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All You Need Is Love (Or, Are Love Interests Mandatory?)

Okay, story time.

In July, I attended the Harry Potter midnight session for Deathly Hallows Part 2 with a crowd who were dressed for the occasion, had brought chants, cutouts and books with them. Who, for the hour beforehand were prepping themselves for tears, laughter and the overwhelming reaction to the very end of these annual outings. We laughed through Hermione as Bellatrix, bawled through Fred's deathbed, sniffled through the Resurrection Stone scene, and rolled around in our seats laughing when Voldemort hugged Draco. But do you know what had half of the audience on their feet, the audience shrieking with cheers and laughter and drowned-out jokes? The kiss. Ron and Hermione's kiss.

I am not exaggerating.

It was, debatably, the most anticipated event of the entire film series.

When it comes to YA, love interests and the baiting of a potential couple to the readers is basically what drives our trends and our most popular books. And you can argue the opposite as much as you want, but you know that you have slugged through the most banal of YA because of a couple. I have mine. Rose and Dimitri, which soon turned into Rose and Adrian, from Richelle Mead's VAMPIRE ACADEMY. I did, however, give up during book three and read the spoilers instead.

It doesn't even have to be explicit for readers to latch on. Think about some of the fandoms on Even yourself. You've paired people together who were never the canon couples, who would never be drawn to each other in the work. And not just in YA. Think about Sherlock and Watson, or Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, or Stefan Salvatore and Caroline Forbes, or Draco and Hermione.

There's a lot of talk about the hard sell of YA without a slither of romance, and the absurdity of that. I know there is a lot of tears shed and opinions voiced on the matter, so I'm going to offer mine. Opinion that is, not tears.

The truth is that romance ups the escapism appeal of a book. It helps to draw you into the world and the plot, because not only do you have this adventure, but you get to spend the whole thing with your ideal so-and-so. I think that's a pretty universal sentiment.

But with YA, your audience is largely hormonal teenage girls who are lusting after the boy who catches their bus and this-and-that Hollywood star. They want to watch movies about sex and kissing. They want to watch TV shows about sex and kissing. It's pretty safe to assume that they also want to read books about sex and kissing.

That isn't to say you need to stretch your novel to accommodate for such a plot line. Write your book the way it needs to be written. During revisions you can keep that possibility in mind when you're reworking and making the plot more fluid. But it's not always necessary, and some YA authors have ruined potentially incredible books with this so-called near-requirement.

For instance, POSSESS by Gretchen McNeil. I love Bridget, the protagonist, and I know that she needed some sort of home life away from the exorcising and suchness, but her love interest was not even remotely necessary. I would have been much more interested in further investigation into her father and a possible legacy he had with her exorcisms.

I'm not saying that every YA has romance at it's core. If romance drives your story, such is the case with TWILIGHT, then you're going to have a very banal soap-operaish series of conflicts. Romance should be an afterthought, a back seat on an adventure. Think Doctor Who. The adventures and conflicts of the Doctor and his companion are the forefront of the series, and occasionally, there's an inkling of a romance (Rose and the Doctor, for example).

There was a point to this post.

So, I'd really like to hear your opinion on this. Have you discovered any well-done romance subplots in YA lately? How inclined are you to keep with a book if you're rooting for a couple? Have you got any inkling of romance in your own work?


  1. I think that to separate out the romance from the story for analysis purpose does the book a little injustice. To clarify, I think that romance is appreciated all the more because of the greatness of a story. Take Harry Potter for example. J.K. Rowling's story is so riveting, so powerful, and so engaging that the romantic plotline is just icing on an otherwise delicious cake. If the story were boring, then I don't think people would care so much that Ron and Hermione kissed.

    The same goes for Twilight. For what it's worth, the story is pretty good. Ageless vampires attending high school pick out a woman who has a mysterious gift of powerful blood and then there's this war between the vampires and the werewolves and then on top of that...not all vampires get along (a vampire society if you will). Anyway, my point is that the romance comes out as awesome because the story is good.

    Am I making any sense?

  2. Romance isn't often something that drives me on as much as, say, plot or the writing style. And it's rare that I'm invested enough in what happens between the characters that I'll keep reading if I don't like other elements of the story.

  3. I'm a total sucker for a good romance - and it doesn't have to be subplot. But it doesn't have to drive the book either. It just has to be engaging. Enviable.

    I think you're right that YA readers are usually on the lookout for this stuff. But I think it has to be done well, or not at all.

