Understanding Insta-Love: Tips and Tricks

It’s a dreaded aspect for many readers of many YA novels , I’m sure.  Some like it,  some are indifferent – and a heckuva lot of people hate it.  Insta-love has been around long before the term “Young Adult fiction” ever came to be, from doomed Arthurian romances like Guinevere and Lancelot; to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; to the Wagner opera, Tristan and Isolde (although a love potion was a decided catalyst here).

I can’t say I’m someone who likes reading about insta-love. I don’t doubt that insta-love does exist, but the term I would much rather use (and, I think, explains this phenomenon better) is insta-attraction, or even insta-lust, which I do like reading about. I have known people who have fallen in love at first sight and make a successful relationship of it – but I’ve also seen people crash and burn because they didn’t know how to make it work past the physical attraction. But my problem with insta-love is not so much the fact that it’s used at all, but rather that it is used far too often as a shortcut to tell readers that a couple is in love, rather than as a segue to further character development.

Now, most authors tend to argue in favor of insta-love for a lot of good reasons, so allow me to play the devil’s advocate for this article.

The best five minute love story I know.

This is an attempt to analyze insta-love down to its bare basics, particularly on why people might dislike it, and what else might be needed to build it into a more believable romance – and WHY we as authors need to make that additional effort to.

How Insta-Love Can Fail

1. Let’s frame this in a perspective more people might understand: you’ve just met this amazing person. And s/he’s gorgeous. Physically, s/he’s exactly your type, and you already know you’ll make beautiful babies together.  Knowing only this about them, do you:

– give up your family / close friends if they ask you to?

– take a bullet / knife / anything that may potentially result in your painful death for them?

– risk your career / job / schooling for them?

The problem with characters who say “yes” to all or most of the above, is that this shows symptoms of what could lead to a very unhealthy relationship / obsession, and most readers realize this. Is this really the type of character you want to read more about? Even more alarming – if you’re rooting for a character to do exactly this because you yourself think the love interest is hot, then what might this say about you?

Insta-attraction is more easily understood. And there’s a big difference between thinking about the person all the time, and doing things like jumping off buildings for each other or covering up each other’s murders, or something. For love.

And all because s/he’s hot.

(A note: while a lot of authors who write about insta-love do not immediately put their characters in these kinds of situations, it’s reasonable enough to argue that enough writers do this to make this an issue.)

2. One can argue that writing about teens means that teenagers should be written like teenagers, in that they can at times be naive and idiotic when it comes to making certain life decisions. But protagonists are, by default, special – not because their writer-creators say they are, but because they should be by default. Because that suggests there is something about these teenagers that makes them rise beyond the stereotype – there has to be something there that makes them worth reading about.

Let’s face it – we have known friends or teenagers who have acted this way. I, for one, was that friend who constantly groaned and rolled her eyes whenever one of my friends started waxing about that cute guy she just met in History class like it was going to be the greatest romance I was ever going to hear, and I’m  can you just shut up already so we can eat at Burger King cause I need something in my stomach besides all this swill? (I’m not always a considerate friend.)  A lot of times, people who think insta-love is the best thing ever are often  the ones in the throes of it, who have experienced or are experiencing it for themselves.  Most readers are going to be people like me, rolling their eyes at them and groaning because they would much rather eat a Whopper.

I love my friend, but I definitely do not want to read a book about a character like her when she is in this phase. (Her irl romance fizzled out about two weeks after they started dating.)

And this is where the bulk of the complaints about insta-love comes in. Many readers won’t understand the effects of insta-love because they’re not the ones living in that bubble of happiness and rainbows. Readers who do buy into it are usually those who also find themselves attracted to the MC/s in question.

Think about a fictional character you love absolutely. Then think about a friend of yours who’s not into that fandom. Think about their reactions when you gush about how much you love this character.

Now think about the reverse: your friend being in love with a fictional character you care nothing for, but won’t shut up about.

Yup.  It’s a lot like that.

3. Another issue with insta-love is that it happens almost all the time in a lot of YA novels, especially those with romantic elements. In real life, some insta-loves succeed, and some insta-loves fail – but when present in YA, they almost always triumph. Reading one book where insta-love happens is fine. Reading two is alright. Reading two dozen in a row no longer feels quite as believable.

