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I'm currently writing a YA novel, and one of my sublots is a romance between the protagonist (A) and another supporting character (B). I introduce the two to each other early on, and they start out as friends before they are forced to team up with each other later on in the plot. There are a few other major male characters, but she specifically falls in love with B later on in the novel. However, I'm worried that readers will suspect this in the beginning, when A and B meet, and especially when they team up and spend a lot of time around each other.

I'm trying my best to avoid the "instalove" trope that's common in modern YA literature, but I still feel like the romance in my novel is going to be very predictable.

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  • Do you want to artificially hide the idea? Shouldn't readers be predicting this if you write the characters well?
    – Mr. Boy
    Aug 19 '21 at 9:59
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What is the obstacle to their falling in love? That is what it takes to make it an actual subplot, which needs conflict. It has to be a convincing reason, too, both to provide drama, and to make it less predictable.

Alternatively, it can be, not a subplot, but a complication to the main plot. They fall in love, but this means the demands on their time are more demanding, and the danger of loss is greater. Being predictable may work perfectly if its effect is to raise the main conflict.

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Perhaps one is involved (or has been historically) with a close friend or relative of the other. Or has just come out of a serious relationship, or has relationship issues from their past and "isn't looking" for romance.

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More ways than grains of sand on a beach:

There is no end to the number of ways you can pitch your romance so it doesn't feel predictable or inevitable. If you go fantasy/sci fi, then you even get into exotic reasons. Let's just throw a few out; less as suggestions and more as examples to get you thinking.

  • One of them is obviously not into the other: Character A has a disturbing body odor, or B has halitosis. Whenever A sees C, she gets all soft in the knees, and B constantly describes his sexual conquests while seeming to be unaware how offensive it might be. You allude to their future romance while squashing all romantic impulses between the two. Then, later, when the underlying obstacles are removed, they start seeing each other while already having a friendship/established history.
  • One or both of them is bisexual: I prefer gender ambiguity, so all my characters are potential partners to all others. That way there can be multiple layers of sexual tension. If A is attracted to girl C and so is B, there can be a rivalry between the two. Later, when C is out of the picture (married to Prince Ruprecht or whatever) their rivalry seems silly and they bond over it. And if the reader thinks B likes boys, they won't assume he also likes girls until his first awkward moves on character A later (and A might be as surprised as your readers).
  • One or both of them has a severe conflict with the romance: Character A or B is engaged (this is a trope, yes). One of them is in a committed relationship which melts down at some point, opening the way for more. The two HAD a relationship, but B has betrayed/tricked/lied to A at some point in an effort to force a closer relationship, and B must rebuilt trust. Or A's brother raped B's sister, and A is covering for her brother - and no matter how well they get along, it seems impossible (either because of A's guilt or B's knowledge). One of them already has kids (or is a monk/nun) and makes it clear they have no interest in a romantic relationship.
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You could, as a trivial device, introduce a storyline or even a conversation early on where one expresses interest, or the topic comes up "her maybe we should date" and it is strongly rejected.

However that "they do after all" seems equally cliche. I might suggest that this sort of thing IS quite predictable in real life. It's OK for readers to be wondering early on.

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