I’ve been working on a first draft in the past few weeks and my characters are, rather obnoxiously, falling in love with the wrong people. Nothing is going as planned between them emotionally, and it’s reminding me of the old, often frustrating adage of “The characters write themselves.” That being said, while doing some snooping around for things about writing and love, and after another read-through of Erin’s love triangle post from a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an old post of mine, and thought I’d share it on PubCrawl.
So here we go.
Think back to an old crush; maybe the first boy or girl you really felt something for. The way they made you feel when they smiled at you, or accidentally brushed your hand. The way that sometimes, when they needed a pencil, they asked you for one. No matter that it was because they sat beside you in class, and you were the closest and most convenient person to ask. They asked you for a pencil, and you felt your heart soar.
Until you saw them kissing someone else during recess.
Your heart plummeted and when you went home, maybe you cried, maybe you accepted it without tears, maybe you got over them that instant. Or maybe, you went on liking them even though you knew they’d never like you back, and whenever you thought of them it made your stomach hurt how much you missed them. Oh, you’d still lend them that pencil, but maybe with more sadness than usual. The pencil has lost meaning to you. You’ve realized you’re just a convenience.
And then months later, when you’re over them, you see the situation for what it was: an infatuation.
But it wasn’t trivial while it was happening.
Puppy love and crushes make you do stupid things for people that sometimes don’t even notice you exist. And they have a crappy reputation. First because you often make a fool of yourself when the vulnerable situations you’ve been thrown into crumble against you, and second because, let’s face it, nobody takes them seriously. Even if you swear you’ll jump off a bridge for somebody, hardly anyone will be concerned. They’ve already deduced that you are not in love, but that you are infatuated. And because you are infatuated, and not in love, that means your condition is a bit of a joke; something you’ll be embarrassed about in a year or two when it’s all in the past.
But the truth is, when you’re infatuated, to you it feels like love. To you, it’s not a joke. You really would try to give them everything. And while you’re in this phase there’s nothing more you could want than to be with the person of your affections.
The reason I’m bringing this up is for the sake of all those teen protagonists that like the cute classmate but can’t approach them. More specifically, it’s for the sake of the readers that sympathize. I’ve talked to people who snub YA because the problems of the characters aren’t big enough. They don’t want to read about puppy love. They want to read about the love that makes your gut twist with longing and your heart feel full to bursting; that takes residence in your chest and presses down with the constant worry of what would happen to you emotionally if your loved one died.
They don’t want to read about something trivial.
But aside from constancy, which can’t be proven without the test of time (which books may not have), the only thing this adult love has over puppy love is the retrospective view of the situation. When it’s all over, you can look back on love and think, “It was beautiful while it lasted.” You can’t always do that with an infatuation. In fact, more often than not, you’ll end up thinking, “I can’t believe I used to lend them my pencil.”
What’s trivial later in life may not be trivial in the moment. People don’t think it’s funny when they tell somebody about how they cry themselves to sleep every night. Later they might feel stupid, but while they’re crying, all they feel is a yawning black hole where their heart used to be.
So when you write about love, whether it’s infatuation or the real thing, never, ever undermine it. Never make it about how when she’s twenty-five and married to somebody else she’ll look back and flush with mortification. Don’t ever let the character know that when he’s over her, the oceans that remind him of her eyes will be easy to look at again. That’s not what the story is about. And it’s certainly not something your character is likely to believe.
Give infatuation the respect it deserves. It can be as dangerous as love, if not more so, because it’s selfish; you won’t be happy if they’re happy with someone else. You’ll keep doing whatever it takes to get them to love you. That pencil will be given away. She will never find a bridge too high. The oceans will always look like her eyes.
And he will always be willing to drown.