One of my role models, Esme Weatherwax, head witch of Bad Ass village and current Discworld resident, defines it best:

[In stories] million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

You might not want to hear this, but you will eventually get  sick of chocolate if you eat too much of it. Likewise, if you read a succession of novels with insta-love screaming through their pages, you will  eventually get sick of it. The whole purpose of writing a book is to have it stand out, and using the same trope so many other writers have done without adding a very unique spin to it will not make it so.

But, hark! All is not lost. Here are some few suggestions that (I think) works, to ensure characters can still have their “insta-attraction”, and still bring some level of credibility to their romance:

1. Ensuring Believability

When it comes to writing romance, I always like to reference this formula:

Length of time knowing love interest should be directly proportional to the protagonist’s willingness to die for him/her.

Exception #1: If the protagonists are heroic by nature, then saving  potential love interests from a speeding car / a villain they happen to be fighting would still be keeping in character – not because they would die without him/her, but because it’s already in their character to be heroic, and would still do the same thing even if the rescuee was a pot-bellied man in a sailor outfit.

Contrary to how he looks, he’s actually a pretty nice guy. (image from asianpopaddict.com)

Exception #2: This is some sort of satire, and you’re writing this deliberately.

Exception #3: Anything involving Tom Hiddleston does not apply here. It’s worth noting though, that many people also love him for his personality, and not just from his obvious attractiveness.

Shake that personality, Tom!

2. Build character

Throw your couple in some life-threatening situations / major obstacles BEFORE having them declare their undying love for one another. (Having them cuddle up / make out beforehand is fine, though. That’s what insta-attraction is all about.) One purpose for this is to show readers that there is something about the characters that makes them worthy of each other’s love beyond just their beauty. Robert Downey, Jr. is gorgeous, but who do you really love – him, or your significant other? (I don’t know about RDJ, but he’s never tried to be an awkward human raincoat for me during a particularly bad Category 4 typhoon, the way my husband did once.)

3. There is a difference between a romance that happens immediately but genuinely, and a romance that happens in a rather superficial way. It’s up to the author to determine how to place their romances into the former category without falling into the latter, and it’s up to them to convince the readers of the realness of that romance. It takes more than just “because he’s hot” to sell the relationship, and “show, not tell” always works for me.

There’s a difference between being easily attracted early on, and then falling into a deeper and more profound love at a later date. Romances can have both, but the second is more difficult to write about than the first – but it’s always something writers should learn to do. Train yourself to avoid shortcuts.

This is one of the few things writers can’t write about based on experience. Everyone has a different perspective on how love is supposed to feel, and experiences will vary. To argue that insta-love is justified because you’ve felt it yourself or have  seen it in others will not sway readers’ minds to your side of the debate if readers can’t find a worthy quality past the character’s aesthetics.

And that’s where knowing how to portray this realistically comes in. Even people who fell violently in insta-love with each other would never have stayed together if none of them had more redeemable traits to their character.

4. I’ve done everything!

You did your homework, added in all your nuances, and readers / critics are still calling you out? No worries. Relax.

You owe it to your readers – and even more importantly, yourself – to write your book in the best way that you possibly can. Unfortunately, literature is subjective, and sometimes context can be unintentionally (and even deliberately) misunderstood. This is never going to be your fault. Do the best you can, but don’t take it to heart – it doesn’t just happen to the best or the worst of writers; it happens, and will always happen, to every one of us. And that is okay.

To summarize:

Insta-attraction = (physical attraction x 2)

(physical attraction x2) + (redeeming character traits / character-defining flaws) + time = love


Love AND character development.


Quiz! What crazily successful YA novel are you?

You’ve read them. You’ve loved them. But have you fully identified with them?

Keep track of your answers to find out what recent YA novel you are!

When you and your friends talk, bystanders…
A.  think that you must be quoting movie dialogue, since you sound so polished.
B.  compliment your Scottish accents.
C.  do not understand your references to deep Internet-nerd culture.
D.  What friends?  You kill your friends.

What are your views about names?
A.  I always use middle names with my nearest and dearest. How else would I show affection?
B.  I have several code names.
C.  Why have a whole first name when I could have half of one?
D.  Normal names should be tweaked and twisted to give them the allure of the future.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
A.  Stop using “literally” to mean “figuratively,” people! It’s literally nauseating.
B.  Disloyalty.
C.  People who like college right off the bat. It’s supposed to be a tough transition.
D.  Did someone mention pets? I would be happy to take that pet off your hands. And I’ll give you half the meat, too.

