Gather round closely, lovely people, and let me talk at you all for a while!
Okay, I’m going to start off this discussion with a little known secret about myself: I used to be a fan of The Vampire Diaries. The show, I mean, not the books (because has anyone actually read those? I have, by complete accident, and I am fairly certain my 9 year old daughter could write better prose than that. Hell, even my cat could write better). It’s actually how I became friends with Amber and Tatum (although they don’t like this secret getting out, so let’s just keep that between us, okay? Okay). Anyway, when the show was first advertised, I actually made a point of avoiding it, because it just did not look like something I would enjoy, but when my little brother (who actually has terrible taste in tv shows now that I think about it – he still watches TVD and refuse to watch Supernatural I mean. Why? What is wrong with you?) told me that the first season finale was amazingly awesome, I sighed and decided to give it a go. And I actually got hooked enough that I ended up a member on a forum and I met Amber and Tatum and Dee and a load of other people who I ended up liking a hell of a lot more than the show because I worked out quite quickly that the show itself was actually a load of terribly written drivel. But yes, that’s my big (but little known) secret.
and then I realised it was watching this shit
So, why am I talking about The Vampire Diaries, the tv show no less? Because, other than Twilight (and really, we all try not to think about that series as much as we possibly can, don’t we, because otherwise we would all be huge balls of rage all of the time if we didn’t), TVD has the best examples of the two of my most hated tropes in fiction: Love Triangles, and Instaloves. Let’s talk about it for a minute, yes? Yes good. So we have Elena, right, this really emotionally strong teenage girl, who has recently suffered the loss of her parents and yet is desperately trying to be the girl she was before, and be the sister her brother needs. Then she meets a dude outside a toilet, and suddenly her entire life is “ohmygod if I can’t have Stefan I don’t know how I’m going to live!” I’m oversimplifying, obviously, because there was also stuff about vampires and drugs and people dying and stuff, but still, they were together from the moment they met outside the loo and Elena was no longer allowed to use her brain unless Stefan gave her permission first. In fact, the scenes in which Elena’s brain was shown were so fleeting it might just have been an accident and she might not have had any in the first place, we just don’t know. So yes, basically, take Bella from Twilight and replace ‘incredibly dull and very irritating girl’ with ‘possibly might have been interesting if she hadn’t met this dick’ and we have the same basic synopsis. Oh and then there’s also Jacob. I mean Damon. Unlike Jacob, Damon isn’t a werewolf-shapeshifter-what the fuck ever-thing, but he does still play the same role: the dude the girl might also possibly love. So there we go, one Instalove, and one Love Triangle, all packaged up and ready to go (seriously, I am never forgiving my brother for introducing me to this pile of crap).
I feel like I may have gotten off track, because what I wanted to discuss in this post was why I hate these 2 tropes so much. I mean, most of us do, right? I don’t think I’ve ever met a reviewer or book blogger yet whose response is ever “ooh yes, give me more of these love triangles” or “who cares why they love each other when they tell us they do? Oh the romance!
” We all complain about it, we all roll our eyes and think “dear God, why
are they doing this to me again?
” I’ve read many a review that talks about how much they hate it, and what they would prefer to see instead. And yet still YA fiction is filled to the brim with these 2 tropes. For example, I want to love Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha
series (and I almost do), but I tend to go into a rage over the damn Love Triangle and Instalove aspects (because why is Mal even there?
I will never understand this). But I wonder if maybe the reason for the proliferation of these tropes is that nobody has ever explained exactly why
these tropes are so hated, so I thought I would give it a go.
I’m going to start off with Instaloves, because the reason why I hate these so much is fairly simple to say, even if it’s not so simple to explain: they make me feel like a very unwilling and slightly disturbed voyeur. When I’m reading a book, I am reading about fictional characters (obviously), but as soon as an instalove turns up, I feel as though the characters have slipped, have been turned into fictional versions of the author and her ‘ideal’. I say ‘her’, because while it’s not an absolute, the vast majority of stories that include this trope are written by women. It’s because there is this thing in society, that tells women that we’re not much use for anything other than a man and his penis falling in love with us. We’re supposed to be floundering around through life until a man comes along with his penis and gives us meaning. We’re supposed to wait until we get given our happily ever after by a man and his penis, and our HEA simply cannot conclude with us finding ourselves, or ending up with a woman who doesn’t have a penis, or any other kind of ending. Nope, we all have to eventually ride off into the sunset on the man’s big white penis horse. And if we don’t do that? It means that we have failed at being women, and as no story ever has their main character fail in the end, it means that someone has to fall in love with us. And that’s where the instalove comes in, because quite often the author has an amazing story that they want to tell that doesn’t have all that much to do with love and romance, and yet because their main protagonist is female, they feel they must also have a man fall in love with them.
