The New YA Prince Charming

picture1Protective. Strong. Aggressive.

These have been the most prized traits in many YA romantic heroes over the past decade or so. But why did protective feel like stalking? Why did strength trump kindness? Worst of all, aggressive translated to controlling. (I’m looking at you, Edward Cullen.)

Fast forward to the present, and a new romantic leading man is emerging in YA literature, one that I admit finally has the power to make my heart pound.

Warm. Respectful. Selfless.

The new YA Prince Charming is as flawed, even broken, as the heroine that he loves, but what really makes him stand apart is that he is a partner, not a protector. He doesn’t fiercely guard “his woman” because she is an extension of himself. Rather, his goals are broader, he embraces being good and making the world better, with a woman as strong and selfless as he is by his side.

My favorite example of the new YA Prince Charming is Rhysand from Sarah. J. Maas’ trilogy, The Court of Thorns and Roses. Rhys (we’re close enough now to go by nicknames) fundamentally respects Feyre, as well as the choices she makes. It’s not just lip service; he accepts her decisions even when they place her in danger. Feyre and Rhys challenge each other, make each other better versions of themselves. Life has victimized them both, and they want to raise themselves and each other up as equals. Throw in Rhys’ violet eyes and sensitive…wings, and you’ve got the makings of a swoon-worthy hero.

I’ve seen elements of rounder, more lovable and loving heroes popping up in YA literature and beyond. It’s refreshing, new, and hopefully more than a trend. Here’s to a future filled with heroes and heroines who have each other’s backs, where the tropes of romance can be stretched and broken, just like in real life.

Of course, there are a few traits that remain the same for heroes old and new.

Killer body. Great kisser. Artistic soul.

Thank God some things never change.

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How to Keep the Lovers in Your YA Novel Apart

shutterstock_217031539I’m not going to try to deny it. I love a great love story. Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Katniss and Peeta. The problem as a YA writer, though, is that there are only so many good reasons that an author has to keep the lovers in the story apart. One of my favorite love obstacles was on the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If Buffy and her love, Angel, were “together”, Angel becomes an evil vampire hellbent on killing her due to an ancient curse placed on him. It made for pretty intense viewing, but it could only last a few seasons before the options fizzled out.

As I continue to noodle on my next series, which will have a fairly weighty romance element woven in, I wanted to consider some of the options for making love difficult for my protagonist (poor thing – not a word written and I’m already trying to sabotage her). Here are some of the classic romantic obstacles and examples of how they’ve been handled by YA writing pros.

The Love Triangle
Sure, it’s overplayed. For a good reason. A well-written love triangle gives readers the exhilaration of true love and the pathos of heartbreak in one neat package. A really cool twist on the love triangle that I recently enjoyed was Timebound (The Chronos Files Book 1) by Rysa Walker. The heroine has the ability to travel in time, and making changes to history affects the world as she knows it. As a result, she has two soul mates from different timelines – but she only remembers one. Too bad he doesn’t remember her… Some prominent voices in traditional publishing are saying that love triangles are really overplayed right now, but I think there is still a place for them. However, it has to be tackled with care – three likable characters are a must and a unique twist is even better.

Somebody’s Already Taken
There’s nothing like falling in love with someone who’s already in love with someone else to create high drama. I thought Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins did a good job of evolving friendship into love without being cliché. In this case, it wasn’t the protagonist who was taken, but the boy she likes. It brought me back to the days of watching Joey pine for Dawson on Dawson’s Creek. So relatable and the drama carried me through for this super quick read.

They Hate Each Other…Until They Don’t
This is a staple of a lot of romance novels, and I’ve seen it work for YA fiction as well. The key to doing it well is having the lovers have a compelling reason to hate each other (think Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth hates what a snotty brat Mr. Darcy is, and Mr. Darcy is appalled by her trashy family, rather than a Harlequin romance). Where it falls apart is when the reason the characters don’t like each other is flimsy to begin with, because the conflict in the story feels artificial, or there simply isn’t enough of it.

They’re From Two Groups Who Hate Each Other
The classic example is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but for a more recent example, check out The Selection series by Kiera Cass. The author uses a caste system in the series. The heroine is from a low caste, and the hero is a prince. It leads to lots of conflict because there are many people invested in seeing their relationship fail. One reason I think this device works well is because the hero and heroine don’t have to lose faith in each other, cheat, or doubt their feelings, which can make a reader’s interest fizzle. They’re on the same team, battling forces outside their control.

It’s Too Dangerous to Be Together
Especially in YA fantasy and dystopian books, this is a popular theme. The Twilight series famously combined this with the love triangle and was spectacularly popular. I have to hand it to Stephanie Meyer, the idea that your soul mate might kill you at any time was a twist I hadn’t seen a lot of in YA fantasy before she wrote her series. But other books have been successful here too – I enjoyed the Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi. The world is toxic and on the brink of war, so the main characters have to put aside their love for each other to battle the bleak realities of their lives.

Something No One’s Seen Before
This is the hardest and best option. The devices listed above are tried and true, but as a reader there is nothing that hooks me more than a love that is too nuanced to be shoved into one category. I recently read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and the hero and heroine are kept apart by lots of things – their age, insecurities, and personal tormentors, to name a few. But the depth of and sweetness of the feeling couldn’t be denied. In the end, good writing trumps all.

I’m on the hunt for YA books that handle romance skillfully as inspiration for my next series. Any recommendations?

Falling in Love on the Page

Picture1I’m writing the second book in my series, The Conjurors, and my main character is falling in love. Writing this in a way that feels real and conveys the power and passion of love when you’re 16 has been exceptionally hard for me to do well. If I keep it too minimal, readers won’t have an emotional investment in the relationship. But take it over the top, and it starts to feel like a cheesy romance novel.

Not to be controversial, but my one gripe with J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter (of which I’m a HUGE fan) was that I never felt invested in Harry and Ginny. Hermione and Ron, I was totally rooting for. But somehow I always felt like Harry deserved a more compelling love story.

At the other extreme, Stephanie Meyer‘s Twilight series hit a nerve with YA girls for the romance, but for the rest of us who were looking for more substance to the world and the action surrounding that story, the series was disappointing.

hungergamesSo how do writers find the right balance? I think that The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins did a great job of weaving a dynamic love triangle with a gripping story. It gave the series an emotional center that made the stakes higher and the consequences more poignant.

What YA books do you think have done an exceptional job with romance?