Your favorite music is…
A. Twangy, acoustic, and somewhat emo, with obscure yet profoundly meaningful lyrics.
B.  “God Save the King”
C.  Kanye West, though only when desperate times call for desperate measures (i.e., emergency dance parties).
D.  A soothing lullaby, which comes in handy when small children die nearby.

What do you think of math?
A.  Math is intriguing, in a philosophical sort of way.
B.  Math is useful and often fun.
C.  Math is to be avoided.
D.  As long as I can count from one to thirteen, I’m good.

If you were a book title, you would…
A.  Faintly reek of Shakespeare.
B.  Enigmatically juxtapose three nouns in a row.
C.  Be short and sweet.
D.  Evoke a gladiatorial past.

And now, for the results!

If you chose mostly As, you are… The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green!

If you chose mostly Bs, you are… Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein!

If you chose mostly Cs, you are… Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell!

If you chose mostly Ds, you are… The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins!

[Disclaimer: These quiz results mean nothing.]

Writing with a Partner – The Real Scoop, Straight Poop & Loop-de-loop

When people find out that my debut novel DREAM BOY is co-authored, they generally do one of two things:

#1: Share with me their great idea for a novel (usually involving a toilet that doubles as a space-time portal, a grandmother who comes back from the dead, and a treasure map)–followed by the suggestion that I abandon whatever project I’m working on currently so that I can write that book with them instead.

#2: Ask me what it’s like to write a novel with someone.

Space Toilet complements of NASA. Time travel compliments of Awesome.
Space Toilet complements of NASA. Time travel compliments of Awesome.

Let me be clear: I love the idea of potty-time travel, unlikely resurrection, and treasure. I DO want to write that book with you. Eventually. But since the purposes of this blog are not expansive enough to allow me to do so here, for now I will turn my attention to #2.

And no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to talk about poop. I am referring instead to the aforementioned question numero duo:

What is it like to write a novel with someone?

Well, my answer may depend on your someone. After all, the who, not the what, is the most important part of the collaborative writing equation.

You probably know some writers. You might even know some writers you like. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to write a novel with them… or even a haiku, for that matter.

“Like” is certainly a good place to start, but it might not hold up to the stresses of collaborative writing, especially the wear and tear of a multiple-year, 300-page project.

It’s equally important that you find someone who shares your aesthetic, emanates kindness and reason, and knows how to disagree without making a fruckus.

While of course you’ll want a partner who equals your skill, it can also be a good thing if your particular strengths vary. Look for someone who (in the immortal words of Jerry McGuire) “completes you.” A strong plotter, for example, might be well paired with someone with a great ear for dialog.

But whatever talents you bring to the table, you need first and foremost to respect and be respected by the person sitting across from you.

I have been tremendously fortunate in my collaboration with Madelyn Rosenberg. Not only is she smart, funny, and easy-going about all things unimportant, she also has the special talent of disagreeing in a way that makes me (a woman my own husband has called out for my bad habit of “arguing for the sake of argument”) simply laugh and shrug and try again.

But perhaps, after all my rambling, Madelyn describes the process best in this video she made about overcoming some of the obstacles we faced as we wrote DREAM BOY together:

Have you ever considered writing with a partner? How did it turn out? Let us know in the comments below!


MaryCrockett LookawayMary Crockett is a fan of the tongue-stud and coauthor with Madelyn Rosenberg of the upcoming novel DREAM BOY–a book which, like Sally Field, really wants you to like it. You can make the book happy by adding it to your Goodreads bookshelf or pre-ordering at IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Connect with Mary on Twitter @MaryLovesBooks and Madelyn @MadRosenberg.

Writing with Emotional Inspiration by Monica Ropal

For me, the writing (and reading) experience has to be an emotional one. I want a story to push me, pull me and change me emotionally in some way. Writing from an emotional place is something we all have to do as writers and we use everything we have in our bag of tricks to achieve that authenticity of the moment. It may be that you have experienced first-hand the emotion that your character is feeling, or that you have emotional truths (similar feeling, but different circumstance) to draw on. But often we have to artificially recreate that emotion. Not just, I think, ponder it through or research it, but actually empathetically feel what they are feeling.

Many writers I know write to music–creating playlists for their characters or for their project as a whole. I do that too! But I often like to go farther than that. Add another sensory angle. For that we go to YouTube.

YouTube is a treasure trove (and wasteland) but for the purpose of opening you up to emotion, it has what you need–it has a way for you to use that same music in a deeper emotional experience just before settling into write.

