Romance, whether it’s male/female or male/male, is full of tropes. Opposites attract, friends to lovers, insta love, grumpy/sunshine, etc. In other forms of fiction, these might be things to buck against. (Looking at you George R. R. Martin, you dirty, rotten fiend!) In romance, however, authors ignore or change these tropes at their peril. Romance tropes are like that cozy sweatshirt—the one with the pills and possibly stains—that feels oh so good when you put it on to watch your favorite movie or YouTube channel. If it was different it…well, it wouldn’t be the same.
With that in mind, I’ve coined a new trope—Insta Book Boyfriend. This is where a character, or in the case of m/m romance, possibly both characters, start off wonderful from the beginning of the book. They’re instant boyfriend material. They’re the perfect guy, and the reader automatically wants to snuggle with them. They start off great and end up… great.
I don’t write stories with two Insta Book Boyfriends. At least one of my guys is usually a jerk. He’s going to have to change and prove himself in order to get his HEA (happily ever after). That’s because I like to write what author and mentor K.M. Weiland calls the Positive Change Character Arc. This means the character starts off not so great and ends up wonderful. He might even save the world. At the very least, the story will have changed him, for the better, by the time the book ends.
If he doesn’t change (internally) at all, that’s a Flat Arc. There’s nothing wrong with a Flat Arc. Harry Potter is a good example of this. He starts off as a good guy and ends up a good guy. That’s the kind of character arc an Insta Book Boyfriend has. He starts off as a sweetheart you want to date and ends the book exactly the same way. That’s not to say he didn’t have some adventures and tribulations along the way. It just means the story didn’t fundamentally change him. He’s basically the same person from beginning to end.
Personally, I don’t like to write Flat Character Arcs. I don’t find them as exciting as Positive Change Character Arcs. I’ll often write one main character with a Flat Arc. He acts as both foil and mentor for the other main character. That other main character starts off kind of screwed up. He might be surly and emotionally stunted like Frank Hope, in Know Thy Demons, or conceited and elitist like Pox in Because Faery Godmonster (or the duology, Chainmail and Velvet). They don’t start out as someone you want to date. In fact, you might want to punch them in the nose.
However, by the time the story ends, usually with the help of the other, sweeter protagonist, he ends up a hero deserving of a beautiful happily ever after. I like this formula because at least one of the main characters has to really struggle to win that HEA. He has to change, on some fundamental level, to earn it. Often, he needs to discover what love really means, and grow up to find it.
That’s just what I enjoy writing about. Growing. That’s what makes me happy. It embodies my philosophy that people can change and that love is something we choose. These are the beliefs I cling to in times of strife, as the US is experiencing now, that give me hope people will eventually come together and work for a brighter tomorrow. That might be the kind of fantasy only fiction can birth, but I’m an idealist, and I need to believe bad things can get better.