Romance. It seems to play an important role in many of the books I read, and I don’t even really read romance novels. But in so many YA books, it’s part of the subplot. And it makes sense. Most of us experience our first love in our teenage years. That experience is part of growing up.
But sometimes the books we read fail at creating realistic romances. Sometimes it’s because there’s no chemistry. Sometimes it’s because it’s instalove. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense considering the characters’ circumstances. After all, when they’re fighting for their lives, how the hell do they have time to make out with their crush?
So what makes a romance good? For me, it’s the buildup, and I think that’s why I prefer romantic subplots over romantic novels. I like the tension, but I want a touch of it here and there, not an entire novel of it. And honestly, I’m a big sucker for the will they or won’t they trope.
For me, a good romantic build up takes time. I want it to take up most of the novel. Let the romance emerge slowly as the characters get to know each other. Let them debate their feelings for the other character, debate whether or not they want to go for it. Or if they have a crush on someone, make them doubt the other’s feelings for a while. Make ‘em suffer a little bit.
Let them fight. Let them discover something they don’t like. How many of us see our partners as faultless? How many of us have discovered something about our partner that made us stop and think: is this person really right for me? Part of loving someone is accepting and loving their faults. For a young person, this might be difficult, but it’s a passage into adulthood and it’s something that needs to be explored a little more.
Create passion. Early into our romance, we are passionate. Everything is new and fresh and exciting. If our characters are truly falling in love, there needs to be real passion and chemistry. And if the passion feels off or unnatural to you, it’ll probably feel like that for your reader. More importantly, I think this moment of passion is best towards the end of the novel, especially if your couple is “endgame” because if it happens too early, it’s going to feel forced. It’s going to feel like instalove. For your reader to buy into the passion, they have to know the characters, and they have to have felt the passion.
I know, I’m cruel. But the more work it takes, the sweeter it is. And honestly, insta-love just isn’t satisfying. In the real world, we fall in love once we get to know a person. Sure, we might have a mega-intense crush on someone, but we certainly aren’t in love.
I guess this isn’t meant for writers of pure romance. And honestly, I’m not a big romance reader. I like it in parts, but I don’t want it to drive plot. Ultimately, I want a good story, and I sometimes want a good romance to arise within that story, but I don’t want it to take center stage.