Monday, March 14, 2016

Insta-Love or Insta-Attraction?

I've noticed in book reviews recently that a negative buzz word seems to be "Insta-Love." Though I've been well-coached never to respond to reviewers directly, I would like to open up the general concept of Insta-Love to discussion on this blog.

Just like "Mary Jane" was a common buzz word a couple of years ago (meaning a heroine that is immediately likable and able to save the world without possessing the qualities to achieve such), Insta-Love has become a catch-phrase.

But isn't there a difference between Insta-Love and Insta-Attraction? Other than in the Enemies to Lovers trope, shouldn't there be a major (usually internal) reaction between romance protagonists the first time they meet? It's what we call chemistry. A spark. Heat. Sizzle. A slow burn. Sometimes the character misinterprets their feelings as strong dislike (silly romance character), but the powerful reaction is still very much present.

And doesn't that element of strong attraction (or strong reaction) need to be present in romance from the get-go? If the characters' first thought about their intended love interest is "Ho-hum," I don't think the stage is being set for convincing emotional conflict or resolution. But that's just one viewpoint.

So my question to readers is this: If the characters show or think about their attraction upon first encountering one another, does it relegate the story to being a victim of Insta-Love?

Let me stick my neck out a little further. Here's my definition of Insta-Love: If the characters immediately fall in love, show undying devotion and become instantly attached at the hip (or other important body parts) after only an encounter or two, then that's clearly Insta-Love. On the other hand, the characters feeling or showing a strong attraction or reaction is very important to a romantic plot.

So, let me present the beginning of my novelette Farewell Andromeda and ask if you believe the characters have been afflicted by the Insta-Love Bug.

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Farewell Andromeda
A female charter pilot encounters a renown male astronomer upon first arriving at the very remote Andromeda Station--a deep space platform for scientific research and X-tourism. (This scene has been condensed for brevity.)

I crash landed into Dr. Dante Dane six steps inside the hatch of Trajectory Virtual Pub 7. I knew his name and a good chunk of his bio before he even spoke. I had the advantage.

But he had the element of surprise. “Dance with me, boonie.”

He had me pegged at a glance. Boonie. Independent deep space charter pilot. Good guess on his part, but an easy one with his IQ. You didn’t get much deeper in space than Andromeda Station—perched on the extreme outer fringes of the Milky Way—and I was still sporting my non-standard issue flight jacket and independent star wings. I’d been making my way to the Station Berthing Office when the Pied Piper of a stiff drink called to me.

Running into Tall, Dark, and Smiling hadn’t really been in my game plan.

He settled his warm hand low on the small of my back, inviting me to accompany him to the packed cydosonic dance floor. A heavy bass thumped beneath the trill of a wild counter-melody. My instincts shouted Abort launch! but my curiosity overrode my internal warning system. I was too flattered by his crafty smile and seeking eyes.

On the dance floor, he turned to face me. “What’s your name, boonie?”

“Captain Bell.”

“Captain.” He made a slight bow. “Less formally known as?”

“Tiharra.”

“Tiara?” That smile again. “Like a princess wears?”

“Tee-hara. Like the Egponna tree.”

“Ah, the Tiharra tree. Egponna Maximus heraldi angelus. Also called the Angel Willow. Known for graceful, weeping foliage that resembles feathered wings.”

“That’s the one.”

“Angel fits you better.” He gave me another generous smile. Nice, even white teeth.

I threw him my patented lopsided smirk. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was definitely intrigue at first contact.

“This a regular stop for you?” he asked.

“This isn’t a regular stop for anyone.”

“But here you are.”

I nodded. “Fresh out of DEDspace.” My impetuous mission: escape Miko’s bombshell by running to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. “And what brought you way out here?”

He gave a throaty chuckle. “I’m a perpetual resident. Andromeda Station is home. My work is centered on the observatory here.”

Ah, yes. Of course. Everyone knew the Andromeda Galaxy was Dr. Dane’s foremost passion. The last I’d heard, he was working on some universe-shaking discoveries about dark energy in our enormous neighbor.

The rest of the evening was a blur of bodies, booze, and banter. There were a lot of labels I would’ve attached to one of the pre-eminent scientists in the known universe, but party animal wasn’t one of them. So much for pre-judging.

We flirted a bit, laughed a lot, drank even more, and monopolized the dance pad for most of the night. As the music clicked off, the tables emptied, and the exit lights glowed in less-than-subtle suggestion, he asked me the expected question. I mentally punched Miko in the jaw before delivering Dr. Dane—Dante—a regretful negatory.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “Not a good night for me.”

“All evidence to the contrary.” I saw the surprise in his arched brows, which then angled into an unhappy frown. “You had me fooled.”

“You had me forgetting.” I gave a noncommittal shrug and a sad little smile that stood in for a formal apology. “Good night, Doctor.”

He snagged my shoulder as I turned to go. “Are you sure, Tiharra?”

I sighed. Was I? I looked over my shoulder. “I’m sure. It’s…complicated. I enjoyed our time together, but I need some personal space right now.”

Dante moved a half-step closer. “Anything I can do to change your mind?”

I met his hopeful look for a moment then made a general hand sweep of the bar with its ample supply of lonely, lingering females. “There are a lot of other targets here to point your lens at.”

His attention swept over the room before dropping back to me. “I prefer to focus on one subject until I work out all the riddles.”

“This riddle has things she needs to work out on her own, Doctor.”

“Dante,” he corrected.

