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.
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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?
Thanks Laurel for the great tips on writing good romance. You give us a lot of great ways to make the romance feel realistic. I’m also tired of the hot lovers who fall in love at first sight. Good luck with your book.
Thanks, Natalie. Romance can be so much more dynamic than when it involves the whole person, not merely their appearance.
Thanks, Laurel! I, too, would like to see this focus on insta-love in YA literature fade away as the shallow thing that it is. That “smoldering” look in the first instant they meet letting you know that “this is the one.” Because real love isn’t like that. And honestly, it makes for a better read if there’s some conflict between the future couple — or a misunderstanding — or if they just don’t seem to get along at first.
Insta-love is boring!
I agree wholeheartedly, Dianne, that insta-love is boring, and I have trouble buying it. So many people that seemed initially attractive have been terrible for me, and some that seemed meh turned out to be amazing when I knew the whole picture. The long, complicated dance that leads to connection between two people might include some smoldering looks, but absolutely there’d better be more. 🙂
this sounds like a really engaging read and I completely agree with love scenarios that focus on things that are more than skin deep. Loved learning more about Laurel and her book!
Thanks, Katie! This story is very much about how one must move past first impressions, even with people we think we know well.
Gosh, you hit the angst of writing teen romance on the head. It can’t be merely about a character’s outer covering. As a writer, delving beneath the skin and exploring the struggles that all teens have (where the heart is concerned) brings our books into the real world, even if the genre isn’t.
Absolutely, Sheri. No matter the setting, if you’re dealing with human characters, you’re going to come up against what a complicated things romantic relationships are.
That isn’t to say that relationships between non-humans couldn’t also be complex. In fact, I’ve read some pretty great SciFi in which the “rules of attraction” are quite different from the world we know.
Thank you for this! Even before having kids, this mistaking-lust-for-love in YA lit annoyed me; now that I have two daughters it makes me want to never let them read anything YA when they get to that age.
I love in Jane Austen’s books how clearly she shows the dangers of this sort of thinking (LM Montgomery goes there with Anne, too) – it’s not the smooth and charming Wickham or Willoughby or Frank Churchill etc who end up being the worthy suitor in the end – it is the man who shows kindness and respect. That may seem a little boring to a lot of teens, but there’s a reason why even women today still swoon over Mr Darcy!
I think we have to acknowledge that lust is going to enter the picture, but that alone can’t sustain a relationship. Looks don’t comfort you in pain, kindness does. And looks don’t challenge you to be your best self–a companion who sees your potential does.
My favorite stories have BOTH characters change as a result of interacting with each other. P&P is an excellent example of this. Both Elizabeth and Darcy have flaws that are highlighted when they interact–and both flaws begin to be addressed because of that interaction.
Great post! And the book sounds wonderful – I’ve added it to my TBR (even though it’s a mile-long). 🙂
I think the initial repulsion is exactly what you tuned into here – some part of us senses that this person will require us to change. Will challenge us in some way. And that’s frightening (but also exciting).
Best of luck with your book!
Thanks, Susan! I love how Laura highlighted some key phrases in my post to bring them out. I can’t tell you how many life-long female friends were people who rubbed me the wrong way at first. They challenged me to be better, and that challenge was tough to face at first.
And I’m psyched to be in your big TBR pile. 🙂
Sooo true. I love when characters have a unique connection (a shared sense of humor, etc.) that shows us how perfect they are for each other. If the attraction feels merely external, or if we’re simply TOLD the characters are into each other, it feels very flat.
I agree, Anna, that humor is a wonderful connector. So can a shared passion or shared outlook–things that give a sense that “we can work as a team.”
For a man, physical attraction is the first step. But there has to be something more for it to grow beyond that.
The other interesting thing about the male/female difference is that for women, attraction tends to be multi-sensory, involving scent and sound as well as sight.
This was excellent!!!!! And so true about the revulsion part, EVEN with friends!
Thanks, Christina. Relationships are a complex dance–rarely so straightforward as simply thinking someone looks good, therefore everything will now be a perfect dream between you.
And I’m glad you agreed about the repulsion observation. I felt like I was going out on a limb there, but that has been my experience.
This is a reason why I find insta-love in books so frustrating. Sure, I get the hormones thing, but it has to be something deeper than that.
I’ve been in relationships I thought were insta love. After about two weeks they were over. That kind of attraction can’t be maintained. If they don’t like the inner you, they don’t stick around. I want to see more of THAT reality in books. LOL.
I love books that explore romance and how it’s not all about attraction. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Thanks, Patti! Never Gone explores how appearances can be deceiving not only in romantic relationships but also with friends and family.
Awesome post, Laurel! I love those kinds of relationships, too, where they start off either repulsed or running away, and then it all just builds and turns wonderful. No surprise there, yes? 🙂
Can’t wait to dig into NEVER GONE–it looks awesome! Best, and Hi, Laura! *waves* <3
I know some friends who think that if you aren’t initially attracted you never will be, but I’ve had loads of experience with bad first impressions being dead wrong. So that’s why I like to write it. Sounds like we’re on the same page there. 🙂
Wonderful observation about the looks things. Love it!
Thanks, Donna. Glad it resonated with you.
Fantastic comments by everyone! Seems like we all agree that books that delve a bit deeper into love might last a little bit longer in the reader’s hearts! Thanks, Laurel for a terrific post! And best of luck!
Thank you for being a wonderful host, Laura! I appreciated how you drew out some lines that struck you.
If we can give our readers food for thought about how to navigate relationships well, then our work does more than entertain, it enlightens. And the world always needs more light.
Thanks, Laurel and Laura, for sharing this. I appreciate the insight! Congrats to both of you on your books!
Thanks for coming by, Karen. Glad you found the insights useful.
Your book sounds amazing and thanks for the discussing something I feel pretty strongly about: romance doesn’t have to be between the two best-looking people on the planet but between two mutually compatible ones. They may not be Brad and Angelina but they can be just as powerful a couple.
Thanks. It’s really the drama of discovering that compatibility that makes for a satisfying reading experience, I think. Seems to me that offering romantic hope to those who aren’t gorgeous is a niche books can fill so much better than visual media, right? 😉