Monday, April 14, 2014

Romance in YA--How Far Can You Go?

Yes. This is really me. Yes, I have
bangs now to cover up my
spotted forehead!

How far can you go when writing about romance in young adult novels? What kind of love are young readers looking for? Is sex allowed? How graphic should it be?

It's a big debate for some writers, as well as, some readers.

Remember when the Twilight book series first came out? Keep in mind, I'm talking about before all the craziness of the movie versions. Most of the people I talked to about this series were really into the romance of it, the lingering looks between the two main characters, the blatant yet unsatisfied desire, the sexual tension! This is the type of romance that many older YA readers(20s-30's) remember experiencing in high school or really wanted to experience. It's just one of the reasons they like romance in young adult stories.

But then comes the sex.

I recall sitting around with a group of women at lunch and one of them was talking about how Edward and Bella were getting to the point of having sex in the book. This woman didn't have a problem with the progression of the relationship, but she'd decided that she would not allow her daughter to read any further in the series until the daughter was much older. She also felt like once the writer brought sex into the book, the romance factor was gone. To me it sounded as if the story had taken a turn into adulthood that the reader wasn't willing to follow.

I think that's an interesting phenomenon and really very personal to the reader. And as a writer, it's something you have to be aware of. Romance and sex can make or break your young adult book depending on how you use them. Sometimes it’s the factor that sells books. Sometimes it’s the factor that turns your audience off. It all depends on how you weave those things and what style of YA book you are writing.

When I write YA, I don't intentionally set out to have a romance in the story. However, because of the age group, because of the hormone factor, because it's virtually impossible to put two teenagers in the same room and not have them notice each other, some sort of relationship usually develops. That's life though. That's reality. That's what YA readers cling to.  When it comes to sex, I only let my characters get there if its part of the natural progression, but it's still something I'm cautious about. In my young adult novel, Bayou Myth, sex is a factor in the story, though it's not something my main character is doing. However, we do learn a lot about my protagonist's thoughts on the subject! Though my book is mainly a YA horror novel, it does have a romance in it that helps drive the story along.


Going back to Twilight, think about when Edward and Bella finally consummated their love. After they got married. Very traditional and something that probably satisfied lots of mothers in the fan base. However, is that realistic? I'm not asking is it right or wrong, but is it how most teens think today? Hmmm….not for most of the ones that I know! In comparison, I've also read the House of Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast. Their characters definitely are having sex and dealing with the norms (like them or  not, parents) that occur in many teen lives. The same could be said for many other book series like Gossip Girl or The A-List.

In the end, a writer should let the romance and sex angle develop how it will. What would be the natural progression for your character? Put aside the audience you are writing to (yeah, I know lots of people will contradict me on that one) and allow your characters to just develop!

Mary Ann Loesch is not only a contributor to All Things Writing, but the author of Bayou Myth and Bayou Scar, a YA horror novel series about voodoo, Greek myths gone wild, and a dash of betrayal. She has also written an adult fiction urban fantasy, Nephilim, and contributed short stories to the anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. