Insta-Lust And Sassy Comebacks (TCWT)

Insta-Lust And Sassy Comebacks (TCWT)

The Teens Can Write Too! blog chain is back for the month of January and I’m using it as an excuse to procrastinate on my essay. Absolutely nothing has changed in the last four years (except, perhaps, the subject of the essay).

“What is something you feel is generally written well in fiction? What is something you feel is generally written poorly?”

Well, because I’m a miserable so-and-so, I’m going to start with the negative aspect of the question. Though that does mean I can end the post on a positive note, so really it’s the cheerful thing to do.

I imagine that romance is going to come up quite a lot in people’s responses to this post, primarily because it’s so ubiquitous in fiction (particularly in the YA section). When you pick up a random book, the chances are that there’s going to be some element of romance in it, and it’s rare that it’s a subtle subplot, too. I find this frustrating, but that’s not exactly what I’m going to talk about.

Instead, something I think is written poorly is attraction. YA reviewers and bloggers often talk about the phenomenon of ‘insta-love’, which in my experience is usually ‘insta-lust combined with the fact that guy just saved a puppy from certain death and look isn’t he caring as well as handsome?’ A lot of people do, of course, experience attraction when they first see someone, but what fiction seems to leave out is that being attracted to someone doesn’t mean you like them, let alone love them.

And a lot of meaningless love triangles would be avoided if people realised that you can be attracted to someone without having the slightest interest in having a relationship with them. You can look at someone and think, “Wow, they’re hot,” and move on with your life. So why are our poor, overworked protagonists being forced to fight their own conscience to ‘choose’?

I dunno, man, it annoys me.

What I like is the slow build. Characters who don’t realise they’re in love with each other until one of them’s in danger. Characters who never considered the possibility that they might like the other person that way (because gender, race, class etc) and so it strikes them out of the blue. Best friends who gradually fall for each other. Flatmates whose shared lives eventually become more than that.

One of my favourite fictional relationships is the one between Alek and Deryn in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy because it is so wonderfully slow-building and it gradually develops over the course of the three books and it’s wonderful.

So please, a little less of the insta-love. It’s not believable.

That said, books often get it wrong with the gradual thing as well. Either it’s astonishingly unsubtle, so that by the time the characters get together the reader has been convinced it’s a foregone conclusion since the beginning, or it’s so amazingly subtle that their eventual realisation of feelings seems basically like delayed insta-love. Which does happen, sometimes, in life, but it just doesn’t come across as great storytelling, you know? Subtle clues are the key here.

However, something I think that’s often done well in fiction is humour. Sarcasm, sassy comebacks, and deadpan snark: it’s becoming more of a feature of YA than ever and, while that might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it’s mine and I love it. I love when serious books make me crack up, and I love sass. I just love everything about that.

Okay, so this is sometimes done poorly as well, particularly by older writers who have absolutely no interaction with real life teenagers ever, but on the whole, I’m coming across books that make me laugh more and more often. Partly this is because I actively seek them out, since they’re one of my favourite things, and partly this is because I think the sassy YA character is becoming more of a trope than ever.

Which, honestly, I think is great. Even if people disagree.

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments are a great example of this; Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon trilogy likewise has its moments; and there are non-YA books like Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series which is hilarious at times. Quotes like these make me grin and poke a friend near me to share it with them even when they have no idea of the context:

“My dad was a fairy,” said Zach. “And by that I don’t mean he dressed well and enjoyed musical theatre.”

— Ben Aaronovitch, Whispers Under Ground

“Well, speaking as a feminist, I’m glad that women can lead–uh, groups of unspeakable magical evil.”
“Yes,” Alan said gravely. “It’d be shocking if the evil magicians were sexist. For one thing, that would mean they were stupid, and having stupid enemies would be a terrible blow to my manly pride.”

― Sarah Rees Brennan, The Demon’s Covenant

“I don’t want tea,” said Clary, with muffled force. “I want to find my mother. And then I want to find out who took her in the first place, and I want to kill them.”
“Unfortunately,” said Hodge, “we’re all out of bitter revenge at the moment, so it’s either tea or nothing.”

― Cassandra Clare, City of Bones

So those are my thoughts on what’s done well and what’s done poorly. I’d better get back to my essay on Cnut (and renewing my overdue library books before my fines exceed my student debt), but in the meantime, why not check out the rest of the chain?

