I’ve been reading a lot of YA and paranormal romance lately, and I’ve noticed a couple of disturbing, unappealing, and disturbingly unappealing behaviors of male love interests. While they seem to apply strongly to paranormal monster-boyfriends, they tend to crop up anywhere there’s a broody, mysterious dude with a lot of secrets. Here’s a list of offputting things that male love interests do, and some suggestions for revamping them.

He has no friends

He didn’t talk to anyone before the heroine arrived. No one seems to know anything about him, but he doesn’t date and he doesn’t hang out with anyone outside of class. As I have mentioned previously, friendless love interests pose a problem. On one hand, it is possible that they’re extremely introverted. On the other, a complete lack of any sort of social network usually indicates a much deeper rooted problem, such as an inability to form lasting relationships, destructive behaviors that drive other people away, or untreated mental illness that might make it hard for the person to interact with others.

Friendlessness, if involuntary, can also be damaging in itself and can cause a whole host of other problems such as low self-esteem. In other words, if someone is friendless there is a 99% chance that they are not in a place where all of their problems can be solved by a relationship. In fact, there’s a good chance that they’re not ready for a relationship at all.
Moreover, being the love interest’s only social connection puts the heroine in an awkward position. She can’t break up with him because he literally has no one else. That makes it really difficult to start a healthy relationship.

You’re the only person I love. Or talk to.

The Fix

The friendless love interest is supposed to establish two things. First, that the MC doesn’t have to compete for the guy’s affection because she is literally the only girl he’ll talk to, and second, that she must be truly special for him to notice her. To address the first point, consider whether the MC is so insecure that she cannot share her guy with anyone. Also consider whether the fact that he literally cannot leave her is going to help create tension (hint: it’s probably not). To address the second, think about smaller, more meaningful gestures he can do to demonstrate interest in her.

Then give the guy a social network. Even if they’re just loose acquaintances, it shows that he has a life outside of her, and the reader gets a better sense of who he is based on the people he chooses to surround himself with. It also gives you more secondary characters to work with.

He’s cagey AF

He refuses to tell her anything about his (dark and troubled) past. Or his home life. Or

Oh, I don’t have a past. But tell me more about yourself.

what he had for lunch. Refusing to give out personal information of any kind often demonstrates a lack of investment in the relationship. This is especially true if one party volunteers personal information and the other one continues to withhold. Even if he has a good reason for not sharing, it makes the interactions look one-sided. It also makes it hard for the heroine to get close to him since she knows almost nothing about him. If he isn’t letting her in on his plans, they can’t really work together and can’t find a lot of common ground.

This is often made worse when the guy holds back everything about himself but insists that the MC tell him everything—and worse still when she does. This creates an uneven power dynamic that places him in charge of the relationship. It suggests that his demands will be met but hers won’t, and that she has to respect his boundaries but that it’s alright for him to push past hers and to insist that she tell him things.

The Fix

If he can’t tell her about his past, he should at least be giving her some information about his present—sharing hobbies with her, talking about his interests, and generally trying to involve her in his life.

Caginess is usually meant to show that they guy has secrets. However, if we know nothing about him, we don’t really know what to ask. A lack of a past isn’t compelling. Figure out what his specific secrets are and work on setting up those as driving questions. Zero in. Another way of going about this is through omissions. If he tells a story about his past, what does he gloss over or leave out? Rather than advertising that he has secrets, how might he hide the fact that he’s hiding something? Think about your character, and about how his unique personality would come into play when he’s handling secrets.

He Reminds Everyone of How Dangerous He Is

The love interest tries to warn off the MC with vague statements like “I’m dangerous,” and “I’m afraid I might hurt you.” Or worse, he interrupts romantic moments to say things like, “Could you forgive someone who’s done something unforgivable?” Take a moment to consider how this sounds to anyone who isn’t aware that they’re living in a paranormal romance novel. The guy sounds like he’s trying to clue her into the fact that he’s either a registered sex offender, or that he’s abused partners in the past.Not hot.

The Fix

These warnings are supposed to serve two purposes: building tension and showing how dark/angsty the guy can be. Take out the warnings and focus on building character and mystery instead. Or, if he’s really afraid for her but can’t keep away, he could always just let her in on the secret, since everyone’s already figured it out by the time that he starts hinting about how dangerous he is.

Actually, I think you’re right. I am going to run. Consider me convinced.

Afraid that your broody vampire love interest still isn’t working? Check back in Monday for part 2.