Jan 22, 2012
The other day I was looking through my old diaries as I prepared a reading for Cringe (this awesome NYC reading series where everyone reads from their middle school/high school journals), and I came across this, written when I was 15:
"My uncle said the perfect thing about me. He said, 'Rachel, you were born in the wrong time.' I want to be Medieval, waiting for my prince to carry me up to his castle and wisk my clothes off. I want to have meaningful sex and love and I want it all. I'm not a hopeless romantic or anything, I just want to get out of this body and place and go somewhere where I can live like a goddess."
First off all, simmer down 15-year-old me. It will be quite a while before any of that stuff plays out, trust me. Also, "not a hopeless romantic?" Right. Clearly. But reading this did get me thinking a lot about romance, especially since I'm in the process of writing some tres romantic scenes for Book 2 (get excited!!!).
I love romance. I think it is awesome. Not the cheesy red roses, candlelight, Bachelor stuff, but definitely the soulmate, destined to be together, will always love each other kind of stuff. And this spills over into all of my pop culture tastes: I won't read it or watch it unless it has a quality romantic storyline. And that usually includes an HEA.
This is something that super annoys my friends and family, especially my roommate M who will constantly be like, "You'll love this movie!" And I'll be like, "Is there romance?" And she'll be like, "I don't know, it's just good." And I'll be like, "I'm not watching it unless there's lots of kissing. HAPPY kissing. None of this, oh-they're so in love-ohh she just got murdered crap." And she'll be like, "You're so annoying! Just watch it!" And then I will, and then someone will get hanged or beheaded and then I will be mad. (We tend to watch a lot of movies about the French Revolution.)
So when I first attempted to write a romantic story arc, I figured I would be pretty good at it. After all, I've read about a katrillion romance novels. I know what tropes I like, I know what irks me about a kissing scene. But you know what's really hard to write, turns out? Love. And kissing. And two characters developing a meaningful relationship that feels real and true and right.
It is really hard you guys.
One of my biggest pet peeves in novels is when two characters seem to just magically be in love one day and we're not quite sure how it happened. I'm all for soulmates and everything, but shouldn't there at least be a little bit of banter? A little back and forth before they decide they would die for one another? Even Romeo and Juliet had that dancing scene.
It needs to make sense to the reader why two people are getting together, and not just in an OMGHEISSOHOT kind of way. But I'm starting to understand why some writers skip over that part. While writing romance, it is very easy for your words to feel unnatural or forced. And way too easy to start relying on cliches to get you through it. I'd be halfway through writing a scene and all of a sudden my main character had "ruby red lips," and was "melting just from his touch."
In the end, cliches were my biggest hurdle. I've read sooo much romance, and I'm drawing on so many inspirations, that it felt like I was constantly piecing together actions and dialogue I had already read before.
The only thing that helped me break this habit was to clear my head and look at one or two examples of YA romances that rocked. The kind that seemed like they were happening to real people somewhere out there in the world. These few examples helped me step back and reevaluate the romance I was creating on the page. Instead of thinking about two magically good looking beings sharing this perfect kiss, I was able to bring everyone back down to earth....especially me. All of a sudden it was more about two people getting to know each other and then dealing with stuff as a team (including their mutual attraction). Two people who felt like they belonged together. Once I figured out why they made sense as a couple in my head, they finally started to make sense on the page.
Here are those few YA novels that "cured" me of my romance overload.
Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins
Anna and St. Clair. We see their friendship develop. We see how much they genuinely like each other and what they admire in the other. By the time it gets to love, it feels completely natural. The fact that he has a girlfriend just makes it all very yearny and delicious. Totally inspiring.
If I Stay & Where She Went, Gayle Forman
Mia and Adam. When Gayle Forman describes the evolution of Adam and Mia's relationship, I get completely sucked in. Every. Time. Even though they're opposites in many ways, it's easy to see why they care about each other and why they fall for each other. They feel so real, which just makes Mia's choice that much more heartbreaking. A great example of how romance doesn't have to be a crutch in a YA novel (or something that's sort of just happening around the action) - it can drive the story without overwhelming it. These books also show us that a romance doesn't have to be perfect to still be awesome and right.
The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Clare
Jace and Clary. It took me a little longer to get invested in this couple, but by City of Ashes I was SOLD. I would happily commit a felony in order to get my hands on a copy of the next one - City of Lost Souls. There's a good romantic build up between Jace and Clary in this series, but where Cassandra Clare knocks it out of the park (IMO) is with longing. And yearning. And creating obstacles that keep her characters apart in believable and agonizing ways. I wanted Jace and Clary to get together so badly, and I was genuinely worried that they wouldn't. And now Clare is doing the same thing with the Clockwork books! At first I was like, oh I'm not so sure about Clockwork Angel. AND NOW I'M DYING TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO TESSA AND WILL. This is a skill, people. A very, very valuable skill when writing romance.
With the release of So Close to You fast approaching, I can honestly say that I'm happy with the romantic scenes I've written. Very happy. And a little giddy. And sooo excited for all of you to read them! But I won't pretend that it wasn't a struggle at times. Lesson learned - being a reader is NOT the same thing as being a writer. I will never again assume that something is easy just because I like it a lot (that's like saying I could be a professional singer because I enjoy going to the Opera. I don't, by the way). Turns out angst is just easier for me to write than happiness. Sorry Lydia.
I'm not going to lie, this whole rant started as an excuse for me to post this video:
Someone write me a fanfic about these two and I will die happy.