Who else is a huge sucker for a good young adult book? I can relate. YA has always been a genre that I keep close to my heart. While I love psychological thrillers and women’s fiction, there’s something about YA that keeps pulling me back.
If you can also relate to this, particularly with YA romance, know that it is not an accident. Just like every genre, there is a specific science to create the ultimate YA read. I’m not just talking about the hero’s journey (although, please still follow it), I’m talking about the elements of a YA romance that makes you root for the relationship of the two main characters, no matter how flawed they might come off.
Think of a Hallmark Christmas movie… it’s like a picturesque wreck with the perfect amount of snowflakes that you can’t look away from, and before you know it, you’re queuing up the next movie. While Hallmark has a cult following that will love their movies no matter what, you might have noticed that many other networks are following suit.
Just like Hallmark movies, there are many YA romance novels out there that aren’t necessarily good but because they incorporate elements like the three below I’m going to mention, they skyrocket in sales and build tons of attraction to them.
Thinking of any particular books that remind you of what I mentioned above? Let us know in the comments!
Key Aspect #1
The Push & Pull
Oh, the classic push and pull. You know exactly what that means. Our main character is placed into this new environment where she encounters a meet-cute. But there’s a catch. The meet-cute is for the readers, not so much the characters. As readers, we know that these two characters are going to end up together, but it’s going to take some work.
The main characters rarely ever “fall in love at first sight”, no matter how much you (the reader) wants them to. Instead, there’s a bit of push and pull. One character pulls away, then once they get closer — BAM! something happens for either both or just one of them, to pull away.
A great example of this method, no matter how cringey the movie itself was, would be Falling Inn Love on Netflix. If you’ve seen it, you’ll get what I mean.
Key Aspect #2
HEA — Happily Ever After
While there are many romances that are flirting on the edge of this element, it’s still very pertinent in almost every YA romance. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks is a great example. While Noah and Allie are clearly meant to be together, there are obstacles that come in between but ultimately, are able to get passed them.
In order to get to your happily ever after, you need some push and pull. This can come from the main characters themselves, or outside sources and secondary characters.
For example, in The Notebook, Allie couldn’t just be with Noah. She had many obstacles that she had to pass through in order to be with his true love.
It’s that element of unrequited love that can then bring you to a fulfilling happily ever after.
A few ways that you can incorporate a HEA while still bringing in some grit or tinge of sadness is to:
- Keep the push and pull up until the very end
- Pull a Nicholas Sparks and show your aging characters at the end, after chapters filled with scenes that made your reader think that these two that were meant to be never got a chance (even though they really did).
- Or, make the HEA happen for one character. Whether it’s within their character development or bringing them closer to their true calling.
You don’t need a “traditional” HEA in order to make a fulfilling ending. Get creative!
Key Aspect #3
Gradual Build with a Sprinkle of Excitement
Most YA’s are a slow burn. A slow burn that keeps readers interested by implementing exciting scenes that make their heart flip or even pull at their heartstrings.
I like to think of Faithful by Alice Hoffman. Without any spoilers, I can safely say she does just that. While it’s not a YA romance, Alice Hoffman does a wonderful job at developing the main character, Shelby, in a way that once the true romance appears, you’re genuinely happy and excited for this new chapter in her life.
With YA romances, the focus is the main character. If you’re writing in the POV of both characters in the romantic relationship, there needs to be a balance. Each character has to supplement one another, like how Abbie Emmons does it in 100 Days of Sunlight.
Usually, you will have one character doing all the pushing away and the other character will do all they can to reel character one in. It isn’t until that big climactic scene when character two decides they have had enough and then the roles reverse.
When this happens, both characters have to be likable enough for the reader to want these two characters to get back on the same playing field. You can increase your characters’ likability by creating a strong balance where they both fill each other’s flaws.
Mentioning 100 Days of Sunlight again (can you tell I just recently read this?) we have Tessa who lost her vision and is frustrated all the time, I mean who can blame her? Then we have sweetheart Weston who knows what Tessa is going through and wants to help her through it, but is afraid of revealing his own secret.
Even though you have Tessa, a character who can be pessimistic, Weston’s optimistic attitude balances it. There is also a balance because Tessa’s actions are just a reaction to her current situation, which makes readers connect with her frustrations rather than get annoyed and dislike her.
While not every YA romance novel will stick to the conventional strategies of those before them, it’s helpful to remember that there is a structure that authors follow. Whether you’re currently writing your first novel or you’re a seasoned author, understanding that there is a structure can allow you to be more strategic with your writing.
Understanding all of the elements of writing can get tricky, especially when you’re in the process of finishing your novel. We currently offer one-on-one sessions where you can speak to one of our author advocates to help you make sense of it all! For a limited time, you can get your first session FREE if you sign up here.