It can be tricky to write romance for a teen audience. A writer must carefully balance her characters’ relationships on the thin line that exists between too juvenile and too mature. If the writing is done well, readers should feel a hazy intensity when reading love scenes but obviously not feel the need to go to confession or take a shower afterwards. Below is a piece about the all-consuming fervor a teen experiences when bitten by the love bug for the first time.
First love comes into view. You’re giddy, nervy, like there’s a marshmallow in your mouth and there’s no way to swallow it. Your skin is on fire, but you have goose bumps, not blisters. You want to stare straight into his face, study the contour of his cheekbones, his chin, but your eyes dart everywhere else. You flip your hair and sigh, trying desperately to act nonchalant as he approaches.
The sweet subtle smell of him, all cinnamon chewing gum and musk, floats into your senses, and you melt, just a little. You beg your wobbly knees not to betray you and vow to stand straight and still and sturdy.
The moment your eyes meet his, time stops. White noise slips into all of the empty spaces between and around the two of you, and your lips part just enough to quietly gasp. The atmosphere is lit with an electrical charge that’s hissing and spitting off of him and onto you, along a current that’s unmistakably alive. It juices and jolts you in the thread of a moment before allowing you to breathe again.
And here you are, basking in the warm glow of the aftershocks that buzz in the bottom of your belly like happy bees. You swallow the bliss of that silent interlude, the one that spoke volumes with no words at all. The moment has seared itself into the skin of your memory, knowing it can never be outdone. You will never forget this.
Until he smiles.
And suddenly, you can’t even remember your name.
Writing romance for teens requires me to open up that memory vault where I store my most cherished teenage memories of first love. Strangely enough, after all of these years, those memories are still pretty vivid, probably because of the intensity of emotion I felt during these moments. Most people can easily recall the sweaty brow, the bundles of butterflies, the two word conversations that meant so much more than what was actually said. As adults, we tend to chuckle at the high drama of it all, but for the teens experiencing it, these feelings are very real and super strong.
When writing a love scene, I take a trip back through time, shed the years of trial and error, disenchantment and practicality, and slip back into the penny loafers I was wearing the year I first fell in “love.” Immersed in memories of angst on top of pins and needles on top of breathlessness, my adult mind is both entertained and intrigued by the sheer concentration of every feeling, the phenomenon of emotions on steroids. I allow myself to sink almost completely into the teenage drama queen I used to be, but make sure to keep my head above water – just enough to be able to use my years of life experience to send the right kind of message. After all, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to summon the passion of that recklessly love struck creature I used to be, while safely keeping the gifts of truth and wisdom in the back pocket of my (still hip) Mom jeans.
I don’t know how other writers of YA romance handle this, but I feel a responsibility to set boundaries within my stories. I want to show examples of young men and women with forceful feelings for each other, attractions and urges my readers themselves are experiencing. Then, through the actions of my characters, I want my readers to learn how to harness those feelings and make good decisions. I’m not saying I’m going to hose down my lover boy with ice cold water and cover every inch of my protagonist’s skin. Characters have to be authentic, and sometimes steamy is authentic. Steamy doesn’t have to go over the line to be good though, and if love scenes are written well, they can do more than simply excite the reader. They can open up a conversation about limits and how abiding within them can foster a love story that’s real enough to last and last.
The romance between Callie Evans and Joshua Pride in Whisper, book one of the Whisper series, is, in a word, magnetic. The intensity between these two individuals practically pulses off the pages. In Wake, book two of the series, both jealousy and danger push Callie and Joshua to an even deeper level of crazy love for each other and force them to have a discussion about boundaries. Although Callie’s identity has morphed to celestial proportions, her values remain those of a good Catholic girl with a conservative upbringing. In short, Callie and Joshua are engaged in war against both the Darks of Satan and their own hormones. It’s almost too much to bear, but the fragile hope of what’s to come, along with the core truths that have been laced into their consciences keep them tethered to the right track. Wobbly, but tethered none the less.
What do you think? What, if any, lines should not be crossed when writing books for teens?