But Lauren, I hear you say, what does this have to do with being a voyeur? Well I’ll tell you, because while this may not be true for all readers, it certainly is for me. I feel as though when we slip into these instaloves, I’m not reading about character X falling in love with character Y, I am suddenly reading about some random dude falling in love with the ideal version of the author herself. The reason why we’re not told why these two are in love with each other is because the writer doesn’t know herself, she’s just been told by society that they must, otherwise she has failed as both a woman and as a writer. And so they make up these ridiculous reasons such as “you smell really nice” or “you look like someone I used to know” and they expect the rest of us to know what they’re talking about because of course we all want that too, right? Because in real life, love is messy and hard and it hurts, so the fantasy side of love has to be perfect and easy and happy, right? Except no, it doesn’t, because that’s not what we want to read about. We don’t want to read about perfection and easiness and happiness, we want to know that the mess and the work and the pain that we go through is worth it, that we’re doing this love thing right ourselves. The fantasy is in letting these characters show us that even when it’s messy and doesn’t make sense, even when you feel like giving up because it’s too hard, even when it hurts so much that you can’t breathe, to keep on going, because it’s worth it in the end, look, these two characters can do it, so you can too and it’s so worth it.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t mean to imply that any author intentionally does this, nor do I think that any of them actually want this for themselves, because all writers are readers just like us, and they all want the same things we do. It’s just that society has taught us females that what we want is a fairytale kind of love; we are all Sleeping Beauty, withering away inside a castle waiting for a dude on a horse to come and kiss us and then we can live happily ever after. And so the message that I’m getting from these authors is “maybe I can’t find this kind of love out in the world, but the fictional version of myself can, even if I’m not sure why or how she got it”, purely because society has told us all that this is what we should be striving for. And so that’s why I feel like an unwilling voyeur; instead of a fantastic fictional adventure that is going to make me laugh and cry and want to throw up and then throw myself off a cliff because I can’t handle all these goddamned feels, I feel as though I’m watching someone struggling to fit in with a society that won’t bend to accommodate them by giving into their demands while remaining confused as to why they have to. (Basically, I could have just summed up this entire rant with the phrase “Fuck the Patriarchy!” couldn’t I? Oh well.)
The main reason why I hate Love Triangles however, is slightly more confusing, even though I think it should be more simple to explain. Because on the surface, I guess there’s nothing much wrong with a girl having two boys fight over her, is there? I mean, we all want to feel desirable, right? We all want to feel as though our affection is worth fighting over, yes? And it’s not like it doesn’t happen in real life either (I have once had two men fighting over me, but it quickly devolved into an argument that included fish heads and wooden practice swords and that is a terribly convoluted story for another day, but basically it wasn’t as romantic as one would think even without the added fish parts) so in a way, maybe Love Triangles aren’t all that bad?
Except no, they totally are, because none of them are ever written right. There seems to be only two ways a triangle ever works out; either the girl is a whiny bitch who constantly swoons and cries because ‘oh no, I don’t know how to choose whatever shall I doooooo?’, or we get the slightly grosser ‘everything is the girl’s fault because she just can’t keep her knees together’. I’ve read a lot of YA, and there is literally only one series I have come across that does a Love Triangle the right way, so let me give you a brief overview (it’ll have to remain anonymous though, because Amber HASN’T READ THE BLOODY BOOK): Girl meets two brothers. Boy A is sweet and charming, good looking and generally nice. Boy B is a bit of a dick, and he’s not only a dick but he also scares the Girl a bit when they first meet. But Boy A is perfect for the Girl, and so even as she gets to know Boy B a bit better and starts to understand him, she still feels that Boy A is the one she should be with. Right until she kisses Boy A, and she realises that all along her feelings for Boy B have been growing and now surpass anything she ever felt for Boy A. Boy A runs off, hurt that she’s rejected him. And we’ve all read something similar to this set up before, right? But how many have read about a Love Triangle where Boy A then tracks down the Girl and apologises for being upset, that he never meant to make her feel as though she was leading him on, and that more than anything else he just wants to be friends with her. And then Boy A helps facilitate a hook up for the Girl with Boy B, and is genuinely happy for both his friend and his brother when they finally get together. The Girl is neither slut shamed nor made out to be a victim of those pesky feminine feelings, and nobody ends up being the Bad Guy (TVD, take note of this please, you’re killing me here).
So yes, there is a lot of slut shaming and ‘females can’t control their emotions’ crap going on in Love Triangles, but that’s not the only problem I have with them. It’s more to do with the fact that a main character simply cannot be female if she isn’t lusted after by all the male characters (aHEM, TVD). Because apparently, the only way to quantify a female’s worth is by how many guys want to get in her pants. A female main character can’t just be smart, feisty, kickass, bitchy, empathetic, funny, or any number of things. Nope, she must, first and foremost, be sexually desirable. Because, by society’s standards, this is the only thing that matters in a girl. It’s also the only thing a girl is supposed to be thinking about. Society tells us that all teenage boys think about sex every 6 seconds; society also believes that in the same time frame, us girls are wondering how many boys would like to get a look up our skirt (seriously though, anyone trying that with me is likely to get their eyes plucked out and fed to them). The simple fact is that neither of these things are true. Yes, I’m sure boys do think about sex a lot (I’ve been inside my brother’s room and trust me that is not an experience I want to relive any time soon), but so do girls. And yes, girls do think a lot about what boys (or other girls) are thinking about them, but then boys are also thinking about this (in fact, it’s pretty much a necessity to be thinking about it if we want to get anywhere near having all that sex we’ve been thinking about). But just as boys don’t only think about sex and the quickest way for them to get it, girls aren’t only thinking of how pretty we look and if boys want to have the sex with us. In fact, it’s just one of an entire list of things that we think about, most of which surprisingly enough have absolutely nothing to do with how to get a man and his penis.
So, here is my advice to all authors and aspiring writers out there, especially if they’re writing female MCs: write yourself an amazing character and think up an awesome story for her. Give her as many layers as possible, make her so real that she could step off the page fully formed. Have her story as epic as it is possible to be, make it interesting and scary and funny and painful and terrifyingly real. And just remember this: if she is to fall in love, then it will happen naturally, just as it does in real life. If she has boys falling at her feet, then have it be because she has awed them with her intelligence, with her humour, with her ability to scale hundred foot walls in less than six seconds. Have them all fall in love with her because of who she is and not just because she smells really good or she looks like a cousin they once knew. Instead of giving us supposed perfection, start asking your readers questions. Also,
And believe me when I say this: every single one of your readers will thank you for it.