Writing Romance for Young Adults

Aug 10, 2011

Since we talked about love and romance as a teen in Monday's Teen Tales post, I wanted to talk about writing romance. I've talked about writing non-cheesy romantic scenes, but today I want to focus on writing romance in YA.


Here's the thing about this subject-- it's subjective. Different people like different things from their romance, and depending on the character and the story, the romance will always be different. And I don't necessarily consider myself a romance-writing expert (check out Stephanie Perkins for some great examples of that). So I'm going to give some general things that I think make any romance better.

1. The romance must be as individual as your characters

Though many bad chick flicks may have led people to believe otherwise, romance is not, in fact, a cliche. Romance is individual. Every relationship I ever had in high school and college was different-- partially because I was a slightly different person each time, and partially because I was dating different people.

Romance is all about the character interactions, which means it's about human interaction. We interact differently with different people because of who we are and who they are. This is what bugs me so often about love triangles. It's boring when you see a girl who has the same relationship with two boys and can't choose between them. Why do I care? It's the same relationship either way. When I see two different relationships, with good and bad interactions on both sides, I'm torn. I care. Which is better, which is worse?

It's not just about having an original romantic plot. It's about having unique characters who interact with each other in unique ways. This is why Jane Austen's books are all engaging and different-- because of the different people.

2. The characters should both contradict each other and fulfill a need for each other

If the characters have contradicting traits, you've got some great possibilities for realistic conflict. But your characters should also need each other. Why are they together, or wanting to be together, or having a hard time staying away from each other? What is an internal need they have that the other person fulfills? Answering these questions for your character's relationships can help deepen that relationship. It becomes more about who they are, and not just about them being hormonal.

3. Let the characters be passionate

This is not me advocating sex in YA. It's not something I personally like to write or read, though I know others have different opinions. But as mentioned in my last post, teenagers (and heck, let's just admit the rest of us too) like our relationships with a little passion. Passion can mean a physical component, but it can be more than that too. Passion has to do with desire--often thwarted desire--that is intense. Not just physically, but emotionally. Let your characters feel that longing and desire, and create romantic tension by prolonging the manifestation of it.

So, my friends, what do you think? What thoughts do you have on writing a better romance? What are your favorite and least favorite romantic moments?

20 comments:

Stacy Henrie said...

Great post! For me, I like the romantic moments to build slowly and I like having chemistry between the main characters early on, even if that's negative (they don't like each other) in the beginning.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Love this. I really like starting my characters out with a little chemistry and watching it grow from there. I like the I hate you but then I love you kind of stories. Not sure why. I think because you get to see the characters start to respect each other. How they really get to know each other better and realize they can't live without the other.
Call me a sap, I don't care. ;)

And first kisses have to be awesome. FYI.

Ruth Josse said...

Love number 1. Hadn't thought of the relationship itself needing to be unique because of the characters involved. Wow, so true!

And sometimes number three is hard because what if someone I know reads it! I feel like I would be walking around with a constant blush while everyone is thinking, "Oh, she writes about kissing. A lot." *shrugs* Oh well.

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

Great post. For me at least, it's the sexual restraint that appeals with any type of romance. When that tension is allowed to grow while the characters come to know one another, you have a wonderful romantic formula. The longer you can keep them apart through believable plotline and conflict while increasing the passion between them, I'll keep turning the page. And then...keep the mystery still. I don't need to know EVERYTHING. Just a hint of foreplay and then close the door. Squee!

Jenny said...

Wow, this is a great post. I love #1. I think a good kiss scene is simplistic, allowing the reader to get the idea but not all the gory details. And I have to be convinced that there is a reason the two people like each other-not just because they are destined to be. This is huge for me.

Holly L'Oiseau said...

Such a great post. Especially for me, because I suck at writing romance. In fact, I used my awkardness in expressing feelings to build my new MC, who has a ton of passion on the inside, but can't let it out. That's where your idea of prolonging that passion comes in as fabulous advice! Thanks!

linda said...

Love what you say about individuality! It's so important for me as a reader to be able to understand why the leads are drawn to each other. I think my favorite moments are when something *almost* happens between the characters, and there's so much expectation, but then it's frustrated. That definitely ramps up the tension. But it'd get annoying if it's used too often.

Abby said...

This is great. Romance needs to work yet not be perfect, because lets face it, it never really is! AND be sure to check out my blog tomorrow. I will have a link to your website from your post of schedules! :)

Lynda R Young said...

I don't think romance is my strong point though I do try to incorporate it into my stories. So this post is great.

Caitlin said...

Really enjoyed this one! I don't feel as if I write romance very well, so I have nothing to add, but thanks for the tips!

Angie Cothran said...

Loved this post! I think romance is so powerful because deep down everyone of us wants that connection.

Jessie Humphries said...

I like the thwarted desire idea. Let it build. I think the tension is what makes the pages turn.

Rachel Brooks said...

Great advice! Romance needs to be unique without cliches or cheesiness. People are different, so every romance should be too.

Also, I’m a new follower. Stop by my blog and follow me too? :) http://rachelbrookswrites.blogspot.com/

& said...

I think all YA writers need to read this post because it's so full of great advice. I love #1 and really cannot agree more. Each romance is different, because each character is different. It's one of the reasons the romance in many YA novels leaves me dissatisfied these days, because they all read the same even when the characters aren't.

David Powers King said...
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David Powers King said...

Perfect post, Shallee!

I think this is why One Day was such a big hit. It's not cliche romance at all. It feels very real, if anything. I'm not a romance expert either, but watching characters come together, in any story, if tasteful, keeps me glued.

Kari Marie said...

Shallee - number 2 really hit home for me! I'm working on crafting a little romance right now and I had completely thought about what need they fulfill in each other. Excellent post!

Margo Berendsen said...

I am tweeting this post - such great advice! The uniquness of each relationship because of unique and changing individuals, needs, conflict and passion - makes me excited to get back to working with my girl and her guy...

Dean K Miller said...

Building to such a point in my current (and first) book. Valuable info for me, as this first romance pairing is not going to work out, but I've got to build it first. The second relationship is waiting in the wings of forthcoming chapters.

I'll keep the handy to reference. Thanks

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