Friday, August 24, 2012

Author Bites - Eilis O'Neal on Commendable Love Interests

One of my favorite things about Eilis's THE FALSE PRINCESS was Kiernan.  He was Sinda's life-long friend and their relationship was a natural progression of that friendship.  Kiernan really loved Sinda but it wasn't a love to a fault.  He didn't try to protect her from herself, he didn't try to make decisions for her.  She was her own person, he recognized that and even when he really didn't want to he left her alone so she could do her own thing when she felt she needed to.  Of course I asked Eilis about this and she graciously offered up a post in response.  Here's Eilis waxing poetic about what makes a really awesome love interest (as opposed to an over-bearing, insta-love douche <--my words).  Thanks for stopping by, Eilis!

When I was twelve, I was going to marry George Cooper. Never mind that he was nearly twice my age, in love with someone else, and a thief. And especially never mind that he only existed in the pages of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness books. He was my first—though certainly not last—big book crush. And he’s continued to be, to my writer’s eye, a great example of a male love interest.

Male love interests were something I thought a lot about while writing my own YA fantasy novel, The False Princess. When done well, they can be absolutely wonderful—worthy companions for your main character and crush-worthy delights for the reader. When done poorly, they can pull your whole story apart. I definitely wanted Kiernan, my main character’s love interest, to be in the first group, but I was actually a little surprised by the adoration that he received from readers right off the bat. So what makes Kiernan so lovable, and what makes for a great love interest for me in general?

To start off, there’s the best friend angle. Kiernan is Sinda’s best friend—her only friend for a lot of the novel—and, in some ways, he knows her better than she knows herself. I love this in a romance, partially because I’ve always been a little skeptical of the “love at first sight” storyline, which can seem forced if not written by someone who knows what they’re doing, but more because I love that moment when something shifts inside the main character, so that she suddenly sees this boy she’s known for years differently for the first time. There’s also something very satisfying about being able to explore a relationship that has been ongoing for years before the book begins. Closeness can be expressed in so many ways then—inside jokes, small looks, little stories from the past. And then to watch that closeness develop into new sort of bond is just yummy.

The other way that Kiernan really fits the bill for me and love interests is in the way he interacts with Sinda. It’s really important to me that my main character’s love interest be a partner with her, not a savior, and this was especially so because Sinda is (or was) a princess, and princesses traditionally get saved. I didn’t want there to be any “Stand behind me so I can protect you,” or “I can’t let you do anything dangerous because I love you so much.” Though I think we always want to keep the people we love from harm, I become really, really irritated when a love interests gets so bent on protecting the main character that his arms stop being supporting, and end up being binding. I wanted Kiernan to recognize Sinda’s competence and capability and to love her for them (indeed, he recognizes these qualities in her before she herself fully does).

In short, I didn’t want Kiernan to save Sinda, but to stand with her while she saves herself.

So those are probably the two top reasons that I like Kiernan as one half of The False Princess’s love equation, and they’re qualities that resonate with me in the works of others. Not all, of course. But that list would be a little too long, and besides, I have to get to the library. I’ve got two books waiting there with potential book-crushes in them . . .
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