“Surround yourself with people who know more than you and soak up knowledge like a sponge!” P.K. Witte
Love is in the air…
Sweet kisses, soft caresses, sighs upon angst-filled teenage sighs. Writing romance is natural, easy, simple, or is it? Gate Crashers everywhere want to know how YA and MG writers get their heads in the game. That first kiss, second base, under the shirt-over the bra, or going for the home run… How do you write it when just thinking about it makes you blush and go all sweaty palms?
What? Not feeling it? Me either.
Writing romance can be tricky. Luckily for Gate Crashers everywhere a group of amazingly talented writers were happy to share their feelings about writing the ROMANTIC STUFF with us!
Come on in, have a look around, have fun, learn something that just might help you with your own sloppy teen kiss scenes. Remember, keep it real. Be honest and true to your readers and they’ll love you forever.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Click the pics for these author’s writerly links!
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? I’ve always really enjoyed writing complicated romantic situations: faeries of the Dark Court falling in love with humans; mortals becoming entangled with gods. It’s not so difficult to bring these characters together. After all, they know their love is real. It’s the rest of the world that doesn’t get it. But when it comes to two emotionally damaged humans who are masters at sabotaging their own happiness, the task becomes a bit more difficult. (Or nearly impossible!)
2. How did you get your head in the game? In “The S-Word” I found myself facing my most difficult romantic/emotional situation yet. How do I get a girl who’s closed herself off from the world to open up, even a little bit? I wasn’t looking for her to have a full-blown love affair; I just wanted her to remember that love exists. But to do this, I had to introduce her to the right kind of person. I couldn’t push her toward someone confident and invulnerable. That was exactly the type of person who’d hurt her before. I needed someone with his own deep-seated problems, someone who wanted friendship and nothing more. That way, Angie didn’t have to fear being used or manipulated. She could feel safe. And, just like that, a deeper connection was formed.
3. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book?There is a scene in “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” that is just perfection (though I’m not going to say when, or with who, for spoilery reasons). The kiss! Perfection. There is so much more than just physical chemistry at play (although that can be a lot of fun too!) There is sweetness, and desire. There is longing bleeding into necessity. No matter how many fabulous love scenes I read, this will always be one of my favorites.
THE SYMPTOMS OF MY INSANITY
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters?
Without giving too much away, there’s one scene that could be romantic, but ends up being really awkward and a little skeevy psychically and emotionally. It was a challenge to keep it funny and squirm- inducing. Also maintaining likability with a character when the action goes from swoon-worthy to a little shady is always a challenge.
1. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book?
I adore the scene in Jane Austen’s Persuasion when Captain Wentworth presents Anne with a love letter he’s written, prompted by a conversation he overheard in which Anne spoke about women’s ability of “loving longest even when all hope is gone.” It’s the culmination of 8 years of longing on both their parts, and the scene never ceases to make me sigh and/or tear up.
K.A. (Kelly) Barson
45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS)
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? Overall, romantic scenes–both in real life and in stories–make giggle awkwardly. (Yes, deep down I’m still twelve.) So pretty much every romantic scene I write is challenging.
2. How did you get your head in the game? I think about what could possibly go wrong. I add catastrophe to the scene to add real humor and to diffuse my inappropriate giggling.
3. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book? Since I relate more to awkward romance, probably LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green or STONER AND SPAZ by Ron Koertge. Is it a coincidence that neither of these ended “happily ever after”? No. I’m weird, I guess.
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? In one of my stories, the love interests can’t touch. Trying to capture the sense of intimacy between them without falling back on physical connectedness meant getting deep in their heads and hearts. It was exhausting, but a fantastic exercise in interiority.
2. How did you get your head in the game? Music helps me set the mood. Also, a good babysitter.
3. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book? No contest. Sarah Rees-Brennan wrote the hottest kiss scene I’ve ever read, hands down! The rooftop kiss in the rain in The Demon’s Covenant will forever set the bar as far as I’m concerned.
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? I think the most challenging romantic situation I’ve had to face with my characters is when Iris and Trick begin opening up to each other. I wanted to make their relationship about friendship as well as first love, and so I was always trying to keep the balance between confiding and intimacy and romance. I wanted them to be good friends before they ventured into the territory of kissing. I hope I got it right.
2. How did you get your head in the game? I got my head in the game very easily – perhaps worryingly so! Because my protagonist, Iris, is a sort of idealized version of teen me, I find it very easy to get into her head space. I simply remembered my teen crushes, and then wrote the scenes that I would have loved to have played out with them – if only I’d have dared initiate a conversation with them in the first place! That’s what’s so lovely about Trick – he actually moves into Iris’s garden – he really couldn’t make it any easier for her at all. Or so it seems…
3.What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book? It’s a bit obvious, but I’m struggling to remember any that I love more, so therefore, my favorite romantic book is Pride and Prejudice. The way that Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett misjudge each other, and hurt each other’s feelings before finally coming to understand each other (enough to get married at least!) is quite, quite satisfactory.
