided about -- more than one person. But the waffling and the passiveness are often used as indecision, and that grates.

(I am liking the love triangle -- such as it is -- in the Demon series by Sarah Rees Brennan, but I think it's because she shows rather than tells us about the conflicts between the characters.)

Nomes said...

great discussion. Love it. And I really cant wait for Anna and the French Kiss.

and hope you get to read Mockingjay soon!

Khy said...

Amen, sista!

What I really hate, though, is when readers try to create a love triangle with this "Team" stuff. Like, I just finished Clockwork Angel and I honestly don't understand the whole Team Jem vs Team Will thing. Romance is not a large part of the plot. It is rather small. Jem is not eve in the book THAT much.

I felt the same way with The Hunger Games-- I never felt that the romance was particularly important to the story. I barely even noticed it, to be honest.

I don't mind Teams when there's actually a good love triangle, but otherwise, blaaah!

Jordyn said...

I haven't read a ton of love triangles (maybe because I don't read paranormal?) and the ones I have read have all been really well done. What really bothers me in YA romance are the relationships -- as Adele stated -- that are based on NOTHING more than pretty looks. There are tons of pretty people in the world, but I don't know many people (and didn't as a teenager either) that would base a relationship purely on looks. That never works. I do want romance with more substance to it... as much as I know that most romances when we're in our teens (especially early teens) are short-lived, by the end of the book I do want the feeling that even if these characters might not be together forever, they're both made a significant impact on the other's life and aren't just cardboard cutouts labeled "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." I like things to have a lasting impression/impact.

alybee said...

Adele - You made some wonderful points in this post. I tend to avoid Contemp YA because I tend to not like the "drama" - I tried to avoid it when I was in high school and I just simply don't want to read about it now. (And as for paranormal YA...okay I admit - guilty pleasure but I still prefer when the romance is done well). But after reading several of your posts I feel I need to give Sarah Dessen or Jennifer Echols a chance and now give Stephanie Perkins a read.

Chachic said...

Here, here! I love this post because it reflects my frustrations in some of the YA books that I read. This is probably why I'm not a huge fan of YA paranormal (I like adult paranormal/urban fantasy better). I don't like love triangles either!

By the way, I love your new layout. I think it makes the text easier to read.

Emilyandherlittlepinknotes said...

Amen, those poorly written romances frustrate me in every genre, the issue is spread all over ya, chick lit, fantasy, urban fantasy (let's not talk about romance).
My romance deal breaker is lack of soul, as a reader I can feel when everything sounds a little bit too fake. I am also not fond of triangles mainly because I don't get them in real life either.

danya said...

Thanks for this post, it totally speaks to the problems that crop up in some YA romances! Totally agree that the author should show us why these two people should be together - it can be so irritating when we're told there's an 'instantaneous connection' (or some other device) that immediately "bonds" the two characters, but apart from that the chemistry just doesn't seem to be there.

Also, I too find it annoying when it's fairly obvious to the reader who the protagonist likes but they themselves don't seem to have a clue. (Though this may be an extension of my more general dislike of protagonists who are extremely lacking in self-awareness!)

Princess Allie said...

Avoid House of Night series by Cast. That's all I'm gonna say

Tina said...

Great post, Adele! I realized that I haven't been reading much YA romance either, especially paranormal romance because I feel like everything has been done. I like my share of tingles or romantic moments, but I can only read so much of a guy/girl falling in love with a vampire/werewolf/angel/fairy/insert-creature-here.

As for contemporary YA romance, right now I think I'd only read them if it was highly recommended. I never liked books where the characters fall in love immediately and don't even bother to get to know each other and yet they're "soulmates". Real love is a decision, it takes work! This is why I love The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen so much, because the build up for Macy and Wes felt real. That's what I want to read -- make it realistic, please!

Lynn M said...

I think my problem with love triangles is it reeks of Mary Sue-ism. What teen girl (adult woman) wouldn't love to have two hot guys (cough-Taylor Lautner/R Patz - cough) madly in love with her? Most teen girls (adult woman) would love to have one hot guy in love with her, so two that are fighting for her affections is the ultimate. So all of these contemporaries with two hot guys in love with the girl seems like the writer trying to live out a fantasy situation.

And I have yet to read a protagonist who was so fabulous that I could believe two guys being in love with her. It's always a stretch to suspend my disbelief.

Michelle said...

One of my biggest pet peeves is when two characters "love" each other but I have no idea why. There needs to be a natural progression that showcases how this happened. Why did they connect? How?

I actually found a really great vlog on this topic by Lisa Schroeder during the writeoncon writer's conference (which was awesome.) I think Lisa makes a bunch of great points. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMfQXT18gkM

Melissa Walker said...

Why am I just reading this post now? I need it! I'm going to come back to it again and again as I keep writing. I think it's hard, because in love, there IS often a pull-toward and a pull-away from the guy. It's not always because of another guy (it can be because of parents, moving away, different goals, etc), but the other guy makes for more conflict and easier plotting... plus, two guys can be fun.

I hear you, though, completely, and will dance around to avoid this pitfall!

Alison said...

One of the best wrong guy/right guy triangles that I've ever read is Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (sadly out of print.) Do try to find a copy if you can. The right guy is so sweet - and the wrong guy is so hot...

brookeellaa said...

Love triangles can sometimes be intriguing for a novel but yeah the things you mentioned Adele are annoying.

My main pet peeve is when the girl in thr triangle claims to deeply love both guys and never chooses one and sticks with him...