Love Hurts: Why Tough Love = Good Romance in YA
By Laura Lascarso
Are your fictional relationships in a rut? Is your hero’s love interest in danger of being relegated to the Friend Zone? Do you wish there was a little less conversation and little more action on the page?
Here are a few tips on how to spice up your characters’ love lives.
Love Takes Time: When X meets Y and despite never having had a conversation or knowing anything about each other, they fall instantly and madly in love, and they know that it will last FOREVER—cue the violins, it’s insta-love! It’s probably more like insta-like or perhaps insta-lust, but either way, it’s too soon to be throwing the L-word around so cavalierly.
Love is hard to come by, and it takes time for those feelings to be nurtured. Just as the reader must get to know our characters, so must our characters get to know one another. When there is a profession of love in the early chapters, it’s a bit of a letdown, and the romantic tension plummets. Unless of course, we’re going to do something terrible, like engineer a sudden car wreck which sends one of our characters into a coma, wherein upon waking, they no longer remember their loved one, at all.
In that case, sure, let’s get in our I-love-you’s while we can.
But if there is no catastrophic event on the horizon, then let’s be frugal with our love and dole it out a little at a time; show the reader why these two people should be together despite the odds, and save the big reveal for when it will make the most emotional impact.
Fight More: Fighting is a fact of life, and conflict makes for great tension and character growth. If our lovebirds never fight, it’s a bit of a yawn. Characters who challenge each other, encourage each other to look inside themselves, to change and grow—that’s an interesting and believable relationship. Let your characters argue, get mad, fight, break-up and make up; that’s the stuff of life. What better way to reveal character, increase tension, and up-the-stakes than a good old-fashioned lovers’ quarrel.
In-laws and Natural Disasters: Romeo & Juliet, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hunger Games… There is something about the forces that pull us apart that is so compelling. Whether it’s generations of feuding families, a hurricane, or a Capitol-engineered blood sport, when two characters can overcome the powers trying to divide them, it makes the romance that much sweeter. Caveat: make sure the source of this external tension is also integral to the story’s plot.
Love Polygons: Love triangles are provocative because it’s twice the romance and exponentially more romantic tension. They can be a bit tricky to execute because the center of our love triangle is the same person in both relationships, yet both relationships must be completely different, and compelling, and convincing. The other caution with love triangles is that our reader will inevitably choose one suitor over the other. What if Captain Von Trapp had picked the Baroness? We’d have more than 7 weepy children and a heartbroken governess, the Sound of Music would have died right then. Team Maria!
We must arm our suitors with well-chosen weapons of love. Only one will pierce the cold armor to melt our hero’s heart. Choose wisely.
PDA’s and TMI: They’re acronyms for a reason. Like my son says, “Kissing is disgusting, and grown-ups are disgusting because they kiss.” Kissing is fine and great, but there are other ways to show intimacy. Just as real-life couples have inside jokes and special rituals, so will our characters. Even if our story is set in the zombie apocalypse, imagine our couple on a perfect day—what would they do or say; how would they act toward each other? Ruminate on how they might express their love and affection and try to incorporate these quieter moments into your story.
First Kiss: I’m having rewrite flashbacks here because the first kiss in CB was written and rewritten so many times that it began to feel robotic. (That’s when you break out the chocolate). It’s hard for some writers (me) to articulate the kiss, especially with words like “tongue” and “saliva” in the mix. This is why it might help to focus more on the build-up to the first kiss, both in terms of earlier missed opportunities for that connection, as well as the biological responses that happen right before. Beware, because it’s so easy to fall into cliché here, because our hearts really do race, palms do sweat, and yes, it kind of feels like the onset of a really bad virus. That’s amore.
So, in conclusion, when writing romance, make love tough, make your tender moments extraordinary (even if they’re extraordinarily awful), and allow space for healthy conflict. Now, for a few recommendations:
Pride and Prejudice (miscommunication abounds)
The Fault in Our Stars (tender moments)
Jellicoe Road (characters who challenge each other)
Hunger Games and Twilight (love triangle)
Graceling (slow burn)
Ella Enchanted (the curse of the in-laws)
Share some of your favorite love stories. What are some novels or movies that you feel do romance well, and why?
Laura Lascarso's debut YA novel Counting Backwards (Atheneum) is available in stores now. Visit her on the web at www.lauralascarso.com