Monday, January 18, 2010

Do you write love-at-first-sight?

First of all, I just want to say that while researching today's blogpost, Swagbucks search engine turned up this most excellent ad for me:

Love at First Sight The Fun & Easy Way to Find love at first sight at Low Prices.

This is just included as a PSA for all you single folks. Wal-Mart for the heart & soul.

But seriously.  I am currently reading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, and while very enjoyable and beautifully written, it has me thinking about the use of love at first sight as a literary device. In Shiver, Grace falls in love with a wolf, because of its entrancing golden eyes (the fact that the wolf saves her from being eaten by the rest of its pack probably assists in this instant romance). The werewolf, Sam, instantly loves her as well, protecting her in his wolf-form and infatuated in human form. 

The fated love, immediately recognized, is a pretty common theme, especially in YA books, and especially-especially in YA fantasy. It always strikes me as a convenient, and somewhat ridiculous, plot device.  The same Greco-Roman tragedies that brought us deux-machina (which is certainly considered an inappropriately convenient plot device these days) also brought us the idea of love at first sight, as madness inspired by the gods. Those crazy Greek and Roman gods -- you have to love those guys.

 Well, most of the stories where love at first sight occurs now don't have recourse to a god trifling with human emotions for his or her own amusement. I think instead it tends to be a way to skip over the courtship period and create an immediate relationship and obligation towards each other; a sort of short-hand that one trusts the reader to accept. The readers had better be hopeless romantics themelves! I guess I am not, because every time I run across love at first sight, it makes me crook an eyebrow at the author.

Now, in defense of my own romanticism: MJ is the closest I have ever come to love at first sight. Let me set the preposterous setting of our first meeting.  It was in college. My best friend and roomie, Aulia, was dating a guy named Lars, who lived with three other guys. Aulia and I went over to the boys' apartment one night to order pizzas and watch a movie.  That night when I walked in, I met a handsome blond roommate in a blue button-down shirt. He and Lars were arguing politics, and MJ was devastating him, which I found pretty appealing.

He was well-spoken, intelligent, and the same geek-jock type as me (MJ was a soccer player, I ran track and cross country, and we're both dorks for science, tech, and well, just generally dorks).  MJ and I could not stop talking all night -- we teamed up against Lars, played devil's advocate against each other, bantered and teased. At the end of the night, Aulia stayed with Lars, and MJ walked me home. We spent another hour on the front porch of my apartment, because we just could not stop talking.

This still wasn't what I would call love at first sight. We clicked because there were certain key elements in place that made us "fit", but it could have gone in many directions from there. With just a few minor tweaks to that early storyline, MJ would just be a distant memory now, one more guy I flirted with in college, maybe dated a few times before moving on. I wouldn't be thinking of him now. But instead, we discovered more and more ways we clicked, and that led to love. The initial things that attracted us to each other have been born out.

I'm not trying to pick on Shiver here. I haven't even finished the book yet. It just made me think about whether or not I believe in love-at-first-sight (I don't, I think love is too complex to wrap up into a moment) and how I write it (initial infatuation, maybe enhanced by other events, which *may* grow into something meaningful). 

So how about you? Do you believe in love at first sight, and do you include it in your writing? Am I wrong in labeling it as a convenient plot device -- is it a real thing?


Stephanie Thornton said...

I'm a die-hard romantic, but I don't believe in love at first sight. When I'm reading I prefer the characters go through all that romantic tension that's just so wonderful to read.

I read Shiver too and it was kind of flat. If you want a fast-paced book (actually two so far) with quite the love angle, check out The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I devoured them and I honestly don't know how I'm going to make it until August when the third book comes out.

Guinevere said...

I have Hunger Games in my library queue... I've heard so many good things about it now, I'm really excited to read it.

Suze said...

Noooo - I'm with you. Love at first sight is not only facile, but fairly lame in literature AND real life. You may as well fall in love with a guy on a bus-stop poster advertising timeshare. There's no real difference.

Donna Hole said...

I believe there has to be "something" that sparks interest in the first place. Like the first line/paragraph of a novel, makes you want to know more.

But, I'm not much of a romantic. If you don't like what you see in the next couple chapters (dates) then it wasn't "love at first sight". If a deep meaningful relationship ensues - well, some people say it was.

Who's to say. We make our own rules when it comes to love, kids and adults both.

Cool story though. Ahh romance!