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What is Insta-Love?

Insta-love, which is a mocking term for instant love, is a pitfall that happens in romance writing. New authors think, “What could be more romantic than love at first sight?” And they literally write characters that become united on a soul-deep level soon after meeting each other. But with the exception of paranormal romance in which it is accepted that werewolves and other shape-shifters have predetermined mates, the practice of insta-love robs the romance novel of its primary purpose, which is to show the journey from being strangers to being in love.

The typical insta-love plot begins with instant physical attraction. Two characters meet and cannot stop staring at each other. Each is overwhelmed with desire, and cannot stop thinking about the other person. But this is totally okay and realistic because physical attraction is built upon immediate visual stimulus. Experiencing a spark of physical attraction at first sight is the reason why individuals find the courage to try to court each other in the face of what could be devastating emotional rejection.

An experience of instant physical attraction is a great beginning for a novel because it has the potential to create strong tension. What if your character desires another character that he cannot trust? A character against which he has moral objections? Or a character that is forbidden to him? Imagine the stress this would cause your hero. What if both main characters dislike and distrust each other on an emotional level, but are drawn to each other physically? This situation has fueled the plotlines of countless classic romances. It is how almost every romantic comedy begins. Instant physical attraction sets up the journey to have the characters get to know each other and move beyond preconceived notions.

But with the insta-love plot, emotion accompanies desire in a completely unrealistic way. Instead of one character thinking about the other, “I would be ecstatic to have just one kiss,” or “I will risk rejection to ask this person out,” or even, “I will do anything to spend the night with this person,” he thinks, “I have found my soul mate. This is the one who completes me.”

He has no evidence other than sensing it in his heart. He wants to uproot his life completely as an individual so that he may realign it with his soul mate. Though he has only met this person a few days or weeks ago, now he is convinced he has found the one with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life in blissful monogamy. Not only is this unrealistic human behavior, it cheats the romance readers of experiencing the journey of emotional uncertainty as the two characters get to know each other and develop feelings for each other.

Why do authors write the insta-love plot?

Much like the Mary Sue character (a too-perfect protagonist with no significant flaws), the insta-love plot is outward-focused rather than inward-focused. In both cases, the author is more interested in writing a simple plot with external villains and pitfalls rather than to add a deeper internal layer in which the character must also struggle with his own flaws or the lovers must work through the psychological issues of trust and communication common to courtship. But fiction is more interesting when characters must battle internal demons along with external obstacles, and romance readers feel justifiably cheated when they encounter insta-love.

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