THE FLAME IN THE MIST
1. How did you get your head in the game? The Flame in the Mist’s main character, thirteen-year-old Jemma, has a budding romance with her loyal pal, Digby. Though it’s years since I was her age (though not quite as far back as the book’s medieval-ish setting), getting into her emotions wasn’t hard; a quick trip down memory lane to a specific day, a specific boy, a specific moment…I’d be there in a heartbeat. Keeping in mind the prescriptions for Middle Grade—no steam, nothing that pushes the boundaries of adolescence—once I started molding my experiences into Jemma’s, words made memory even sharper: a gasp-worthy glance, tentative hand-holding, the anticipation of a first kiss…Describing those things made them fresh all over again—hopefully as much for the reader as for me. So to get into the game? Close eyes, drift away, remember the sweetness, then paddle ashore and seal it—maybe with a kiss—onto the page.
2. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book? Before I Die by Jenny Downham… With only a few months of life left, sixteen-year-old Tessa…(has) made a list… —ten things she wants to do before she dies. Number one is sex. Starting tonight. The blurb of Jenny Downham’s Before I Die almost put me off, since the “starting tonight” makes it so obviously a marketing hook. Sex sells. But the book delves far deeper than its blurb implies. Beautifully written and moving on every page, the development of Tessa and Adam’s relationship is just part of the emotional ride, weaving sweetness into a painful story. To go into detail would be spoiler-ish, but more tender, loving and extraordinary scenes would be hard to imagine.
CHASINIG THE SKIP
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? For me, all romance is hard to write. It’s not easy to write attraction that feels real, without falling back on clichés or being overdramatic. Romance is drama, but it has to feel compelling and fresh to the reader, so that they’ll fall in love right along with the characters. It’s always a careful balancing act.
2. How did you get your head in the game? In CHASING THE SKIP, the most challenging part of the romantic tension was for me to write Ricki’s immediate attraction to Ian–and have the reader take her seriously. The first time I wrote the scene where Ricki first meets Ian, it was terrible. I ran it through my writing group, and they pointed out all the places where I was telling the reader how Ricki felt instead of showing it with visceral detail, and all the places where the phrases I used were tired or unimaginative. So I went back through and tried to replace the overdramatic with the dramatic, the cliché with the sensory, and the tired with the fresh. It took several passes for me to get it right, but when I was finished with the final draft of the scene, I was pleased with it. I suppose that’s always how I get my head in the game: I fail in the first draft and then rework and rework until it shines.
THE NEPTUNE PROJECT
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? In THE NEPTUNE PROJECT my heroine Nere finally gets to kiss Cam, the boy who has always been her best friend. I wanted to explore that moment when friendship can turn into something deeper, when HE finally admits he really cares about her, and SHE finally wakes up and realizes that she might truly love him. But just when Nere gets into kissing Cam, government soldiers charge down a hillside, and moments later they cut Cam down. Poor Nere doesn’t even know if Cam is going to survive as she has to leave the beach and enter the ocean forever.
2. How did you get your head in the game? I tried thinking back to my first kiss (ninth grade while off stage during a musical) but it was WAY too wet and clumsy to be an inspiration for a great first kiss. So, I fell back on my imagination and wrote the kind of kiss I wish I’d experienced that first time around.
3. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book? I love OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, and that book is so full of romantic scenes, it’s hard to choose just one. I probably like the scene when the time traveling heroine tries to return to the present, but she can’t leave Jamie, the young highlander she’s fallen in love with in the past. When she returns to him, prepared to stay with him forever, he’s fallen asleep in an abandoned croft, and it’s clear he fell asleep crying. That sweet scene makes me tear up just thinking about it!
1. What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters? Every romantic situation is a challenge unless you understand what’s in the head of your characters. I think the biggest challenge is the detail, and the best romantic scenes are the ones of subtleties. They’re the ones with a lot of lead-up, conflict and tension before the couple shares that special first kiss, that special first anything. As a reader (and writer), I don’t want the mechanics. I know how it’s done, for crying out loud. I want to understand the emotion and angst behind the build-up because that’s where the intrigue, the compelling reason to keep turning the pages, reside. In other words, I don’t want to read how they kiss or roll in the hay; I want to understand and be shown why they want more than anything in the world to be together.
2. How did you get your head in the game?Music is key. I love New Country for their love songs. Every song tells a little story, and I love that.
3. What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book? I adore and respect any author that gets me emotionally invested in his/her characters and writes great angsty build-up while still leaving a little for my own imagination. Yes, please.
Hilary Weisman Graham
What is the most challenging romantic situation you’ve had to face with your characters?
Well, I’m about to face it in the new MS I’m writing. It’s a light sci-fi that features a romance between two teens of different races, both of whom have pressure from their families and/or communities to “stick to their own kind.” The romance part will be fun when I get to it, it’s writing the racism in their backgrounds that’s agonizing.
How did you get your head in the game?
When I’m writing a romantic scene, I find myself getting totally get wrapped up in the romantic tension. I think all authors vicariously experience their characters’ emotions, but as an old married lady, it’s especially nice to feel all swoony and starry-eyed again.
What is your favorite romantic book/scene from a book?
There are so many great romances in books, but I have to say that I’m partial to the ones that end tragically, like in John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS or LITTLE CHILDREN by Tom Perotta. Though I’m not quite sure what this says about me psychologically.
There you have it! Thoughtful words of wisdom on the craft of writing romance for the youth reader. Is it simple, easy? Not exactly. But it is possible and fun and really makes you get your head in the game. Try it. Keep it real. Be true to your readers. Just do it.
Spread the love of reading and writing!
Happy Valentine’s Day!