Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers! I hope your weekend and Monday were good, because today I have something to confess.
Here goes. There is a love story in THE NAME OF THE BLADE TRILOGY. There is a love story in THE NIGHT ITSELF.
So far, so not-very-surprising. What kind of a confession is this, you ask yourselves?
Patience, my muffins; there is more. For the romance I depict in this trilogy is a kind which is often disrespected and dismissed. This love is a love that few will approve. Many find its very existence shameful. Even the kindest, most open-minded of you, especially the ones who like to review books and are therefore immersed in popular reviewing language, are going to take ONE LOOK at this love story and - in your shock and disgust - put a certain label on it.
You will call it insta-love.
Quelle Surprise! Quelle Horreur!
Guess what else? I did it on purpose.
While you're still reeling from that one, here's another confession. I'm known (where I'm known at all) for my loathing
of the term Mary-Sue. It is a term which is infinitely worthy of my loathing for many fine reasons. But over the last couple of years I have grown to hate the term 'insta-love' even more.
Accusations of insta-love are the last thing any author wants. It makes you cringe instinctively. The very term is dismissive and insulting. To have a relationship in a book labelled as insta-love implies all kind of nasty cr*p - not just about the quality of your book but also you, as a writer. It implies that you're using cheap and dirty tricks, that you have resorted to stereotypes, that your characters are ciphers with no real connection to each other. If you've written insta-love you're either a talentless hack who only put a romance in there to pander to commercial demand, or a talentless hack who can't write a 'proper' love story.
Bad author. No cookie. No cookie for you or your cr*ppy insta-love book.
And you know what? I really effing hate that. Maybe I'm just a cranky, contrary madam, but the moment that people start coming out in droves to condemn anything - any literary device that resides in my toolbox as a writer, any narrative choice that a storyteller ought to have the right to select if they feel it works for their story - and saying how terrible, awful, no good and downright WRONG it is? That is the moment that I fling up my skirts, click my heels together and gleefully cackle:
THAT IS WHAT I AM GOING TO WRITE NEXT AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME OH NO YOU CAN'T MWHAHAHHAA IN YOUR FACE!
Established wisdom condemns lengthy descriptions? I'll describe the *ss off this book. No epilogues, says the writing forum guru? Have one and a prologue too! Dream sequences are bad juju! Guess I'll make them a main feature of my story, thanks very much! If you tell me I can't have that writer's tool it 'cos it's naughty and unfashionable and bad for me and my book? Even if I never had any desire to use it before, I will literally come up with a story idea specifically to allow me to write that very thing. All the tools in my writer's toolbox are mine to select or reject and if you attempt to smack my hand when I reach for one of them I will BITE YOUR FINGERS OFF.
Ahem. Well, I admitted to cranky, and contrary, right? What did you expect?
I've talked about insta-love on this blog before, with the very able co-conspirator R.J. Anderson. However, the main focus of that piece was the way that many instances of unconventional or slow-burning love were being *mis-labelled* insta-love because readers weren't picking up on the subtle cues throughout the earlier parts of the book that Ze Romance, She Is In Ze Air!
My point today - and really, in the way I developed the relationships in THE NAME OF THE BLADE (yes, 's' - brownie points for noticing! I'm not just talking about one) - is that insta-love isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I mean, the term iself certainly is, what with the aforementioned sneering dismissiveness and all that. In fact, I'd like to take the phrase insta-love by the hand, gently lead it out the back door, and kindly - even tenderly - blow it to smithereens with a sawn-off shotgun. Which is to say that, personally, I prefer to use: love at first sight.
See how, straight away, that makes such a huge difference? The words 'love at first sight' simply describe the literary device in question without implying a value judgement.
This is the thing. You and I and everyone else has the right to feel whatever way we like about whatever tropes we like or don't. We all have the bullet-proof kinks and, on the other hand, the hot-button tropes that make us want to chuck a book straight across the room the moment they rear their heads.
However, in critiquing books which contain these hot-button
tropes I have to bear in mind that if my dislike of the entire book boils down to 'The writer chose THIS TROPE, this PARTICULAR TROPE which I DON'T LIKE, why, why, OH GOD I HATE THE TROPE SO MUCH', then I'm not actually judging the book based on how good it was, how well it executed the goals it set out to achieve. I'm only judging it based on how well it specifically met my specific needs, and I'm treating any way in which it did not do so as a failure.
Its kind of like going me going into a Chinese restaurant, picking up the menu, and crying, 'Why is there rice on this menu? And noodles? I don't like rice and noodles! Where is the pizza? I wanted pepperoni or maybe a stuffed crust!' After realising no garlic bread is forthcoming, I grudgingly eat some noodles and rice, muttering and grumbling, and finally storm out convinced that this is a terrible restaurant because they have nothing edible on their menu, and what is wrong with THEM with their disgusting unnatural RICE and NOODLES, ughgh!
