Differents Types of Romance, or My Love For You Can’t Be Labeled

21 Sep

by Susan Dennard
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When it comes to romance in YA (or really any novel), how the romantically-involved characters first meet is dictated very much by the type of romance you want to create. For example, what’s wrong with this picture:

Scene 1: Boy meets girl. They meet eyes; their hearts skip a beat. He comes over and is ridiculously swoon-worthy.

Scene 2: Boy picks on girl. She retorts with her own insults, and soon they’re quarreling.

Yeah, those two scenes sound like two different kinds of romance, don’t they? Scene 1 fits with #1 below, and scene 2 is more of a #2 from the list.

We may think our love is indefinable and vast and SO WONDERFUL it can’t be squeezed into a label, but…the truth is, like most plots, there is a little bit of formula to romance.*

*Note: romance–like any plot–doesn’t have to follow a formula. It just often does because those formulas WORK. Formulas give the reader expectations, and expectations heighten the tension by transforming the question from, “Is their the potential for love?” to “WHEN WHEN WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN? Just KISS already!” The plot keeps the characters apart when we know they belong together, and that builds a natural tension into the story.

Here are just a few examples of romantic plot lines and what’s needed when the characters first meet:

1. Love-at-first-sight? Then you’ll want some visceral reactions that show the heroine/hero’s initial reactions. Sex appeal, yes, but not explicitly so. A heroine might find her mouth dry and her stomach fluttery, and she might think about how good looking the hero is. Or maybe she’s just wondering why she is so compelled to speak to/see/be near this guy… She doesn’t know, but the reader does! (Ex: Hereafter by Tara Hudson)

2. It could be an “I HATE YOU” to “You’re not so bad” to “I luuurve you” romance. Then, the hero & heroine will probably get off on the wrong foot, immediately argue, and then kinda want to kill each other. Personally, I’m a fan of these romances (oh, Mr. Darcy, how I love thee!), and Something Strange and Deadly has some of this. The visceral reactions/attraction will come later, and that pesky hate thing is a great barrier to the final admission of feelings. (Ex: Star Wars, Han Solo and Princess Leia—best romance EVER!)

3. Maybe it’s a friendship-to-love romance. In that case, we’ll see the hero/heroine as Just A Friend, and we’ll move through the story as the MC figures out his/her true feelings. Again, the visceral reactions/attraction will develop as the story goes along. (Ex: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting)

4. It could also be a long term crush turned to love if the MC has always loved the hero/heroine, or vice versa. When we first see the love interest, we also first see how the MC feels. If the MC desperately wants to kiss the boy, then the reader wants her to too–and we’ve gotta keep turning pages until it happens. (Ex: You Wish Mandy Hubbard, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

5. Or it could just be a slow, natural relationship. The characters meet, find each other attractive perhaps, and their romance grows from there. The meet up will have just a slight element of attraction or maybe none at all until a few scenes later. (Ex: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand)

What other romance meet-ups can you come up with? Please share!

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Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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25 Responses to “Differents Types of Romance, or My Love For You Can’t Be Labeled”

  1. arihart234 September 21, 2011 at 4:04 AM #

    I thought of a relationship like Friends with Benefits where they thought they were just in lust but then go on to develop feelings. So physical relationship to love?

    Or those revenge stories where characters date another person’s best friend or ex in retaliation. There are bets too… I don’t think that’s the actual unfolding of romance, just the type of set up.

    Nice article though, I think it’s important to realise how you approach a romance and what formula it would be under.

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:32 AM #

      Ooooh, nice additions, Ari!! I suppose the Fw/B could also be a #5…or #3 or even #4. Or it could have its own unique spin. And the revenge story–very interesting. It could also be a #3, 4, o5 5…or even a #2, but with a special way for the characters to first meet. Lots of food for thought here!

  2. Julie Eshbaugh September 21, 2011 at 5:58 AM #

    Great post, Sooz! And I loved your examples. Especially Mandy Hubbard’s YOU WISH! It made me think about other books I like and wonder which category they would fit into here. Thanks for the food for thought!

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:33 AM #

      I loved how Kayla in YOU WISH was totally in love with the guy she couldn’t have–how many of us had that same experience growing up! (I DID!)

  3. Aurora Blackguard September 21, 2011 at 6:57 AM #

    This is, by far, one of my favourite posts! It’s so great that we get to see this so wonderfully explored! It’s kind of funny if you follow a certain romance author. You’ll notice that they kind of run through the list, writing one novel after the other with these themes in mind. And they kind of have to but.. sigh. I don’t know how to explain the GREAT thing about romance.

    Personally, I love the long time crush one. THE EMOTIONS. I almost always cry. And there is usually the added benefit of them knowing each other instead of the sometimes ridiculous in love and all over you thing that you see a lot nowadays.
    Thanks so much, Sooz!! 🙂

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:34 AM #

      I agree with the long time crush, Aurora. I recently wrote one into a story, and writing all the luuurve scenes was SO emotional and wonderful. I was absolutely as in love with the hero as my heroine was… Sadly, it had to be cut because the story went in a totally new direction where romance wasn’t appropriate. 😦

      • Aurora Blackguard September 25, 2011 at 1:06 AM #

        aww man :’) I don’t know, there’s something very specific about the long time crush ones that just makes me bawl my eyes out. Especially if the guy is as dense as a brick. 🙂 that sounds a little sadistic. hope to see that story one day 😉

  4. Arianna Sterling September 21, 2011 at 8:37 AM #

    I think a lot of mine fall into the “slow, natural relationship” category. I’m not really sure which is my favorite to read, but I really like to write having them just get to know each other. In Weeping it’s a matter of my MC just wanting to sort of…crack the mystery that is the love interest, and then once he knows him, there are more romantic feelings involved. It’s semi-the same with my others (they haven’t been written yet, heck if I know).

