Writing Tips

How to Write Realistic YA Romance

As a teenager, I steer away from Young Adult books for (mainly) one reason: the terrible romance plots. As a writer, I know that romance can be done properly in books and can even add to the plot. But I rarely have seen it.

Almost all writers know that the love triangle is overdone, but what they do not realize is the flaw in their thinking which creates the cliched love triangle– and so they continue to make the same mistake in a slightly different manner.

However, the other day, I read this fantastically done Young Adult romance plot in a Christian Fantasy. The Blood of Kings trilogy by Jill Williamson begin with the novel, By Darkness Hid, and the romance of the young protagonist, Achan, is not the main plot of the story but  actually enhances the characters, revealing their true goals and personalities, and acts as a foil to Achan’s true journey (that of a non-believer to the equivalent of a Christian.) The thing that shock me so much was that the romance felt real.

*Please note that I will be including several spoilers for the Blood of King romance plot in this post. However, I will be putting spoiler warnings before I give away anything. That way you can skip those sections if you choose.

So, based on my analysis of The Blood of Kings trilogy and my own experience as a teenager, here are several truths about real teenage romance that need to translate over into Young Adult fiction.

How to write realistic YA romance

1. There is no love triangle or steady relationship (since the start) between only two characters

After writers realized that the love triangle (think Hunger Games or Twilight) was overdone, they began to write romances where there was absolutely no one else to whom the main characters were attracted (think Divergent.) Neither of these are realistic. Teens are attracted to someone almost everywhere that they go. Oh, that guy is really nice looking. Wow, this other guy has really similar hobbies to me! Oh look, this other guy has the same personality type– it is really nice to talk to someone who thinks the same way. Seriously, teens are attracted to a whole lot of people.

Jill Williamson did a marvelous job of this. The last time I counted (somewhere in the middle of the last book), there were ten people involved (even in a small way) in the romantic plot around Achan. Some characters is was merely a temporary “crush” (oh, that girl was really nice to me– I think I am in love), while others played major roles like his best friend since childhood (female, of course.)

2. Most teens will not be romantically fought over

Not every girl is Helen of Troy. Seriously though, this applies to both guys and girls in your romance plot. Sure, occasionally, two or more guys will compete for a single girl, or two or more girls will compete for a single guy. But normally this is for some superficial reason (like attractiveness or popularity.) However, this has become the standard for Young Adult fiction (especially if the target audience are females.) Most teens will not be able to relate to this romantic relationship, and frankly, readers are tired of reading this cliche.

Unless having a beautiful, super attractive character or a politically powerful character is a main plot point for your story, don’t have your main character be romantically fought over.

There are two characters who are (short of) romantically fought over in The Blood of Kings, but there is a very good reason for this. One is the heir of a very powerful dutchess and the other is the crown prince. Of course, people would be competing for their love, but some of the other characters (such as one of the servants) really has to work to get noticed by anyone.

3. Other people will be dating besides your main characters

For some reason, the main character’s best friend is never in a relationship of their own or the other supporting young characters. But in real life, there are plenty of teens already in relationships all around. I am not sure why author tend to isolate their two love doves from anyone else their age who are dating/courting. Maybe it is just a lack of thought.

By including other relationships in your story, it will deepen the characters around your main characters and give you the perfect chance for mentors or foils for your main characters’ relationship. Why not take a little bit of time and develop other relationships in your novel?

4. Standards anyone?

It seems that in Young Adult books, the only qualifications for a boyfriend or girlfriend is an attractive body and that “click” of friendship/romance. But in real life, this situation occurs relatively often. So teens (and everyone else) have to set standards for those they will get romantically involved with. Similar life goals is a good standard to set, or believing in the same things. Maybe your main character will need to reject a romantic relationship with another character because they do not have the same plans for their life.

Again, Jill Williamson did a marvelous job of this in her books. The main female character, Averella/Vrell Sparrow, is a follower of Arman, and though she is very attracted to another character, she refuses to have a romantic relationship with him because he does not follow Arman. This is a huge sacrifice on her part, but it was the right thing to do.

5. There are bigger goals than having the ideal boyfriend/girlfriend

If the ending of a book can be considered happy if two characters end up as a couple but everything else falls apart, then something is wrong (ahem–Hunger Games–ahem.) Please stop telling teens that the end goal is to have a boyfriend or girlfriend! There are a lot bigger goals in life!

Center your story first around a major problem that has relevance in the real world, and make your story about your character overcoming that problem. Then use the romance as a hindrance or help for your character to achieve that goal (depending on what you want.) Romantic relationship should be a method to achieve support and companionship as you achieve a common goals– romance is not the goal.

*Spoiler Alert*

This was fantastically done in Jill Williamson’s book, By Darkness Fled. Achan’s goal is to become the best future king of Er’ets as possible as this involves taking a queen– who needs to be a powerful woman who has control of part of his country, can rule beside him, and is a follower of Arman. Achan knows that this must be the daughter of a powerful dutchess, but he is deeply and clearly in love with a stray girl. So Jill does the unthinkable for a Young Adult novel and has Achan follow his God and marry the dutchess’ daughter because it was the right thing to do.

So what do you think makes a good romance plot in a young adult novel? What are you tired of seeing? Please comment below, and if you have read the Blood of Kings trilogy, I would love to hear what you thought of Jill’s books.

God bless,

Gabrielle

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23 thoughts on “How to Write Realistic YA Romance”

  1. Sooooo good! I’ve only read the first two books in the trilogy, but I think the romance is really well done. Also, a comment on your comment about teens being attracted to a lot of people… Jill’s series The Mission League features this, and as a bit of a hindrance, too. Jill does romance really well, in my opinion. 😉

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  2. Wow, yes! Definitely great points to consider and put into practice. 🙂 Another point is that not every character really wants to or is capable of being romantic. That element actually makes for some pretty funny writing. Horatio Hornblower from CS Forester’s books is hilariously unromantic, even after he’s married. But his attempts are always sweet. 🙂
    So far I’ve avoided romance in my writing, even though my two main characters are a boy and a girl. Something might happen later, though I’m very on the fence about the whole idea….

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    1. That is very true, writefury, (in fact, I probably fall into that category.)
      I know what you mean. I have always been on the fence about my characters’ relationships with each other, but I do have one romantic relationship (and maybe two?) I am really trying to down my mine, though.

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      1. Haha, yeah, me too. Romance was the cause of most of my apprehension about being a teenager. 😛 It’s still a foreign emotion to me…
        well, I know nothing of the sort is going to happen in the current book… at least not that I know of… *squints at characters* I like them together and everything. They’re both awesome, but they’re both my age. Which is *ahem* not romance age.
        Maybe I’ll just write fan fiction for my own book. Set it 10 years later and just get it out of my system. 😛

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      2. Yeah, right now I’m mostly keeping them on my level of romance. I might do some short stories about far in the future when they marry or something… but I don’t feel that brave at the moment. 😉

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  3. The first YA book was probably the last YA book I will read in a while, because pretty much the center of its whole plot was romance. There was a love triangle, and I was so annoyed at the MC because she was constantly switching from one guy to the other and could never make up her mind, even though one was obviously the jerk and yeah. Let’s just say I will be wary of the next YA book I pick up.
    I really love #5. Nowadays it seems that you aren’t fulfilled as a teenager if you’re not in a relationship. I mean, really? What about all the problems in the world?
    I myself had a WIP in which there will be some romance, and I will definitely keep your points in mind. =)

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  4. Yes, yes, yes. I could not agree more!! One I hadn’t thought of much before, though, was the “Standards” point. I mean, obviously in a Christian book this is a consideration, but when writing a story that’s not overtly Christian, I find it easy to forget that everyone has /some/ sort of line drawn on what they want and do NOT want in a girlfriend/boyfriend.

    I’ll definitely be using this list as I craft my own romances!

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  5. Yes. Everything you said is spot on. I especially like the point that romance is not the end goal of the story–or shouldn’t be. There’s far much more to life than that. 😛 I agree entirely with this post. Awesome job!

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  6. This was so helpful! I’m working on a slightly shorter steampunk novel on Wattpad with some Christian tie-ins, and a portion of the plot revolves around love and relationships. Keeping things realistic is very important to me, albeit a fantasy/sci-if novel. Thank you for your awesome posts!

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  7. YES! I can’t believe how often love triangles happen. I mean, I’ll never say NEVER on writing one, but it would really have to be done just right, and that’s a lot of pressure. I agree with what you’re saying, though – we’ve realized it’s a cliche and have turned to a different one, lol!

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  8. I absolutely love number five. I can’t help but roll my eyes every time I read a YA, especially dystopian fiction when the world has shattered but everything is okay because the boy and the girl wound up together. Like we didn’t see that coming. Hunger Games killed me because it’s not like they changed their world they simply altered their position in it. I am currently writing a book in which within the first chapter her long time boyfriend breaks up with her, and they remain that way throughout the novel.

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    1. Me, too, Ember! Ugh, the Hunger Games was painful for me to read, too– especially because of the ending, but there were other reasons, too.
      Great idea! Young people like us really need to hear that we have a higher purpose than romance and procreating. Good luck with your novel.

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  9. I agree with all the points you made! I’ll definitely be reposting this. 🙂

    It’s interesting, though, because I didn’t read the ending of The Hunger Games that way. I didn’t read it as “oh, everything’s okay as long as they end up together, because that’s the most important thing.” To me it was “the world has fallen to pieces and taken these two (and everyone else) down with it. But they’re there to help each other put the pieces back together.” I just saw it as a tiny bit of hope at the end of a pretty devastating book. Just another fascinating example of how people can see things differently, I guess 🙂

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    1. same here 🙂 That’s probably the only thing I didn’t agree with on this post. Other than that this is like, wow!!!! I never thought of these. I’ve always hated the problems #2 brought to light. Also, that teens can be attracted to more than one person. SO true haha

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