We’ve all been there – happily reading a book about mental health, and then BAM! You’re hit with a much-loathed trope. Today I’m going to talk about the most common one that I’ve seen:
- MC is magically cured via the power of (romantic) love
From my experience, YA is particularly bad with this particular trope. I think it’s because in many people’s eyes YA = romance, or that a YA novel would be incomplete without a romance. This is annoying on many fronts (some of which I’m going to talk about below), and can lead to dangerous assumptions. I for one definitely thought that once I was in a romantic relationship that I would be magically cured – what a shock I had when I realised that this was not the case.
So, my tips to writers who are thinking about writing about the curative powers of love:
- How about you just…don’t? Not every story has to have romance! Even diehard romantics like me sometimes get tired with the idea that every novel has to pair characters up by the end. Aromantic people exist too and deserve to have their stories told, in all their multifaceted glory. Publishing houses might not be as keen, but you know what? Fuck ’em.
- What about the powers of platonic love? The support and comfort of friends would be an amazing thing to write about! We don’t have enough narratives about the power of friendship, in my opinion, particularly in YA. I know that I’ve been helped SO MUCH by my friends – if someone was to write my story, friendship would play a huge part in my experiences of recovery.
- If you’re dead set on a romance, focus on the other things that can help someone with a mental illness. Talk about therapy, and medication, and the support of family – that way, if your MC does recover, it can’t totally be because of the curative powers of romantic love.
- Have your MC’s experience of mental health stay the same. Not every story has to be one of recovery! In fact, it is quite refreshing to read books like Under Rose-Tainted Skies where the MC still goes to therapy at the end. This isn’t a depressing ending in the slightest, but rather is realistic!
- Show the ways in which romantic relationships can actually be difficult for those with mental health problems. I know I had a huge shock when I realised that my mental health was actually worsening when I entered a romantic relationship, because I had yet another person to be anxious about and obsess over!
Because let’s be real – romantic love is just one small aspect of some people’s lives. There are all sorts of other things that can help with recovery – and to expect one person to magically heal you of your mental health? Is dangerous, and puts way too much pressure on them.
What other mental health tropes should I tackle in this series? Let me know!