Most people who know me know that I don’t do kissing. I don’t do romance. The genre doesn’t click with me. Not that I don’t enjoy a good love story now and then, but most of the time, I don’t buy into what I’m reading or seeing. It doesn’t feel real.
That’s just me.
However, romance is everywhere. It is unavoidable. Now I don’t read straight romance books, but when the kissing invades (like a bit of peanut butter on my chocolate) my horror or fantasy I accept it, though it doesn’t always add anything to the story for me.
After critiquing the first part of a YA horror manuscript, there were a couple of times where the mc, a girl, went all swoony over a guy. I commented that it didn’t fit with the mc’s character…well, with the ms really. The author was so glad I thought that! He added those in because he had been told that romance was NEEDED in a YA.
Well…let me tell you what I think about that…
Let me tell you about a teenage me. Now, YA wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I was all about high fantasy/sword and sorcery stuff. Fighting and magic. A glorious world in which to escape. If YA was around way back then and every book I read held love stories, held the perfect girl looking for the perfect guy and finding him…I would have felt more broken than I already did.
Broken, Kathy? What do you mean by this?
Teenage me didn’t date. She didn’t talk to people much. She didn’t fit in. I thought something was wrong with me because I wasn’t like my peers. I didn’t have a group of friends. I didn’t have guys talk to me, school dances were pretty much my nightmare. And when a guy did ask me to a dance (after his first pick turned him down)…I said yes, but pretty much panicked and hid from him during the event. So does YA NEED romance? Nope. Teenage me didn’t need anyone showing her how much she didn’t fit. She needed stories of kids who were searching for themselves, not for their first kiss.
Kissing wasn’t important to me. Though I thought it should be. Forming relationships with boys wasn’t important to me…though I thought it should be. No one showed me it was okay to not care about that. No one told me it was fine to be different, to be me.
For teenagers relationships with people outside their families start to become important. They start to connect to people, look to make connections because they begin to understand that soon they will go out and merge with the world. But being a teenager is so much more than that. It’s about taking the first steps towards who you will be. It’s about questioning what you believe. It’s about realizing you will have to find a place in the world where you belong, exciting and gosh diggety darned scary.
When I write a teen character, I can’t help but channel teenage me. The girl who wants to love herself, not some hot boy. The girl who dreams of finding where she belongs in the world, not of touching some guy’s muscular chest. Not that I haven’t had a character have a crush, and it was awkward and horrible just like I remember. Not that I haven’t had a character fall in love, (though I tried to stop her!) with her best friend for heavens sake…and it was scary and exciting and a bit weird, as it should be.
Does YA need romance? Nope. Because not all teenagers need it. I admit that most teens out there probably like to read the kissing, the head-over-heals sensation of first love, the stories of boys and girls and making connections. But not everyone. Not me. So I write for those people like me.
So when someone tells you that a certain category or genre NEEDS something…stop and think. Does it? Is there someone out there making up rules for every style of writing? Nope.
There’s you. There’s the words. There’s your characters and how they feel and what they think. And all of it is relevant. All of it is needed.