Falling in love is one of the most popular topics in young adult novels. But falling in love is complex, especially for teen characters. A teen falls in love and, one minute, the world is rosy. But, the next minute, everything can be dark and dismal. We want to capture those emotions in our stories. However, we also want to tell a story which has solid pacing and structure. So, how can we structure and pace romance stories for teens? We can understand the five stages to falling in love and craft our teen romance stories using these stages.
One day everything is normal. Then, in the next moment, your teen characters are thrown off balance by meeting each other. However, don't be fooled. This initial meeting will not be enough to carry your teen love story. Now the question to ask is: What will be the obstacle for your two characters? A teen romance can't simply be based around two characters who are falling in love. There must be conflict that, somehow, keeps the two characters apart.
Conflict can occur one of two ways. Your characters may have to battle outside forces who oppose their love, such as in the classic Romeo or Juliet -- or in the novel Twilight, in which he is a vampire and she is human. Conversely, your two characters may be at odds with each other. For example, in the teen novel Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, Julianna is madly in love with Bryce. Unfortunately, he can't stand her. As the novel progresses, we see Bryce fall in love with Julianna while she decides that she can't stand him. Finally, at the end of the novel, both characters have decided they just might like each other.
When you are creating that first meeting, some questions to consider are: How do your characters feel the first time they meet? Why are they both in this spot at this moment? What character trait do they each notice about the other? This trait may initially be something physical, but to create a satisfying teen love story, your characters should also notice a personality trait. For example, maybe your teen boy is working with younger children coaching on a ball field. Your teen girl has a younger brother who is playing on the team. She notices how patient the teen boy is with her brother. The girl realizes that she wants to know more about this boy, which will lead them to the second stage.
Your teen characters have met. Now, the flirtation begins. At this point, accidental meetings start to occur. Your teens might "accidentally" run into each other at school, parties, or other social events. As the flirtation progresses, your characters will spend more time in proximity to each other. Perhaps, they might go on a date and the all-important first kiss may happen.
However, before you dive into that juicy first kiss, take a minute to think about first kisses. How many first kisses go as dreamed or expected? How many first kisses are just downright awful? As you get ready to write that all-important first kiss scene, consider the following: What fears do your characters have about the first kiss? What expectations do your characters have? Are your characters the first to kiss in their social group or the last? Is it a bet or a dare that they will kiss each other? Where are your characters during the moment of the kiss? Is it a planned kiss such as after a date or dance, or is it unexpected in the middle of a rain storm? What happens afterwards? Is it awkward? Is that moment broken by a parent or younger sibling who walks in the room? Carefully considering all of these questions will help you to craft a realistic first kiss scene.
Your story is moving along and your teen characters are now progressing in their relationship. At this point, your characters have kissed, perhaps had a couple dates, and are beginning to reveal who they are to each other. Now is the time to include a scene or two in which secrets are revealed. Or, perhaps a long-held judgment is reversed as your characters learn about each other. For example, your female character has always believed gang members are bad kids, but now she's falling in love with a gang member.
At this stage, it's very important to understand your character's motives. One way to understand motive is to know why your characters act and respond the way they do.
Some questions you can ask to explore motive include: What secrets do your characters have? Why do they have these secrets? Who are your character's worst enemies? Why? What single loss has made each of your characters the people they are today? What happened in that loss to change them?
The friendship stage is the heart of your story. This is the stage when your characters are deepening their relationship and preparing for the next stage of commitment. Without a strong friendship, your story will not be believable when the teen characters move into the next level of commitment.
At this stage, your teen characters are ready to make a commitment to each other. Commitment may mean your characters decide to have sex with each other. However, commitment can also mean your characters decide not to have sex. Whether your characters have sex or not should evolve out of who your characters are, and not as a means of sensationalizing your story. For example, in Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkels, Brittney decides to have sex with Alex because she hopes this will encourage him to leave his gang. There is a motive for Brittney to have sex with Alex and it evolves from the characters and the plot.
But sex isn't the only way teens can commit. Teen commitment can also mean the characters decide to take a big adventure together. For example, if the story has been about getting ready for a mountain bike riding trip, now the big day has arrived and the teens are ready to take on that adventure.
At this point in the story, there will be a moment of epiphany. An epiphany moment means your characters realize something about themselves that will change them from this moment forward.
Epiphany moments often bring loss to your characters. The teens realize they are changing and their friends are not. Or, the teens may no longer be as close to family members. Instead, the teens are closer to one another. The characters realize they have experienced something that others have not. This experience has changed how they see the world, which brings us to our final stage.
It is now time to take your story to the final stage of love. However, unlike romances for adults, teen romances do not necessarily have a happily-ever-after. In fact, most teen romances will not have them. Why? The epiphany moment or moment of change has occurred. The teens are no longer the same people that they were at the beginning of the story. Each teen has been changed by this first love, and now the characters will find themselves pulled apart by life events. For example, the teens may go to different colleges, move, or sometimes a death may occur such as in Jacqueline Woodson's teen novel, If You Come Softly. The important part of the final stage of love is that your teen character has undergone a transformation. Neither character is the same person as at the beginning of the story. Their love for each other has changed them, and now the story draws to a close.
Teen love can be complex. But writing about teen love does not have be an exercise in confusion. If you follow these simple stages of falling in love, you'll be able to capture your characters' emotions while crafting a satisfying story arc. Soon, you will find a strong romance dancing from the pages of your story.
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Copyright © 2011 Mindy Hardwick
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