Genre Pet Peeves: The Destined Lovers

This is a trope that is most common in romance, especially paranormal romance where a touch of magic is expected and given.  It can happen in just about any genre, though, don’t think this is only paranormal romance who run with this.  By nature of the trope, however, there will be romance involved, even if it is not strictly a love story. 

It’s also pretty self explanatory as a trope.  Two characters, usually the main two, meet in unexpected and inexplicable circumstances and are instantly madly obsessed and crazy in love with each other.  There is often some element of fate that’s built into the mechanism of the world, either tragic reincarnated lovers, some variant of soul mates, or something to that affect.  This explains, within the rules of the world, why two people can meet and suddenly, for no reason, fall wildly in love.

And it is so very, very dull.  Whenever you have the Destined Lovers in a book, the question of “Will They/Won’t They?” becomes simply “When Will They?” often with a side helping of “Holy crap you guys are morons, will you just fuck already?!”  There’s no tension in the actual romance, which often leads to ridiculous side plots of old lovers showing up to get some jealousy and build some drama.  Very annoying because there’s already plenty of potential in two different people trying to sort out being with each other and making their lives meld.  Especially if one of them is a vampire or a werewolf or lake monster*!  But no, writers just wave all that way with DESTINY and then have to shoehorn drama into the middle of their book some other way.

But you know the biggest problem I have with it?

It’s lazy, lazy writing.  That’s really why this is a pet peeve of mine and not just ‘something that happens in genre that I don’t like, but whatever.’ 

Instead of taking time to understand and explain character motive, to build them as a person and not a cardboard cut out, writers take the Destiny Short Cut.  “I want to write a love story about these two characters, but I have no reason or logical explanation why they would spend enough time together to actual fall in love so, hey!  We’ll just say destiny says they totally have to bang!  Actually, I have no reason why these two characters would even fall in love, but Destiny fixes that problem right up!”

Seriously, if you have two characters who have no common ground and personalities that don’t work together, if your entire reason for them being together is “THEY’D BE SUPER HOT” then you don’t actually have a plot or characters.  You have a series of dolls getting set up in kinky positions in Barbie’s Dream Mansion.

Don’t just wave off the entire aspect of two characters getting to know each other and developing a relationship with “DESTINY!” It’s lazy and you’re missing out on a lot of really interesting moments of character development.

And if you’re insistent on doing destined lovers, then DO something with it.  Make them the wrong social classes.  Have one of them in a pre-existing relationship.  Or gun shy.  Make one of them already married!  Do something, anything!

A common way this trope is made more interesting is to have one or both character fights the very idea of destiny and resists getting with the other person, often out of fear, confusion, and misunderstanding of the situation.  Or when it makes one of the characters nervous and uncomfortable.  At the least, do the last one, because it only makes sense.  That’s one of the biggest problems I have with destined lovers.  You find yourself suddenly, inexplicably being totally obsessed and spending time with someone you just met who is also, by circumstances of the novel, known to be dangerous.  And what is the reaction of most characters?  Totally chill.  Because DESTINY means that they totally trust their destined lover with absolutely no basis in why they actually should.  Because DESTINY! 

I don’t know about you, but if I found myself in those circumstances, I would be freaking out and wondering if I was crazy.  Or brainwashed.  Or both! 

Point is, this can be an interesting mechanism, but you need to do something with it.  Don’t rely on Destined Lovers to avoid knowing your characters’ actual motives or having good reasons to keep your two characters interacting.

Actually, if you want a good example of making two very different characters interact in a realistic way, check out Shades of A. This is comic is, interestingly enough, a parody of Shades of Gray.  It’s about an asexual young man who becomes involved with a kinky transvestite man (and no, I am not using transvestite wrong here).  The two of them meet via coincidence initially, BUT in their first meeting, they spend several hours talking, which establishes common interests and compatible personality between the two.  Then, they continue to run into each other through a combination of further coincidences and the results of both being (tangentially in Anwar’s case) in the same subculture.  Through these meetings, a strong sense of connection forms, but does not come out of nowhere and is not built on lazy writing.  The comic is still ongoing, but I am massively enjoying it and recommend it to anyone who likes a story with some non-hetero normative pairings.

Also, asexuals.  We need more stories about those.

Wait, what was I talking about?  Destined lovers?  Right, bottom line.  They’re boring and no excuse to avoid proper development of characters.

One day I will do a blog about something that isn’t a genre pet peeve.  But until that time, romance writers aren’t the only ones taking lazy short cuts. 

