Tuesday, December 20, 2011

3 Things to Consider When Writing Teen Romance

By Kody Keplinger

JH: I’m delighted to have fellow YA author and blogger Kody Keplinger here today to chat with us about writing romance for teens. I first “met” Kody ages ago on the Absolute Write forums, when she posted her query for her then yet-unpublished novel The DUFF. I’m happy to say I knew then she had something with that book, and even happier that she sold and published that novel to huge buzz and accolades. Her second novel came out a few months ago, and I’m hearing good things about that one as well. (and hopes it winds up under the tree this year with all the other great books on my list)

Kody wrote THE DUFF during her senior year of high school. She is now twenty and lives in New York City, where she continues to write YA novels. SHUT OUT, her second novel, came out in September 2011 and another, A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE, is due in 2012. Kody is a contributor to the writing blog YA Highway and a member of the contemporary, realistic YA fiction group The Contemps. You can also follow her on Twitter.

And for a double treat, I’m also guest posting over at The Write Now! Coach, talking about moving your premise idea to an actual plot (and how to tell if you have a premise or a plot). So come on over when you’re done here. If you happen to have a YA romance you think might be more premise or plot, today is certainly your day.

Take it away Kody…
Everyone loves a good romance. Almost every YA novel has one – even if it’s just a subplot. From paranormal to contemporary, teen romances are everywhere, and they’ll never go away because people love to see other people fall in love. This is a good thing for writers who like a little romance in their work!

But writing teen romance involves more than just putting two people in a room and having them kiss. Here are things to consider when plotting out the romance in your YA novel.

1. Audience
There’s a difference between writing romance for teens and romance for adults. I see a lot of people on message boards asking, “can my characters have sex?” or “how detailed can my love scenes in a YA novel be?” The truth is, characters can have sex and they can have super hot make outs in a YA novel, but when writing these scenes you need to remember your audience. A romance novel sex scene – featuring adult characters – should read differently from one for and about teens. There should be less detail on the physical and more on the emotional. Remember, for teenagers its all new and exciting and probably awkward. That’s not to say you can’t have physical detail, but good places to focus are usually on the hands and lips. Great examples of YA love scenes that manage to be sexy without crossing the line into adult fiction are those written by Simone Elkeles in her Perfect Chemistry series.

2. Chemistry
Speaking of chemistry, that’s the next thing to consider when writing a YA romance. Remember, there’s a lot more to chemistry than the physical. Both characters being hot might be nice, but it’s not going to get your readers’ hearts fluttering with anticipation, praying the two characters end up together. They need emotional chemistry, too. Witty banter is usually a good place to start in making the characters’ connection apparent. Little gestures and observations help, too. Remember, you want your audience to believe that these two characters are meant for each other, that they need to be together – not that they just want to make out.

3. Conflict
Love scenes are great and chemistry is important, but even with those two things, you don’t really have a story. That’s where the conflict comes in. Like I said before, you want your reader to truly believe the characters have to be together, so what’s keeping them apart? Is it social status and misinterpretation of character – a la Pride & Prejudice? Is one already seeing someone else? Do they live too far apart? If your lovebirds don’t have obstacles to overcome, there’s less need for your reader to invest in them and root for them. There has to be conflict to really build the tension of your story and make the romance that much more romantic. That way, when the characters do finally end up together, your reader feels relieved and thrilled and happy for them. It’s the best part of the story! But the payoff can only happen if the stakes are high.

When done right, a romance can be just as exciting as an adventure story. It can get your heart pounding just as hard, can make you sit on the edge of your seat. And you know what? They’re pretty darn fun to write, too!

What have been some of your favorite romantic plots in YA?

About Shutout

Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention.

Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all. She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. And Lissa never sees her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling, coming.


  1. Had no idea you were so young! That's so awesome yoy've had two books published. Great insight on YA romance, too.

  2. Love Kody's books!

    Great post here, with lots of truth and things to think about. While I love my adult romances too, there is something even sexier about YA for me. :-)

  3. I'm so glad you pointed out that chemistry is much more than whether someone has a broad chest or smoldering green eyes. Writing the emotional connections is hard but far more satisfying. Wonderful post.

  4. I love your point about chemistry. If the romance is contrived, I'm put off by it. But if it's a natural evolution, I love it. Thanks for the tips!

  5. I'm rereading Scorpio Races and I love how Maggie Steifvater brought those two together--and it never really gets super physical, but you can feel the tension of the pushing away and pulling towards.

  6. Love your points about chemistry, and you're spot on about the conflict.

  7. Great post!
    I love conflict in romances. It always makes me a little sad when the characters get together too easily lol (not that I don't still enjoy it)

    also love the advice on YA sex scenes

  8. Good article, always struggling with romance. Is 'Shut Out' based the greek play 'Lysistrata'

  9. It seems so obvious now that you've outlined them! Thanks for sharing. I really needed something like this to help me prep for the romance in my story. It's good to keep in mind the "meant for each other" part rather than having two characters that "need" to be together. It's hard sometimes to separate the two as a writer, not just as a reader.

    Great article! :)