Welcome Laurel Garver, author of newly released, Never Gone! Laurel has been a blogging buddy of mine since the start! And I love seeing friends move forward in their careers whether it’s self publishing, signing with an agent, or finishing that last draft!
It’s rare to find a YA novel that doesn’t include romance, at least as a subplot. Why? This thing called puberty has a lot to do with it. Trying to figure out who you are, and who you want to be as a fully functioning adult, gets more complicated when sexuality is thrown into the mix.
One thing that concerns me as a woman, a writer and mom of a tween is how books can help or hinder kids’ ability to navigate romantic relationships in a healthy way. When we make the chemistry between characters all about looks, we’re feeding into the universal media message that looks make one worthy of love; a message that leads to all kinds of unhappy things like anorexia. Not only that, but the story drama can become pretty one-dimensional. Zits and bad hair days take center stage, while the things that actually make a person date-worthy, like interests and skills and virtues and ambitions and hopes get sidelined.
The things that make for love rather than lust are more than skin deep. Real attraction, real magnetism is more deeply layered than finding someone hot. It grows out of finding something admirable in another person that resonates with who you are and want to be.
Sometimes people who seem attractive on the surface will reveal their lack of inner beauty, like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. A person’s hotness will evaporate quickly in your readers’ eyes if it is paired with arrogance, narcissism, pettiness or cruelty.
Conversely, sometimes attraction to someone will initially feel like repulsion. I don’t think that’s a myth created and perpetuated by romance writers. I’ve honestly experienced this not only with people I’ve dated but also with folks who have become very close friends. Those we will most engage with have a way of getting under our skin. Sometimes it’s because they have an attribute we lack but envy, sometimes it’s because they are quicker to warm up and want to be close than we are, sometimes it’s because they don’t fit our preconceived ideas of what a friend or partner should look like. Getting close will require us to change, and that can be an uncomfortable process.
When I was writing Never Gone, I was especially interested in exploring those latter two dynamics of the friendly-before-I’m-ready and the not-what-I-though-you-were in my romantic subplot.
When my characters Dani and Theo first interact, she initially wants to run the other direction. He’s been on the periphery of her life and, she believes, simply a jock who probably thinks she’s an artsy weirdo. He’s the last person she wants around while she’s trying to hold herself together at her father’s memorial service. Rather than let her flee, Theo surprises her by telling an embarrassing story, essentially taking himself down a peg. Getting that glimpse of the person behind the looks (which she initially reads as sinister) enables Dani to be vulnerable and speak more honestly to him than to anyone else in her life. And her perception of his looks? That shifts too.
Connection most often happens in places of vulnerability, when one character is low, the other either lifts him/her, or comes down also, making the power balanced. Think about how Darcy finally wins Elizabeth’s trust in Pride and Prejudice: by helping protect her family from scandal, lifting her up when she could have easily become a pariah. In When Harry Met Sally, the two lead characters have a somewhat fraught relationship for years. But they move toward a romantic path at last when Harry comforts Sally in her devastation that an ex is engaged, and he didn’t want to marry her. Or consider Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games. There are many moments when the two are clearly attracted to each other, but it’s when Katniss cares for injured Peeta in the cave that they truly connect.
Romantic love can be one of the most dynamic processes we experience as humans. When you write, make sure you delve into its many layers: admiration, compatibility, compassion, and yes, physical attraction. Your readers will thank you for it.
Laurel Garver is the author of Never Gone, a novel for teens about grief, faith, and finding love when it feels like all is lost. Visit Laurel’s blog at Laurel’s Leaves for information about giveaways and more, or follow her on Twitter @LaurelGarver.
About Never Gone
Days after her father’s death, fifteen-year-old Dani Deane begins seeing him all around New York: wading through discarded sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, socializing at his post-funeral reception. Is grief making her crazy? Or could her dad really be lingering between this world and the next, trying to contact her?
Dani desperately longs for his help. Without him keeping the peace, Dani’s relationship with her mother is deteriorating fast. Soon Mum ships her off to rural England with Dad’s relatives for a visit that Dani fears will become a permanent stay. But she won’t let her arty, urban life slip away without a fight, especially when daily phone calls with her lab partner Theo become her lifeline.
To find her way home, Dani must somehow reconnect with Mum. But as she seeks advice from relatives and insights from old letters, she uncovers family secrets that shake her to the core. Convinced that Dad’s ghost alone can help her, she sets out on a dangerous journey to contact him one last time.
Thanks Laurel! I think readers really appreciate and connect with a story when the relationship goes deeper!
So, friends, have you read any books lately with this kind of relationship? Or when you write, what are your trips to making the romance more than skin deep?