Also! Taking suggestions for novels that turn the ‘fated lovers’ on its head in interesting ways.

*And also taking suggestions of any romance with Lake Monsters as one of the main two.  Because I want to see how the hell THAT is handled.

Genre Pet Peeves: Dueling Love Interests

It’s time for another Genre Pet Peeve! Because I don’t believe in diversity in this blog, apparently. But I do believe in blog entires.

This is a pet peeve that I find worse in the fantasy subgenre of Supernatural and anything Young Adult written in the last eight years, regardless of subgenre.

Now, I have a lot of grumps about the over abundance of romance in books. We could, and eventually will, go on for pages about this. But over all, I get it. Sex sells and romance makes for an interesting subplot. Chemistry between characters, the will they/won’t they.’ It’s expected and if done right, it helps deepen both characters and add interaction beyond the main plot.

But these days, ONE love interest is no longer good enough. Oh no. Because one love interest is too obvious. We know the heroine has to pick the guy, because heaven forbid a woman ends the book independent and not tied to some kind of man. PFFFT, what a silly idea! But if she has to hook up with whatever guy the plot dangles in front of her, then we know who she’s with and that’s no fun.

So let’s introduce two love interests! Yeah, that fixes everything! Now our heroine is torn. Will she go with Boy A, who is handsome, tall, dark, and sweeps in out of nowhere or Boy B, who she has known forever and but only now noticed that he’s super hot? And has possibly gained super powers? What is with that anyway, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHO WILL SHE PICK!?

Except that we always know. It’s always painfully, boringly obvious who she will pick. Not that there’s a rule that says she has to pick the new guy in her life or the childhood friend. But the reader can tell. Because the winner will, in some way, reflect a trait that the author considers ‘ideal’ in a boyfriend, and the loser will have some similar trait that is considered a flaw.

Take Twilight, for example. Twilight is the book that set dueling love interests as a standard for young adult, though it’s been present in other genres for much longer. In Twilight, we have Edward and Jacob competing for one girl. Edward the vampire represents perfection and control, letting Bella fall into the perfect place as invisible bride. Jacob, the werewolf, represents something more wild, more primal, and therefore flawed in comparison, at least as far as the author is concerned. Me, I’m wondering if Jacob has any cute werewolf sisters who moved to Seattle and now work as baristas, but I’m definitely not the target audience here.

In other novels, the traits and flaws that cause one of the competing guys to win out over another can vary greatly. Sometimes the winning guy is the boy next door, representing stability instead of wild new love. Sometimes the winning guy is proves to be gentler, the better, more aware lover. Sometimes the losing guy is just a big jerk and everybody spends the whole book wondering why our heroine would ever see anything of value in the guy at all.

Actually, sometimes that’s the winning guy. See: Edward.

But even when that’s the case, it’s still obvious. There’s never actually a competition. The heroine, as much as she finds them both dead sweaty sexy, makes doe eyes at one while the other struggles, strives, and fails to get her attention for more than the occasional scene to remind the reader that “OH HEY, SHE COULD MAYBE POSSIBLY CHANGE HER MIND!”

The double love interest CAN be done well, in a way that keeps interest, develops character, and keeps the reader genuinely guessing. But these days, I keep running into this trope in places where it’s absolutely shoehorned into the plot. Where there’s absolutely no reason to keep dangling another man before the heroine, because her preference is painfully obvious and it doesn’t even add a damn thing to the plot. It just feels like the editor sat down with the author and said, “No one will buy your book unless there’s two love interests, so jam some sexual tension in there, will you?”

Actually, the horrible thing is, that probably happens.

So what do I want to see done with this trope?

Well, first off, I would love to read a book where instead of picking, the heroine decides she wants both and both guys agree that they will share (and maybe even develop something of their own). The trio then have to arrange and figure out how to live as a successful menage a tois. In fact, if anyone can point me at some of those, I will read them. Awesome bonus points for stories that don’t just end with agreeing to have a threesome, but actually go into them trying to make it work.

Since that’s pretty rare outside of internet smut, I’d also love to see one of the guys get fed up with wishy washy behavior and go his own way. And not at the end, when the heroine rejects him. Before that. Possibly even having the heroine go “Oh, I want you!” and have him go “That’s nice, but I got over your ass and am dating the barista next door. BYE.”

And for the rest of the time, I just want to stop reading secondary potential love interests tacked into the narrative like glittery clip on narrative earrings. If a character’s only purpose is to remind us how sexy, awesome, and desirable our main female character is, he is not a useful character. Cut him and give me more of the plot, will you?