    So now I’m off to rewatch one of my favorite love stories ever: Princess Bride 😀

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:36 AM #

      Princess Bride FTW! I adore that movie AND book…

      I think slow, natural relationships can be really sweet. The sexual tension is lower, but you have this different tension of the reader rooting for the characters but not knowing if it will happen or not.

  5. Rowenna September 21, 2011 at 9:43 AM #

    I have to admit–I may be dull, but I love the slow, natural relationships the best. The hate to love has to be done really well for me to like it–it can get a touch cliche otherwise, and I like it best when I don’t see it coming. In any of these, the writer’s knowledge of where we’re going can get in the way–as readers, we want the character’s visceral reactions and to experience along with them–I know I have to remind myself not to lead the reader too much in the direction I know the characters are going. Just tastes and hints along the way, as the characters begin to see things as they are 🙂

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:39 AM #

      I agree the hate-to-love thing can be hard to pull off. I totally started writing that in SS&D, but it was cheesy…and with each round of edits, it became more of an “annoyance to grudging friends to flirting friends to lovers” scenario. 😀

      I love the slow relationships where I’m not seeing it, but when it happens, I’m delighted. Like in Kelley Armstrong’s THE SUMMONING (and its sequels), I totally didn’t see the romance coming, but then I gradually started to root for it until FINALLY it happened (and was so satisfying).

  6. savannahjfoley September 21, 2011 at 10:05 AM #

    Susan, you are READING MY MIND these days! I’ve been thinking a lot about the romance in Nameless and how to make it more tense. I will definitely be poring over these tropes to figure out how to improve my own story.

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:39 AM #

      As I recall, the love in NAMELESS was PRETTY FANTASTIC. Lots of tension… Yes, I read an older draft. Still, I doubt you need to redo that at ALL.

  7. hmlashelle September 21, 2011 at 11:25 AM #

    I’m a huge fan of the “I hate you– I love you” romances. Han and Leia’s relationship is the best! I think what makes this type of romance so appealing and successful is the huge amount of sexual tension between the characters.(Often the attraction is there from the very start, and the character is annoyed with him or herself for it.) We know they like each other– THEY know they like each other– but they won’t admit it.

    I love this post, Susan. Thank you! You really got me thinking, as usual 🙂

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:41 AM #

      Do you watch CASTLE? They do a great job with those characters. It’s obvious at first that one is attracted to the other, but they butt heads constantly. Then it fades into a really nice, solid friendship, but it’s clear they harbor feelings for each other, and….. 😀

      I think you’re spot on that the love/hate thing just has so much as sexual tension built into it!

  8. Meredith September 21, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

    I’m a sucker for a good I-hate-you-no-wait-I-mean-I-love-you story. But only if it’s done well. And really, I’ll read and enjoy any type of romance, save love at first sight. Those are totally not my cup of tea. Call me cynical but I’m not buying it. 😉

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:41 AM #

      Ahem, I recall a very enticing hate-but-love story in FOUR STONES. ::swoon:: William. ::swoon::

  9. Marina September 21, 2011 at 2:09 PM #

    What about time-travel romance? Like one person already knows the other and is in love with them, but the other person has no idea who they are! Kind of like Doctor and River…. or maybe even Time Traveler’s Wife.

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:42 AM #

      Wow, that’s getting complicated, Marina. 🙂 I’d say it’s almost a #4, but rather than a long term crush, the one person is just already in love and has to convince the other person. What do you think?

  10. Jessica Silva (@leijessica) September 21, 2011 at 8:13 PM #

    Oh, this is AWESOME and well done! I’m not sure which is my favorite, and I’m not exactly sure the romance in my story actually fits. It feels weird trying to be the except, but ‘they had crushes on one another, something happened and they stopped being friends for 4 years, then one night they threw caution to the wind and things haaaaaappened, and then they went back to not-friends and she hates him (or so she thinks) while he still obviously likes her (but she pretends to not notice)’ fits those tickets. It’s kind of a hate turned love, but they don’t really hate each other. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING ANYMORE.

    Anyway, I love this post. Thanks, Sooz!

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:45 AM #

      Oooooh, so it sounds like a combo of stories! We’ve got a #4 turned to #2 turned back to #4… I totally just wrote something similar (minus the night of “caution to the wind”), and it was SO fun mashing the different tropes together. And right now, I’m writing the end of what started as a #2, morphed into a #5, then shifted to a #4 (rejection’s a biatch, eh?), and is now back to a #2 (the crush from #4 is fading fast)… So much tension, so much pent up emotion and unspoken things. It’s great fun to write mash-ups like this–as long as they flow together naturally, of course.

  11. Asia Morela September 22, 2011 at 10:21 AM #

    This is so true and of course, also applies to adult romance. I just read one the other day, which has been praised exceedingly, and after reading your post I realize that I didn’t like it so much because it kept using devices from #1, #2 and #5 romance types. The result didn’t make that much sense to me.

    • Susan September 23, 2011 at 7:46 AM #

      Hmmm, I don’t see how you can have a #1 AND a #2. Maybe a #2 that morphs into a #5…or even a #1 that develops slowly like a #5… But a #1 & #2 doesn’t quite work for me–I can see why you didn’t love the book!

  12. linda September 28, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

    Great list! The only one I’m not a fan of is love at first sight. I prefer romances that grow from two people getting to know each other, not instant attraction. In some of my favorite romances, the hero starts out as a potential threat to the heroine, as in Poison Study and Mara, Daughter of the Nile. I guess they’d fall under a subset of #2?

  13. EverRose Prince August 12, 2012 at 8:33 PM #

    The ex. The i loved you now hate you but can;t get over you love

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