So we need to have a talk about subtlety. When I am reading through the slushpile and I stumble across a submission, I like to see a certain degree of subtlety in the story telling. It should go without saying that I don’t want to predict every move the author will make. I want to be taken along for the ride and be surprised with the characters.
You probably know some of the basic tips to be subtle in your opening pages. Show don’t tell, no info dumps etc. But there’s another mistake a lot of writers make that really should be addressed. The intro of the love interest.
The short version: I do not want to know from the second I meet a character that they will be ‘the love interest’. It makes me groan and roll my eyes. Especially given the context in which some of these characters are introduced.
The long version: Okay, so your character… let’s call her Jane… is moseying about her everyday life. Being ordinary and unaware that an adventure is about to begin. Suddenly a bunch of thugs come after her. They’ve been sent by some mysterious villain to apprehend her. She runs, terrified for her life, and tries to make an escape. Clearly this is a tense situation and all Jane is thinking about is surviving.
But then this guy appears. Either he’s helping the main character or maybe he’s one of the guys chasing her. Let’s go with the first option. The new character busts in and says, ‘follow me!’ Jane does. But as she runs after him, fearing for her life, she can’t help but notice how pretty his eyes are and how strong his jaw is and how his face lights up when he gives a crooked smile.
NOPE! Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This is not a thing you notice in an intense situation. I don’t care how his green eyes sparkle in the sun. Attractiveness is not on your character’s priorities right now.
I have seen this happen in both the slush pile and in published books. The MOMENT the love interest is introduced, I know they are the love interest because the MC looks at them and thinks ‘damn they’re hot’.
My most recent encounter with this trope happened in a published book. Within the first few pages, the MC meets BOTH of her love interests. I knew they were her love interests because of what a big deal she made about how good looking they were. And I mean a BIG deal. Problem was, she had just been dragged from a horrible prison and has no idea whether or not she is going to live or die. Clearly THIS is a good time to contemplate eye candy.
Its annoying to me because it feels so unnatural. I’m not saying attraction at first sight isn’t a thing. And I’d say that in a lot of romance novels, this attraction is warranted. I mean, that’s what the novel is about. You know who the MC is getting together with and you want to see that sexual tension from the first. Twilight, believe it or not, does this reasonably well. Bella is sitting in a school cafeteria. When the hot vampire enters the room, she probably doesn’t have much better to do than contemplate how good looking he is.
But when there are HIGHER stakes involved? Its not a priority. Hunger Games did this well. I knew who the love interests were going to be but Katniss was not concerned with it for...most of the series. When you give me something like dystopian or fantasy, I don’t want to be hit in the head with the main couple. I want it to happen gradually. I want it to feel natural and like a real relationship.
One of the fastest ways to earn a rejection from me is pointing out the ‘oh so pretty’ love interest within moments of meeting them. If that doesn’t fit your genre, don’t do it. Chances are, your protagonist has more important things to worry about than dating.