What YA romance books can teach us about teenage girls
I’ve been skimming through some YA paranormal romance titles. Some of them are decent. Some aren’t. I’m reading one now that’s good but also incredibly cliche. And that’s not a bad thing. I want my books to hit all the same buttons.
I need to recognize what elements are so ‘overused’ in paranormal YA romance writing, so that I can make sure I have them in mine as well.
So here goes: this is a list of character-based considerations you probably need to have in your YA romance book if you want it to be a bestseller.
1. Love Triangle
Usually there’s the good boy and the bad boy.
Both like her for strange reasons. The bad boy is a rebel, with leather pants and tattoos and a motorcycle. Probably with long hair. She’s really attracted to him but hates him too, for making her feel this way. And he probably is mean to her, or ignores her, or can’t stand her for some reason. She feels stupid and judged and angry. The bad guy is openly flirtatious and hostile at the same time. His sexual innuendos leave her red-faced and speechless. He has a “sardonic smirk” (almost always, even though I hate that phrase). And often, olive skin, black hair and green eyes (apparently the “perfect man”). She feels chemistry.
He has a grown up, muscular, man’s body. He’s confident and fearless.
The good boy is a nice guy. Well dressed, cute, charming and friendly – a gentleman and a supporter. He makes her feel good about herself… but she’s not into him the same way. But she wants to like him. Because he’s a smart, safe choice.
Of course she can’t stop thinking about the bad boy. “Why the hell does he hate me? He doesn’t even know me!” Which makes her subconsciously eager to prove herself to him.
She’s usually in a school or environment that forces her to work with or be close to the bad guy who she has so much tension with.
Sometimes these roles are reversed, and she ends up with the good guy anyway (after at least kissing the bad guy, then finding out what a jerk he is).
Either guy might have a super hot girlfriend, or at least a girl who likes him, but he quickly breaks it off, probably because of a fight about the heroine. “I’m not blind, I can see the way you look at her!”
2. Best Friends
She also has two best friends; a girl who’s indignant and supportive, and a guy who is empathetic and understanding (and either gay or secretly in love with her). These friends allow conversation, chatting, fleshing out ideas. If they are far away it can be through chat, email or phone calls.
That’s the hot, sexy romance stuff that needs to be there to get the right kind of mood and attention. But then there should probably also be the magic side (for YA, paranormal or dystopian romance sells better than straight romance).
This includes some of the “hero’s quest” journey. She has powers she can’t control. She doesn’t know who she is. She accidentally hurts someone, or flares out – she’s scared of herself and her abilities. But she meets other people, who do know what she is… and they tell her she’s special. Chosen. Powerful. Perfect in her own way. (Even if she’s a demon).
There’s probably some supernatural, eternal conflict coming to a head, and both sides wants to find her and claim her (or destroy her).
4. Identity Issues
She doesn’t know who she really is. Her mother or father or both are dead; missing or murdered, maybe mysteriously. One of them might turn out to be not really dead. If so, they’re probably on the other side. She has memories that don’t make sense. Things that can’t have really happened.
5. Satisfying conclusion
Eventually, she learns to harness her powers and protect herself and her loved ones. She gets the boy she wants or likes to fall in love with her (or she learns enough about herself to fall for the nice, safe guy who loves her… probably not though. It’s usually the bad boy). The villains are defeated in a big battle; probably temporarily (so we can write more books in the series).
What does this tell us about teenage girls?
I’m not going to pretend I have any idea. As a guy, the realities of female emotion seem nonsensical, illogical to me. But I can recognize that certain situations and themes appeal to them, and I can satisfy those longings by including them in my YA paranormal fiction.
Edit: Ok actually, it’s not that hard to figure out. Teenage girls hate their boring lives, always feel conflicted about their emotions, aren’t sure what they really want, wish they were living a magical adventure and had more power and respect, and hot guys looking at them like nobody else ever existed. They want to be in control of their own destinies and they want their lives to have purpose and meaning.
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