Writing YA Romance: how NOT to suck

The Precious: Still a better love story than Twilight.

EDIT: Since publishing this, it has appeared on the NY Editor’s post about how to market your YA book!

Ha! Ok, maybe I’m the only one who got that slightly Fang-y dig at Ms. Stephanie Meyer whom I know has sold more books than I ever will. You thought I had all the answers to this didn’t you? Well, I have put a good deal of thought into it, but like any well-thought out argument, I researched my butt off.

Here are some links to posts I read to come to an intelligent conclusion on this topic:

The truth is that YA romance sits in that uncomfortable area we all lived through that is defined as first base – there’s lots of flirting, lots of day dreaming, but the culmination of these feelings (at least on the page) are the kiss, or as Harry describes his first kiss with Ginny: “After several long moments – or it might have been a half an hour – or possibly several sunlit days – they broke apart.”

How much you actually describe on the page differs from one end of the YA spectrum to the other, but at the point at which you’d feel uncomfortable reading it aloud to your 13-year-old son seems to be a good standard.

I treat writing about romance the way I treat how I dress, I leave something to the imagination. Maybe that makes me old-fashioned, but I think it makes my books readable for any age, including the 50-year-old mom who also has a Shades of Grey side.

Romance should develop over time, closer to real time than many media force us to move. Less Jack and Rose and more Darcy and Elizabeth. And what I read over and over again in my research (and which I swear I will remember as I write these scenes) is to put yourself in your own teenage body – remember the awkwardness, the weird feelings, the ridiculous jealousies, the over-analysis of tiny little details. That is a key element of teenage romance, and really, romance into your early twenties as my Portia is discovering.

Avoiding cliche is something we should all do in every scene we write, but avoiding the cliche in romantic scenes is also something I pulled from the research as high priority for me. Patricia actually described it perfectly so I’m quoting her directly: “It should not consist of the so-called love interest being cute/hot/mysterious and some weird reaction of the main character’s body.” Amen sister.

What I discovered in my own writing is that the attraction between my two main characters was TOO subtle. My editors actually suggested I raise the heat a bit, and I did, with more one-on-one scenes, and awkward moments.

I hope I managed to write some decent romance, but I guess you guys will tell me (be gentle!) when you read Jewel. Let me know your thoughts on writing romance (in all genres) in the comments below!

Also, I love this meme, so here are a few more… (SORRY Ms. Meyer!!):


Author: Angela Misri

Novelist, Digital Strategist & Journalist http://angelamisri.com

4 thoughts on “Writing YA Romance: how NOT to suck”

  1. Trying to be realistic and take it slow has worked for me as well. In Reborn City there’s definitely romantic feelings between certain characters, but that deveolops over time and even the relationships form over time, rather than in the heat of the moment. And while in Snake we have an already-established romance, it developed over time to the powerful love within the pages.

  2. After I had written Irish Firebrands (a contemporary Boomer-Lit romance), I was reading one of my son’s college textbooks, and I was intrigued to discover that I had instinctively and accurately portrayed several of the kinds of love resulting from different combinations of Intimacy, Passion, and Decision/Commitment, the three interconnected qualities illustrated by Robert J. Sternberg’s “triangle of love” (not to be confused with a “love triangle”).

    As a healthcare professional, I think cliche gets a bad rap, when it comes to romance. Cliches also can be seen as the general truths that underlie respected aphorisms. This is because of the biology that underpins so much of human psychology, including social psychology, of which love and romance are parts. Passion does exist on its own (see Sternberg), and love-at-first-sight does happen (research that, unfortunately, I can’t quote off the top of my head, shows that it mostly happens to men). Psychopathology also can play a role in relationships, as it does in Irish Firebrands (with rapid initial reactions that develop over time, because things don’t come to a head until Chapter 19). So, “Patricia” is guilty of being a bit glib in her blog, when she says, “that’s something you need to see your doctor about,” and “there is medication for that.” Where I see a problem with cliche, it’s in thrown-together work by unskilled writers who are unthinkingly cranking out formulaic plotting.

    Sternberg, R.J. (1999). “The Ingredients of Love.” In Psychology is social, 4th ed., Edward Krupat, editor. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc.

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