While I try, overall, to keep this blog positive outside of reviews, I love reading snarky and negative posts from time to time. I especially like reading people’s negative opinions on common tropes, whether I agree with them or not.
However, finding posts that aren’t about the same five tropes over and over is difficult. And one of the tropes these posts are always talking about is instalove, which, according to many, is the worst trope.
But is it really?
What Instalove Is
According to TvTropes, Instalove, or “Love at First Sight“:
Two characters meet, and fall deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other immediately.
Sounds bad, right? It’s forced, lazy storytelling, and while it could make sense in something intentionally cheesy, it’s not what you want in your average novel.
However: I’ve never read a book like this.
No, wait. Technically I have, but it’s not an American YA novel. It’s an Italian YA novel I won’t mention – bad hype, still hype, and anyway, I don’t like to trash books no one has ever heard of, there’s no point to it. In said Italian paranormal YA novel, the main character saw the male love interest, was struck by his beauty so much that she felt like the world had stopped, and felt an instant connection (without talking to him). He felt the same way (without talking to her), and they almost immediately start to act like a couple.
This is instalove.
Another thing I could say is instalove are the one-day romances like The Sun Is Also a Star and They Both Die at the End. While I didn’t think they were unrealistic – some people do fall in love that quickly – one-day romances, love or hate them, are very uncommon and definitely don’t explain how much hate the “instalove trope” gets.
(Another uncommon thing that is often accused of instalove are reincarnation-related tropes, but then, that’s not first sight, is it?)
But in the average, post-2015* YA SFF novel that has a major romantic subplot and isn’t about reincarnation?
- I have never read one that had actual instalove in it
- I have never read a popular one that wasn’t said to have instalove in it, no matter how absurd the “accusation” was
- read the bad reviews of a relatively well-known post-2015 YA SFF novel with a relevant romantic storyline: chances are there’s someone who says the romance is instalove. There’s almost always someone saying it’s instalove, even when the romance is slow-burn.
*[I haven’t read enough (and don’t remember well enough) pre-2015 YA stuff to know if there’s actual instalove in it often]
A Small Experiment
I’m going to sort the goodreads reviews to only see the 1-star ones for some popular post-2015 YA SFF books that have an unambiguously romantic storyline, and I’m going to CTRL+F instalove/insta-love and see how many times it comes up (only counting one per review).
- Warcross by Marie Lu [2 reviews mention instalove]
- Caraval by Stephanie Garber [9 reviews mention instalove]
- Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor [3 reviews mention instalove]
- Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan [3 reviews mention instalove]
- An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson [8 reviews mention instalove]
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi [4 reviews mention instalove]
- Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young [2 reviews mention instalove]
- Mirage by Somaiya Daud [4 reviews mention instalove]
- Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan [1 review mentions instalove. This is specifically a slow-burn romance that develops over months. Lovely.]
I’ve read all of these, and I can say none of them employed love at first sight as a storytelling device (well, you could argue about Strange the Dreamer on some level, but it’s not the one with the most instalove points!), and that many people who claim to hate instalove like many of these books. However, some people think they’re instalove. Why?
What I Think Has Happened
Instalove has become a synonym for “I didn’t feel the romance”. Which isn’t a trope: that’s like saying that romances you don’t believe in are your least favorite trope. Of course you don’t like if you find it badly written, rushed or unbelievable – that’s kind of a tautology.
I think instalove accusations aren’t actually about how much time the main characters spend together. They’re about how much time every single reader perceives the characters have spent together, and about how much every single reader believes they have chemistry. It doesn’t matter if they spend months together: to a reader, it might still feel rushed (I’ve felt this way too – sometimes you just don’t feel the passage of time) and so they might mistake it for instalove.
But this is subjective, and not a trope – I might argue on the execution being good or bad, but if a book has a love triangle or a lost princess or an evil queen, most of the time it is a matter of fact and not of opinion. Which doesn’t seem to be the case at all for instalove.
Since nothing ever works for everyone, and since “instalove” became a synonym for “romance that in my opinion was rushed or lacked chemistry or that just annoyed me” [the way I used the word too, when I still used it], the majority of YA books that have been read by a reasonable amount of people will get bad reviews mentioning “instalove”.
And even if a romance is objectively, unrealistically rushed: that’s usually a flaw in the writing/plotting, not a device an author consciously decided to use to tell a story, and to me, it really doesn’t make sense to talk about it as a trope.
It’s not that I think “instalove” as a trope doesn’t exist (again: that one Italian YA book in which the characters literally fall in love at first sight without talking, what in Italian we call “colpo di fulmine”), it’s that it has been used so much to mean other things – from bad pacing to a perceived lack of chemistry – that at this point, this word is pretty much meaningless.
Do you see instalove as a trope?