7th and
29th – (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

14 thoughts on “Insta-Lust And Sassy Comebacks (TCWT)

  1. I agree with this so much. You’re right, there is a growing number of smart-alecky characters (which I like, if balanced out). I would love it if books actually made as question who the protagonist would end up with (or if she would end up with anyone at all). I remember, reading Divergent, I somehow skipped Four’s first meeting with Tris. When they got together later on, I gushed to my friends about how nice it was that the author didn’t make a description of handsome he was and how she was instantly attracted (the irritating tell-tale sign I’ve seen popping up way too frequently), and that I almost didn’t see the couple coming. Said friends directed me to the first meeting, and I discovered the author included a description of his dreamy blue eyes. *Sigh*

    1. Ugh… Four and Tris … sorry, it’s just one pairing that I barely shipped at first and the longer it went on, the less and less I shipped it. It’s one of those fictional relationships where I honestly don’t understand why people are so into it. But! Each to their own.

      Most writers nowadays seem to think love triangles are obligatory. Which baffles me a lot.

  2. This is awesome—I think everyone is getting a little bit tired of the insta-love/lust (or, alternately, the wait for it, wait for it, INSTA-LOVST plotline) idea nowadays. Plus that doesn’t happen in real life and I think we identify a lot more with people who take things at the same pace as us. It’s not weird to want a second date after the first one. It is weird to propose marriage after the first one. But I do like that you mentioned humor, just because I’ve come across lots of humor lately too! I think that especially in darker-themed books, humor is that thing that keeps you from being completely depressed forever about the story—but it’s also the thing that endears you to it and makes you bond with the book. I mean, I haven’t read the quotes you posted before, but I already feel a connection with them because they are FUNNY. And I think that was very observant of you to point it out. :)

    1. Humour can be so refreshing amidst all the dark plotlines, but I also think it’s a fairly realistic teenage reaction to things: to make sarcastic remarks, usually to cover up your real feelings. I know I do it, though usually with less skill than fictional characters. It’s something you find quite a bit in fan fic and I think it’s because the authors aren’t taking themselves so seriously – the humour sneaks in because they’re writing for fun. Some of the funniest books I’ve read were written purely for the writer’s entertainment with no thought of publishing.

  3. I absolutely agree about sarcasm and humor – there’s been an increasing amount in modern books and I think that’s great!

    Actually, I’ve seen a few “love triangles” that aren’t really a case of one person choosing between two. It’s more one person thinks another person is kind of attractive and their lover becomes insanely jealous.

    1. That’s true, and I think it links to the all-too-common trope of the controlling partner and this idea of belonging to someone which is frankly very unhealthy… :/

  4. Sassy comebacks are the main reason of my love for the TMI series…ah, it just works so well. Why can’t I give sassy comebacks and pull it off without sounding like a freak in real life? Ah.
    Insta-lust is going to do us all in. Gosh, people fall for each other too fast (and how? It’s like the book is a movie and all the build-up happens off set!).

  5. Fantastic post; I really enjoyed it.
    Literature, fiction, whatever you’d like to call it, sells when it’s a version of reality that the reader would prefer. Do you think the insta-love phenomenon is in books that sell well because readers would like to have it happen in real life? (Of course, pure realism is bloody hard to write, so perhaps it IS just sloppy writing.)

    1. Perhaps, but I’ve actually never heard somebody say that they particularly enjoy it, so I think it is fairly lazy writing! It’s become a convention to the point where nobody questions it and yet every writer and book blogger I know complains about it, ha ha. Maybe I know atypical people, but I think it’s not hugely popular, and it sends unhealthy messages to those who don’t have a beautiful partner fall into their lap at the earliest opportunity – it doesn’t allow for a wider definition of romance and relationships. Sigh. It’s a mystery to me.

  6. “What fiction seems to leave out is that being attracted to someone doesn’t mean you like them, let alone love them.”

    Someone needs to frame this quote. I couldn’t agree more. To be honest, at least where I live, dating really isn’t really that big of a thing among teens. Most relationships are just about mutual attraction, not so much because of ~love.~ That’s definitely not true for everyone–in fact, I’m sure most high school relationships are still more about romance than sex or attraction–but it seems weird that we only ever see the very romantic relationships in YA. Not every teenager wants that kind of relationship, and not every teenager *has* that kind of relationship.

    1. Indeed. And the reverse of it — that you can be in love with someone you’re not attracted to, which is sometimes the case for ace folks who aren’t aromantic. People forget that the two are separate.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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