“Dante.” I drew a deep breath and slowly expelled it. “I’m sorry. This runs deep. I won’t change my mind.”

Though he wasn’t keen on fielding the word no, I didn’t think we’d parted enemies. At least I hoped not.
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Side note: It's possible the story earned an Insta-Love tag from their second encounter, where Tiharra's reaction to and perceptions about the good doctor are very different. But her change of heart is an important element and hints at the underlying dynamics between the two. (And for the sake of avoiding spoilers, that's all I can say about that.)

Now I'd like to hear from you.

Readers, is this a case of Insta-Love? Yay or nay? It's totally okay if you say 'yes.' Really! I'm very eager to hear your opinions, so don't hold back.

Writers, have you had a story tagged as Insta-Love and do you think it was deserved or not? Why do you think a reviewer labeled it as such and why do you agree or disagree?

There just might be a surprise in it for one random commenter.

Next time, we'll put the first meeting of the protagonists in Inherit the Stars through the gauntlet.

Have a great week!


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12 comments:

  1. I have the advantage of having read this and I'd say it's clearly Insta-attraction. I loved how it all played out and also won't say more because, spoilers, sweetie! I can only agree that some attraction has to exist for the story to get going. Plots and stories are build on actions and reactions, not mehs. lol IMHO.

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    1. Thanks, Pauline. (And thanks for the no spoiler comment!) Yeah, meh beginnings aren't my favorites, either.

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  2. It works for me. Works very well. And I'm perfectly cool with this approach. I think that instant attraction is real, and it's happened to me more than once. Maybe some reviewers have never had that experience.

    It can also happen that friends can become lovers. But I still think that spark has to be there.

    Oh - and I also believe love at first sight is a real thing. I've heard lots of stories where two people meet for the first time, and one says to friends, "I'm going to marry that person."

    But there it is. You can't please all of the people all of the time.

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    1. I agree on the love at first site scenario, Greta. I believe on rare occasions it does happen, and it's often magical. You may have a point about some reviewers never having experienced it. That might be part of the sensitivity to immediate attraction.

      Thanks for your insights.

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  3. I generally detest insta-love in the "I just met this person and we are going to be together foreeeeever" sense because I've seen it happen with some of my friends and they can think it's a guarantee for the future and that everything will work out. Sometimes it does, sometimes not! Some reactions like mine may be pushback against being fed sappy fairytales as a child and learning that relationships are far more complicated and far more work than depicted to us, that love isn't always enough.

    Instant attraction happens. It's cool with me. I've never had it translate to an actual date since it wasn't mutual, but if it is, hey, go have fun. It's not implausible for two people to connect on first meet, especially if it doesn't create far-reaching expectations for the future.

    I did read Farewell Andromeda a few months ago. It didn't set off any alarm bells because there aren't any expectations on the characters' parts.

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    1. Thanks so much for your take on the topic, Lee. You may have a point about sappy fairytales, and adults expecting their romance stories to be rockier--and closer to real life. I appreciate your thoughts.

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  4. Oh yes, yes, yes. NO - LOL - This isn't insta love - it IS insta attraction. I am tired of the two being muddled. What I see as insta love - is if the word is actually used and the couple are talking abut marriage and babies in the first couple of chapters. Nothing wrong with that, if that's the sort of story you like. I have insta lust in almost all my books. You're right, Laurie, without that, why would any story follow. With no compelling link between the MCs - why wouldn't they walk away? I have a horrible suspicion that books 'condemned' for insta love - have just been misjudged by readers, or pushed aside with that as an excuse when that isn't really the issue.

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    1. Thanks, Barb! As a reader I get a little frustrated when I see a really good book I've read branded as Insta-Love when IMHO it was soundly an insta-attraction scenario--which I see as a strength, not a weakness. Though I have been able to finish books where the attraction starts out as "meh" (it tends to be series where a troubled romance has a slow build that will span many books), the other elements have to be exceptional. I once read a very popular book where the heroine left the hero for dead in book one. It really turned me off, but I managed to stick with the series because the writing was just so danged good. Thanks for your comment. :)

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  5. I think insta-attraction is way more believable than insta-love. And more palatable for me as a reader. Not only palatable, but expected if I am reading romance. How a couple gets from insta-attraction to true love is where the story gets interesting.

    Lately I read a book where the heroine first met the hero when he pointed a sword at her. Does it really make sense that she would be looking at his broad shoulders or dark eyes when there is a blade very close to her throat? To me, this case of insta-attraction was ridiculous. So setting is everything. The dance floor of a bar works. That is where I met my hubby!

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    1. Riley said: "Not only palatable, but expected if I am reading romance. How a couple gets from insta-attraction to true love is where the story gets interesting." YES, Riley! When I put on my reader hat, that's what I want to see between the H & H. If there's not a spark between them, I lose interest pretty quickly. Even in a friends-to-lovers or enemies-to-lovers type romance, there has to be a very special SOMETHING between the two to capture my interest. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  6. If it's just one reviewer, I wouldn't worry about it. You will always have readers who love your work and those who hate it (my advice is always to look at your favourite books to read and see how many negative reviews *those* get. It's a revelation!).

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  7. Thanks, Pippa. It was actually more than one reviewer, which is what raised my curiosity on this topic. I wondered if I'm viewing the insta-love tag differently than most readers do. It doesn't appear so, from these responses, but of course every reader has their own definitions and perceptions, so the "to each his own" factor comes into play. :)

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