Guest Post: Jessica Spotswood on Writing YA Romance

Amie says: Recently I saw Jessica tweet that she’d given a presentation on romance in YA. I’m a girl who loves a good swoon, so I pounced, and asked her if she’d share some of her top tips with our readers. Happily for us, she agreed! Enjoy!

Readers love romance…when it’s done right. If it’s not, watch out! Readers are increasingly discerning, and accusations will fly about instalove, too-perfect love interests, unnecessary love triangles, and passive heroines who ignore everything and everyone else for a boy, even when their dystopian society is crumbling around them.

How can we prevent our stories from falling prey to these common criticisms? Here are a few tips:

1. Don’t focus exclusively on romance. Presumably, your protagonist has other people in her life—friends, siblings, parents, grandparents. Let her keep interacting with them. Different people bring out different facets of our personalities and those relationships can provide great conflict. Or is she bailing on her friends to hang out with a boy all the time? We’ve all had friends like that. Let them call her on it! See: Things I Can’t Forget or anything else by Miranda Kenneally.

2. What are your main characters passionate about—besides each other? Maybe your heroine plays soccer or saxophone or is a brilliant photographer. Your hero needs outside interests, too. Personally, I find ambition and talent super-sexy. See: Joe Fontaine in The Sky is Everywhere or Adam in If I Stay/Where She Went.

3. What attracts your characters to one another—besides looks? Instalust is fine, but where do they go from there? What do they have in common, or—if it’s a case of opposites attract—admire about each other? Does your shy stage manager admire the lead actress’s confidence? Do your small-town teens bond over dreams of moving to NYC? Do they balance each other in important ways? See: Amy Spalding’s The Reece Malcolm List.

4. No one is perfect. This includes love interests. It can be tempting to create the perfect boy (or girl), but everyone has flaws. Don’t make your love interest unrealistically handsome, kind, and understanding. Beyond setting up unrealistic romantic expectations for readers, it’s kinda boring. Let them argue. Let them grow and make each other better people. See: Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, or Katsa and Po in Graceling.

5. Love triangles. I love this post by Carrie Ryan, which suggests that each love interest should represent a different, viable path for the heroine—a different possible future self. I’m also a big fan of love triangles in which there are some kind of relationships between all three sides. Two brothers fighting over the same girl? Best friends in love with the same boy? There’s so much fodder for conflict there. See: The Vampire Diaries or Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

What about you, Pub Crawl readers? What tips do you have for writing romance?

jessica spotswoodJESSICA SPOTSWOOD grew up in a tiny one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or—most often—with her nose in a book. She’s been writing since she was little but studied theatre in college and grad school. Now she lives in Washington, DC with her brilliant playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey. She is the author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles. You can find her on Twitter or at her website.


6 Responses to Guest Post: Jessica Spotswood on Writing YA Romance

  1. Bidisha Dec 4 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Those are really good tips and those books are great examples. The Vampire Diaries has always been able to handle the love triangle brilliantly and we all know how Suzanne Collins turned things around by making the not-so-heroic-at-first Peeta someone every reader wanted to bring home to their moms. YA Romance done right beats out everything else.

    My tip would only be to keep it real. Don’t overdo the drama, don’t make it too much of a mushfest and DON’T FORGET THE AWKWARDNESS. I mean, c’mon, you’re a teenager and you’re in love (possibly for the first time), there has to be awkwardness!

    I thought the romance parts were expertly handled in Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

  2. Erin Bowman Dec 4 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Jess, I adore this post. Great tips, paired with awesome examples. Thanks for stopping by and sharing this!

  3. Zoe Dec 4 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    Thank you so much, Jessica! I’m always looking for writing tips, and these are very helpful. Romance is especially hard to write for me, and these covered a lot of the problems I have while writing it. Thank you!

  4. Katie Dec 5 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Great tips Jessica! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Alexa Y. Dec 9 2013 at 2:12 am #

    These tips are quite clever, and I really think that people writing YA with romance should take note. I’m especially a fan of the first bit because it’s true: a person’s life is not just about their romance!

  6. Susan Dennard Dec 10 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Oh wow–great post, Jessica. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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