Often, if I find a song I really like, that speaks to me emotionally. (Most of the time the feeling I’m chasing is angst. ANGST. I love angst. And angst is the perfect example because to me angst is the emotional embodiment of conflict. Angst is what brings young loves apart and makes it that much sweeter when they are together.) Where was I? Oh, yeah. I head to YouTube and search for an acoustic version. Because stripped down is where you will always get to the emotional core of that song. If the singer is also the songwriter, this can get you closer to the raw emotion. Even if, with this example, you close your eyes, a live acoustic experience is WAY better than the version you have on your iPod.

Do you have your good head phones on?  Good.

Examples: Ed Sheeran. Because . . .  Ed Sheeran. And Emeli Sande because . . . reasons.

But don’t stop there! Sometimes you need to get AWAY from the original. Check out the cover below. The singer is also an actor. Is this a thing? I don’t know, but it should be a thing because when I watch HIM sing the song, the headcanon explodes.

Fanvids: Danger Ahead. If you are still with me then let’s carry on. Shall we hold hands? Yes we should.

I think that we know each other well enough to let you know about my unabashed love for fanvids. You take 1. Amazing song that creates a story and emotion you are going for and 2. A pairing of a movie or show 3. All the delicious clips and BAM! you are INSIDE that story. Or it’s INSIDE of you.

(Sorry. More ANGST ahead.)

Let’s do Veronica/Logan and Ron/Hermione.

Lastly, I have discovered that music inspired DANCE can move me to feel a deeper level of the song. Come on now, you’ve come this far, let’s just try this. This one isn’t even angsty, it’s just all kinds of sweetness. Which is how I like to end things.

All right! Now off you go! Take all of those lovely feelings and give them to YOUR characters. Go on! Write it out!

Monica Ropal


How do YOU get into the emotional of your story?

Our Lucky 13 Picks for St. Patrick’s Day!

Since March is all about pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and leprechauns–a.k.a. luck!–we thought it would be fitting to highlight our favorite Lucky 13 books this St. Patrick’s Day.

(And in case you don’t know, the Lucky 13s (the “Luckies”) are the debut group of authors from 2013, like OneFour KidLit this year.)

AdriAnne’s Lucky Pick:

The S-Word

THE S-WORD (Simon & Schuster/Gallery) by Chelsea Pitcher blew me away this past year. It’s a fresh, dark take on YA mystery, has crazy twists and turns, and fearlessly addresses issues like suicide, rape, and double-standards in a modern high-school setting. It also has one of the most unique love-interests of all time. Pick up a copy and meet Jessie, then you’ll see what I mean!

Sarah’s Lucky Pick: 

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Between, #1)

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by April Genevieve Tucholke was one of a few Lucky 13’s books that rocked my writing world. April’s writing is lush and flows like fog creeping in from the sea. The story sneaks up on you and pulls you in, and it’s dark and creepy and Gothic and all the things that make me hug a book to my chest. She also has one of the best naughty boys in YA in ages. Definitely one not to miss.

Trisha’s Lucky Pick:

Dear Life, You Suck

Scott Blagden’s DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK, simply because he is as funny in real life as his MC is. That and it is male POV which I think the YA world needs more of :).

Rin’s Lucky Pick:

The Archived (The Archived, #1)

Victoria Schwab’s THE ARCHIVED: The idea of libraries as a dark and dangerous place has always been a strangely compelling idea for me, and The Archived hammers this home, using evocative imagery and an astonishing attention to detail – and let’s not forget the beautifully poetic writing. If the idea of dead people being stored on library shelves the way one would books appeals to you, or if you’re fascinated with beautifully plotted mysteries-within-mysteries like I am, then do not give this a miss!

Christina’s Lucky Pick:

Gated (Gated, #1)

Wow. This is a tough one. There are so many Lucky 13 books that I completely fell in love with. If I were to pick one, I’d pick Amy Christine Parker’s GATED. Parker does such a brilliant job in getting into the psyche of a teenage girl who would be a part of a cult. It’s beautifully written and completely addictive. You won’t want to put it down once you stop.

Mary’s Lucky Pick:

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets

DR. BIRD’S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS by Evan Roskos: I loved the voice in this funny-sad-serious-goofy meditation on what it means to be a young person alive in the messed-up world. Definitely something worth yawping about!

What were your favorite Lucky 13 reads? Please share in the comments!

