I’ll be honest, I didn’t even known this trope had a name until recently, when reading through reviews, both of my own books and of others in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. It refers to the fairly common situation in fiction where the protagonist and love interest meet and find themselves immediately attracted to one another. I guess some people really don’t like it. They prefer a “slow burn.” and the feeling I get from the reviews is that they think the slow burn is somehow more realistic, that a couple thrown together by fate finding instant attraction and the desire to tear one another’s clothes off is somehow contrived.
Well, being the good New Hampshire boy that I am, I’m going to steal a line from Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” and say “From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.”
In my long and sordid history, I think it’s taken me maybe thirty seconds from first seeing someone to decide whether or not I’m physically attracted to them. Maybe five minutes of conversation to decide that I’m intellectually attracted. Not saying I’m running out to price rings and look for a house in a town with a good school system, but I’m definitely sure that I’m interested in a cup of coffee or a few drinks or dinner or wild, passionate sex.
Now, this is subjective, and dependent on context. If your characters are a stable boy and the crown princess, maybe they have a few more obstacles to overcome, but if we’re writing characters who are consenting adults in a culture which allows them a great deal of freedom, there’s no reason for them not to do the deed by the second or third date. Which, as I’ve said, may as well be within a few days of meeting.
Maybe I’m just a cheap, tawdry slut, but to my mind, this is more realistic than a “slow burn” where characters, after years of friendship, finally realize that their friend is really their soulmate. I’ve experienced pawing the ground for somebody I just met, but I’ve never discovered an attraction to somebody I’ve worked with for a year before noticing them.
That’s not to say every relationship has to be immediate, or even that every pair of characters who find one another attractive have to act on that. There are plenty of reasons for people to defer entering a relationship. Maybe there’s a big power imbalance, or class differences, age differences, social barriers and so on. Maybe they have a professional relationship that they don’t want to jeopardize. Maybe one or both of them are already married/betrothed, taken a vow of celibacy, or whatever. But the attraction can be instant. The psyche is a fickle thing and the heart wants what the heart wants.
Another thing to bear in mind is the genre. I don’t primarily write or read romance. To me, the romance isn’t the crux of the story. If it is, then clearly that’s where the conflict has to be, that’s what the action needs to be centered around. If the main conflict of the story is something else, and the romance just a subplot, then there’s no real need to string it out. And if the book is a thriller or there’s some big, life threatening situation, it’s more likely that people who aren’t sure they’ll be alive in a month aren’t going to wait for the third date.
I am a fan of instalove, because I feel it’s a better reflection of my own experiences. Not that I’m James Bond. I’ve been happily and faithfully married for better than two decades. But I knew the minute I saw my future wife that I was interested, and I had a phone number within the day, and a real date within a week. Yes, there were problems and growth and change and nice juicy conflicts to mine for drama as we built our relationship, but those came after the passion.