It's possible the food the restaurant offered me was great quality and delicious. It's also possible that it was awful. But because I have an indelible enmity against rice and noodles, I am completely incapable of judging the quality of any rice and nooldes, let alone the rice and noodles I ate there. When I complain that I didn't like them, it is not a value judgement of how good those specific noodles and rice were, it is a rejection of all rice and noodles, ever, everywhere. And it assumes that every other right thinking person has the same deep-seated - possibly pathological - hatred of noodles and rice that plague me.
(Psst, I really love rice and noodles, please don't take them from me Food Gods! Also pizza. Don't take that either!)
This is what the term 'insta-love' does. It assumes that this development - love at first sight - is a bad thing regardless of the context or the characters involved. It assumes that regardless of how well it's done, love at first sight is a lapse in the author's skill and judgement, or a lapse in their integrity. It assumes that the last thing any author would ever deliberately do was set out to write a romance which others would recognise as love at first sight - regardless of whether the author did in fact set out to write love at first sight because they happen to like that trope or simply wanted to explore its implications.
How on earth did this literary device - formerly a perfectly respectable if somewhat challenging storytelling choice, used by such luminaries as Shakespeare, Homer, Chaucer and Hugo - become the
ugly red-headed stepchild of YA in general and paranormal romances or
urban fantasies in particular? How did 'love at first sight', a neutral descriptive term, become 'insta-love' with all its implications of 'just add water!'?
The general idea is that love at first sight has been horribly overused in YA fiction, so we're all sick of it. But when I actually came to examine my reads over the last few years, even if I *just* think about the paranormal romance, I really can't think of all that many 'imprinting' type romances. I can think of a bunch with passive heroines who let jerky heroes walk all over them, sure - and that's problematic. But it's not the same thing. And I can think of a lot of books that had reviews *saying* they were insta-love and scorning them appropriately, but often when I read them I found myself thinking (as mentioned in the blog with R.J. Anderson) "Huh. Clearly we have different definitions of what 'insta-love' means, because for me this reads as a classic enemies-to-lovers/slow-burn/friends-to-lovers/fill-the-blank-here type romance."
I don't read All The Books. So it's entirely possibly I'm wrong here. Maybe there ARE scads of books where the hero and heroine fall in love at first sight and instantly declare their feelings and spend the whole book in unwavering devotion to each other without ever finding out anymore about each other than mutual hotness. But just because those authors did a bad job of using love at first sight, does that mean love at first sight itself should be forever exiled to a desert island to fight for its life against feral adverbs and raging advectives? Seems a tad unfair.
So then maybe the problem isn't over-USE of this device, but over-popularity and exposure. Maybe it's all Twilight's fault! Only... no. I'm not going to blame Twilight. You may gasp - but the story of Bella and Edward isn't a story of love at first sight in any way that seems reasonable to define it.
Yes, there's a chapter called 'First Sight' in the first book. But Bella's first sight of Edward only tells her that he's whoa-hawt-hubba-hubba-touseled-bronze-hair-mmmm-gimme-some. Her next sight of him (which is when he's, you know, trying awfully hard not to snap her neck and eat her in the biology lab) confuses, frightens and insults her.
In fact the romance between these two is a fairly clear-cut slow-burning type, progressing through initial hostility and misunderstandings to eventual blissful acceptance. I think people call it insta-love because Smeyer, bless her heart, cocks the execution of this up rather badly and so Edward comes off, alternately, as a threatening psycho, and a smug, arrogant jerk, and Bella appears as a relentlessly negative null-character, which makes their mutual attachment seem completely inexplicable. Yes: it's less than brilliant writing. No: it's not love at first sight.
And most people ALSO agree that the baby vampire-teenage werewolf imprinting romance is gross and doesn't count as love either, so that can't be the source, surely?
I'm just going to throw my hands up here and say Heck If I Know. But what I do know is that love at first sight is getting maligned left right and centre. Even when you write a completely different kind of romance people will often signal their disapproval of it by calling it insta-love, because that's just about the nastiest thing anyone can think of to say about any kind of fictional relationship (borderline abusive stalking? A-OK. Insta-love? NO WAY).
So I wanted to try to take 'insta-love' and strip some of those unfair implications away. I wanted to show that the device of love at first sight itself is neutral, neither good nor evil, although it can of course be used for either.
It will be up to readers to say if I've succeeded or failed; whether they personally can learn to love this trope, or at least the way I've chosen to relate it. But whenever I see insta-love used as a pejorative, I shall mentally replace the phrase with 'love at first sight' and feel much better about it.
Because that's what I set out to write. On purpose. And there's nothing wrong with it.