Notes and Tips on Book Conferences and Signings

My brain is a little fried from being at the Public Library Association (PLA) 2014 Conference, so I think you’ll be hearing mostly about that! Convenience aside, I think it might be useful for those who have never been to a book-related conference before, or signed books at one, to hear a little bit about them. I’ve been to writing conferences, but this has been very different (and awesome!). And so was my signing (my very first!), which was surreal and spectacular.

So, some things people might not know about big book conferences and signings (if you’re like me, a few days prior), and some tips:

PLA Conference
It was big.

–These conferences are big, an ocean of people, and it can sometimes feel a little like you are drowning. (PLA is even smaller than some!) It’s nice just to get away, find a table, rest your feet and read one of the 10,000 ARCs you’ve picked up. Also, brings snacks for when your blood sugar inevitably hits rock bottom and HYDRATE. (I got a killer dehydration headache.)

PLA 2104 Loot
So I may have gotten a few free ARCs/books… just a few.

–You get A LOT of ARCs. And finished books. A lot. Did I mention a lot? It’s tempting to thing, “Ooh, FREE!” and snatch up anything and everything. Yet, it’s probably best, right from the start, to pick and choose not only what you want to read, but what you absolutely know you WILL read. Otherwise, your back will break from the books you’re hauling around. Also: ask before you take a book. I saw a lot of people accidentally (or not) thieving displays that weren’t up for grabs.

AdriAnne and Mallory
Mallory and me posing with a fresh-off-the-press ARC of WORDLESS!

–This may seem like a no-brainer, but wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Especially the shoes. I walked miles at this conference, no kidding. Mallory, my awesome publicist, wore Converse sneakers with her cute outfits, and she had the right idea. I wore newish leather boots, and I had the wrong idea. (Ouch, feet.)

Signing WORDLESS and not making a mess of things!

–Prepare for your signing. By which I mean: Pick out the pen you most like, because all pens write differently, and you don’t want to be stuck with one that isn’t best for you. It’s hard enough to sign without your ink bleeding or blotting. Also, practice what you’re going to sign. Before my signing, during the breaks I had between exhibit explorations and the various programs, I filled a whole sheet of paper with the little message I planned to write in my book with my signature, as if I was in grade school again—but instead of writing, “I will not talk in class,” I was writing “Words are powerful.” Good thing, otherwise I would have destroyed a few of my ARCs while discovering I tend to write “powerful” with no R. Speaking of misspelling, always ask people to spell their names for you. (“Amy” could easily be spelled “Aimee,” for example.)

–Finally, if you’re nervous about what to say to people while signing a book for them, just ask a simple question to get them going (“Where are you from?”/“How’s your day going?”/“Are you enjoying the conference?”), and then they’ll generally talk the entire time!

That’s all for now, folks. I’m going to sleep. For a few days.

-Adri out

adriannestricklandAdriAnne shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, is coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux Books. You can follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

The First YA Novel I Ever Wrote

I wrote a masterpiece when I was thirteen years old, during the summer between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school. It had everything: rock bands, abusive fathers, teenage pregnancies, diabetic comas, suicides, severe injuries from drunk driving, male anorexia (and I don’t mean to sound flippant about of these truly serious issues; I thought at that age I was giving a voice to deep matters but had no idea how to avoid going overboard) . . . and then for the heck of it, vampires showed up and made all the characters immortal.

It was not good. At all.

Teen Sarah. Of course, she hung out in graveyards. You expected different?
Teen Sarah. Of course, she hung out in graveyards. You expected different?

Naturally, I thought it was genius and showed it to my mother, an English teacher. My mom, God rest her soul, had to know how terrible it was, but she was also the most encouraging the person in the world, so when I told her I had big dreams about becoming a novelist after I finished my Lurlene McDaniel meets Christopher Pike madness, she encouraged me to write another. This book was actually a six volume, epic vampire saga that I penned every day in chemistry class. Again, it was dreck, though I still have a soft spot for some of those characters. I kept at it, writing every day, polishing and trying new things. The sagas gave way to much more manageable plots. Before I graduated high school, I actually snagged an agent. Things didn’t work out with him, and I’m grateful for it because I wasn’t ready for a career in publishing at that young age.

I continued to write new books for all of my early twenties, and I nearly gave it up at one point. My mother, my biggest supporter of my dream, passed away when I was twenty-three. Then I became a mother myself. It took four years for me to commit to writing a story again, and when I did, that book eventually became A MURDER OF MAGPIES.

The dreams you want the most are the ones you have to keep chasing, no matter how long it takes.