    For instance: I started reading Fitzpatrick's HUSH, HUSH series and got totally hooked by Patch. But he was the only part of the book I liked. He was the only reason I read book II. And the romantic subplot of that story was SO unsatisfying, I won't read book III because, what's the point?

    On the other hand, although I found the romantic subplot(s) of the Hunger Games series really unsatisfying, the story itself gripped me. So I kept reading, despite wishing Katniss would just thaw out and get it on with Gale already.

    You can imagine my reaction to the end of the series... but the point is, I read (and own) all three.

    Do romance well, or don't do it at all. That's my opinion. Of course, our definitions of 'well' will vary greatly.

  4. If I weren't a Sci-Fi/Fantasy writer, I'd totally be a romance writer -- so I prefer my YAs (both to read and to write) with a smidgen of romance in them. However, as you've said, I like it much more when the romance is the sideplot, rather than the main one, with the exception of a few contemporaries.

    I am much more likely to finish a book if I like the couples. I have sloughed through fanfiction with atrocious spelling and grammar just to see my favorite couple get together. However, a lackluster couple can likewise mar my enjoyment of an otherwise good story -- so it's a two-edged sword.

  5. Yeah, I'm definitely one of those suckers for a good romance. I just re-read this Point book I first read when I was probably 12 or something, and I stiiiill love the love interest in it. He was the 'hated' one for most of the book but man he was so sexy and though the book has never won any prizes, it's still one of my favourites. I read the last few lines last night and muttered to myself, "I LOVE NEALE." For the record, these kids are like 16 or something, and I'm 31. lol

  6. @Michael
    Oh, you totally make sense! And I wholly agree with your point. I think that a romance on top of a good story and even great writing skill is what creates these phenomenons in YA.

    @Golden Eagle
    I find that generally, I'm on a similar page to you. But when I find myself invested in characters, it makes the story all the more enjoyable.

    Exactly! You're right on the money about sequels. I find that often they lack something if they're carrying a romance across books in a series. I also agree with you about THE HUNGER GAMES with Katniss needing to thaw the hell out.

    @Emy Shin
    I'm always so disappointed if a poor romance mars my opinion of a book, especially if I've been loving it the entire time.

    It is awesome re-reading books I used to love. I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  7. I'm totally with Emy here. sometimes the couple in the book just doesn't do it for me or their romance isn't interesting at all. if, then, the plot isn't up to par either, then I'll quit reading. while I'd keep reading if the plot was good despite a lackluster romance, I wouldn't keep reading if the romance was hot but the plot was crap (porn without plot, I guess).

  8. It's interesting to consider romance and its place in YA since I can't think of any YA novels I've read which don't include it. I agree with what you said: romance is everywhere because it's what a lot of people want, and I'm part of that crowd.

    I also agree with some of the comments above in that I can get attached to certain romances - which generally leads to browsing deviantART for any existing fanart before creating my own. However, I do find plot (and overall writing style) to be important, and if a story is annoying me then chances are it has prevented me from forming a strong attachment to any characters, romance or otherwise, and will probably be put down, never to be picked up again.

    Additionally, romance - or tensions, or the possibility of romance - can sometimes get in the way if they're annoyingly written or strung out. This makes me want to either shout at the characters to let it go and get to the exciting dragon parts already, or to put the book down entirely (I'm currently proof-reading an unpublished novel with this issue. It has dragons, but not enough so far for my liking).

    Romance can be a part of both plot and characterisation and needs to be treated as such - how important it is depends on how you use it, and why you're using it.

  9. I like my romances to be subplots rather than the main plot (in what I read as well as what I write). Altho I didn't mind TWILIGHT. I think teen girls love that romance aspect of a novel, however, and it is crucial but not mandatory for YA.

  10. I don't like romance as a main plot, unless there is something deeper to the story. If there's a reason for the romance, and a main character learns something from it or grows in some way, I like it. I don't like romance just for the sake of romance because it starts looking like a cheap plot trick in my mind. Maybe it's just me. I like where the point of the story is delving into the characters and who they are and what they are about, and if there's romance on the side or as a main plot line, I'm totally fine with it. One of my favorite stories like that is the Queen's Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. There is so much depth and character development to the story. There is romance, and the fact that the main character is irrevocably in love is one of the main plot points of the story, but it isn't all about the romance. There's a war going on. There are characters doing things that don't have anything to do with romance. There is intrigue and secrecy and brilliant plot twists. I think that's what makes the romance better. It's a part of the story, not the whole thing. I see it like life. Romance is a part of a person's life, but it's not their whole life. There is more to them than just who they are in love with.


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