It’s not Valentine’s Day without some talk about love interests!
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been around the internet long enough to witness people have some very strong opinions about which characters should end up together. It’s always a contested subject, and when you talk about YA, the staple love triangle tends to figure in, among other things. So what makes a good love interest? What makes us care?
YMMV, but today, I’m spotlighting some features that make for interesting LIs. ❤️
They can’t get together right away.
While a long game of “will they, won’t they” can be exhausting sometimes, that delay is still important. If characters get together immediately, there had better be some really impressive plot around the corner. Otherwise, it takes away some of the tension that can drive a story forward, and robs us of some excellent tropes. How are we supposed to get a dash of “there’s only one bed” or “desperate, frantic admission of feelings during battle” when we need them most?
Plus, not hooking up right away is critical for the evergreen slow-burn, or for tropes like rivals-to-lovers. Can you see my taste in tropes yet?
They help each other!
While this might not be true at first, good LIs should support the MC, and vice versa. I don’t mean they have to bend over backwards to help each other with everything, though. It’s more that they should want to start spending time together, should want to see the other succeed. Bonus points for the moment where they realize they’re not on opposite sides of the issue anymore… 👀
Height difference, baby!
Okay, now I’m just detouring into tropes land. But there’s two very specific flavors of height difference that make everything better. Flavor A is a classic shot of tiny and tall. So much height difference. So much. But Flavor B is more like “you are only an inch taller than I am, quit rubbing it in so help me god.” Pair with banter and fast-paced adventure for best results on that one.
Can’t say no to portmanteaus!
Is this strictly necessary for a good ship? No. I’ve seen some ships with truly horrific portmanteau names, and they’re not bad. I’ve also seen ships with wonderful names, but the ship itself is 🤢 at best. Still, there’s something so satisfying about squishing a couple of names together when talking about a pairing. It just feels right. And efficient. I do like that.
They (the love interest and MC) have relationships outside of the romantic/sexual realm.
Back to more serious features, but this is a big one. If characters only exist to flutter their eyelashes at each other, then they’re never going to feel like their own characters. Even in a story that’s strictly romance, you still want them to have other people in their lives! It makes everything richer at the end of the day.
And my bad for suddenly swerving from tropes back to serious, but I mean it. This one is so important.
They’re not just props for the main character.
Jumping off the last point, your love interest can’t only exist to bolster the main character. What are their goals? What’s stopping them from getting together with the MC right away? What things do they not agree on with the MC? Who do they have relationships with, platonic, familial, or otherwise? Maybe you can’t explore all of that in astonishing depth every single time, but good LIs have these things. They feel like more than a cardboard cutout designed to prop the MC up, and it leads to more realistic tension, and more interesting relationships all around.
Develop your LIs. It’s for the best.
Now, there’s probably plenty of tropes out there I could include, and just as many I could turn my nose up at. But I think these are the ones that do most of the hard work in making a love interest worth investing your emotional energy into, no matter the medium you’re coming at it from.
What do you like to see in a love interest, though?
Big fan of height difference as well? Have a particular thought I missed that’s important to LIs everywhere? Have we glossed over a crucial, delightful trope? Let’s chat!