My Issue with YA Romance

1 Jul

by Kat Zhang


I’m that person in the back of the theater who bursts out laughing when the hero and heroine kiss after making long, flowery declarations of their unending adoration for each other.

Just want to put that out there.

So…maybe I’m not the best person to write an article on YA romance. But what I’d like to say is that I’m kind of sick of all the Love At First Sight going on recently.

I’m not arguing whether or not it’s realistic. But for me, it’s just a whole lot less satisfying. I’m talking about when our main characters go from complete and utter strangers to Oh-my-heavens-I-can’t-live-without-you-darling-baby within a chapter. Sometimes a few pages.

And often, we aren’t given any reason for their sudden love other than how awesome his chest looks or how alluringly she smiles. I know people can’t always list the reasons why they love somebody—they just do. But for us to care about what happens to a relationship, we’re going to have to care about the relationship to begin with.

And to do that, we need to love seeing the characters together—we need to feel the chemistry—we need to know what’s on the line. To make things simple, we need build-up.

So maybe what I’m trying to say is that I’m not so much against the whole Love At First Sight thing as I am against the idea of that being all there is to the relationship. If you want to make your characters fall in love from the moment they first meet eyes, that’s fine. But don’t assume that just because you tell us they’re in love (and can’t live without each other) means we care. Show us!

1. Have one help the other out.

In the most traditional sense, this would be when the prince comes on his white horse and slays the fire-breathing dragon, saving his fair maiden. In the more feminist sense, this would be when the opposite happens.

But neither need occur in your story! (Dragons might raise a few eyebrows in YA contemporary, after all…) It can be as little as a kind word when the other is feeling down. Maybe she pulls some strings for him so he can get that job he really needs, or he smooths things over after she causes a bit of a ruckus at school.

2. Have one allow him or herself to be vulnerable

Most people walk around all their lives with a shield up. It’s human nature—we don’t want to get hurt, and so we hide our more tender parts. Part of being in a close relationship with someone is knowing what hurts them.

Even if your character isn’t a hard, tough cowboy or warrior woman or whatever, having him or her reveal a tender spot to the Love Interest might help strengthen their relationship in the readership’s eyes.

3. Heck, have one reveal a different side of him or herself—any kind of side

I think one symptom of love (yes, symptom) is acting differently around that person. I’m not just talking about being all giggly and blushing and other common traits of the infatuated.

Maybe he brings out her protective side. Maybe she inspires him to be more adventurous. Perhaps neither of them liked art before, but being together suddenly gets the creative juices flowing.

The above are just three examples. How do you like to show a growing relationship?


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


19 Responses to “My Issue with YA Romance”

  1. Ereza July 1, 2010 at 1:08 AM #

    Lol! I usually close the book once the flowery declarations of love start being churned out. I definitely like the sound of build up over hungry stares=leap into undying love. Build up helps hook and frustrate the reader into caring what happens. I remember watching this teen drama about two couples they were trying to sell to the audience, one I just didn’t get, all they ever did was just stare at each other, occassionally stating a sentence or two whilst the other had more build-up, natural chemistry and attempts to understand their potential love interest which came out of/led up to conflict. So I guess that’s how I’d like to approach portraying a relationship.

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 7:47 AM #

      Yes, real conflict in a relationship is nice, too. Sometimes in novels where all the relationship strain comes from the outside (people trying to break them up, circumstances that force them apart, etc), the writer doesn’t address any conflicts that might arrive between the lovers themselves.

      I had a whole section on that in this piece before deciding that warranted its own post and cutting it out 🙂

  2. Marina July 1, 2010 at 1:15 AM #

    Wha… THANK YOU!!!
    That’s always my biggest problem! They fall in “love” but all I can really see there is lust, or even worse, I see nothing. Like you said, I don’t care!
    And while Love from first sight may be real, it’s very different kind of love then the one when you get to know the person, the real person, and not the one which you create in your head.
    I also think the biggest issue is time. Romance novels have to increase the time scale. Because in most novels the falling in love happens rather quickly, even when it’s not from first sight. And I don’t think falling in love with anyone in a month or even two (sometimes overnight) is feasible, unless you spend everyday and most of it’s hours together– which is usually not the case.
    And the parents, I often find the parents are left out. I think because it makes it easier that way. I mean depending on the situation, and the age group, but especially with younger people. Wouldn’t the parents or guardians be more involved or around so to speak?
    Great article. I agree with everything, especially the last bit.

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 7:57 AM #

      Thank YOU 🙂

      Love at first sight can be made to work perfectly fine, and I’m all for physical attraction between characters, but after a point, you need more than that, right?

      I agree with the whole time issue though. I guess when the main plot of a story can’t occur until after the characters are in love, the falling-in-love part tends to get rushed. Which is a pity, though, since our investment in the rest of the book just might hinge on the strength of our attachment to this relationship.

  3. Meagan Spooner July 1, 2010 at 4:47 AM #

    Maybe it’s because I grew up on Pride & Prejudice, but I’ve always been a huge fan of couples who start off hating each other, rather than those who start off instantly attracted to each other. That might be as unrealistic as people falling in love within a few pages, but I find it a lot more fun!

    One of my friends is absolutely fantastic at writing these amazing romantic couples, and her explanation of how she does it incorporates your point about vulnerability but also adds something else. In addition to making a character vulnerable, the flip side is that it also helps to make him or her inaccessible in some way. Vulnerability combined with toughness or badassery (particularly in our hero-types!) is evidently irresistible!

    My final point is that throwing two people together in a case of live or die, run/fight/scream for your lives action may result really quickly in lovey-dovey-ness, but is that sort of relationship really going to LAST once the fight-or-flight terror fades away? Will feelings forged in life or death situations have the same strength and potency when the happy couple head home after the sunset and hang up their swords and buy a puppy and a bread making machine?

    But really, the question to ask ourselves as readers (and writers!) is: do we care? We’re not paying to see nice homemade bread, after all.

    • Kelly Belly July 1, 2010 at 5:37 AM #

      Your final point immediately makes me think of Katniss and Peeta in THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins 😛

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 8:15 AM #

      I immediately thought of Katniss and Peeta when I read the third paragraph, too ;P It was the combination of the live or die situation and the bread making, haha.

      You ask good questions here!

      (and I have a soft spot for couples who start off–if not hating each other, then at least having some witty banter back and forth. But then, I’m a sucker for witty lines in books, TV shows, movies, anything, soo…)

  4. Rowenna July 1, 2010 at 8:47 AM #

    I agree with Marine–“at first sight” is, in my experience, attraction, not love! Love develops–attraction can be right off the bat, and, I suppose, is a device that can be used well in writing. But love? Give me a break. You don’t love one another until you’ve experienced at least a little life together! I like seeing how characters react when put into situations together–conflict or even just annoyance–that makes them show how they work together (or not). Actually, I like to see that in real life, too 🙂 It’s fun to see how people learn to cooperate!

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 9:46 AM #

      “I like seeing how characters react when put into situations together–conflict or even just annoyance–that makes them show how they work together (or not).”

      Yes, exactly! Me too 🙂

  5. Aurora Blackguard July 1, 2010 at 9:38 AM #

    I suddenly think TWILIGHT though I think I’m being a little harsh. It gets…uncomfortable sometimes when they come out with all this embellishment and they’re not Shakespeare. As a general rule, if you are not a) a poet b) William Shakespeare c) insane nutcase d) lying, the flowery stuff needs to die a slow and painful death. 🙂 Odd coming from a hopeless romantic, no?

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 9:49 AM #

      Haha. I decided not to name names in the article because for every title I bring up, there are probably thousands of fans who’d like to argue differently. Reasons for attachment to a relationship can be as nebulous as reasons for the relationship itself. The above are just suggestions that might help ;P

  6. jenn fitzgerald July 1, 2010 at 9:43 AM #

    Great article! I am totally the one who makes faces and laughs at lovey dialogue and love at first sight stuff. I do prefer couples who start out misunderstanding each other or at least banter back and forth. It feels more like a realistic relationship and I think gives more of an impact because it means you get to see the relationship develop more than when they’re all over each other from the start.

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 9:50 AM #

      Yes, definitely. I guess I’m just a huge fan of the “will they or won’t they” school. 😀

  7. Vanessa July 1, 2010 at 1:19 PM #


    I think everyone knows that I share your sentiments exactly, Kat!

    I feel as if all YA focuses on the “attraction” too much; blurbs EVERYWHERE say things about that “hot” or “gorgeous” new guy, and for me, it’s an automatic turn off. I don’t care how gorgeous he is; I care about personality. You listed so many reasons other than physical attraction that ought to make a romance ROMANTIC, and not some ridiculous fantasy. I just love seeing how two characters interact, and I love seeing them slowly fall for one another.

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 2:23 PM #

      Exactly, V! 🙂 I’m all for physical attraction, but real interaction is so much more important for me.

  8. Joan July 1, 2010 at 2:25 PM #

    Agreed! I LOVE seeing how characters fall in love. When it’s a whole book process, where at the beginning they know nothing of each other and slowly get to know one another, the better.
    I think the most important thing is to make it so subtle… just enjoying each other’s company, suddenly making it all squirmy-squishy-crush type and make the decisive move!
    Seriously, there are TOO many characters now who simply look at each other and “feel” it in their hearts.
    If it wants to be relatable, the book should show the gradual development…

    • Kat Zhang July 1, 2010 at 7:19 PM #

      Yes, I love it when it’s a whole book process. I know people complain about the whole “books always end when they get together–they never explores what comes after,” but if you can’t explain what comes after well, then I’d rather you end when they get together 😛

  9. Marumae July 6, 2010 at 12:15 AM #

    I totally agree with all your points! (Most ESPECIALLY Number 3, I think it’s my favorite, when the POV character discovers from other people that said love interest is a TOTALLY different person when they’re not interacting with said POV character. I admit it gets me swoony).

    I have a seriously hard time buying the romance if it’s love-at-first-sight. I won’t question whether it happens in real life, although I do personally have my doubts I know there are many others who will vociferously disagree with me. Still I do believe in, infatuation at first sight, and certainly lust at first sight (I’ve experienced it) an d it leaves the question as to whether the people will just *WORK* on a day to day regular basis, through ups and downs, loving someone despite their huge flaws, the most realistic romances and love stories I ever saw were subdued, that seems much more realistic to me and believable, the characters spent A LOT of time together and one day realized holy crap they love that person. Honestly the best romance I’ve ever read was in a fan fiction, the canon story didn’t end in romance but the one portrayed in this sequel fan fic was so well written I periodically reread it and STILL get tear eyed to this day.

    • Kat Zhang July 6, 2010 at 7:46 AM #

      Yes, I like reading about romances where the couple actually has to work at keeping their relationship alive–not just through the big things, but through the everyday little things.

      That must have been one good fanfiction!

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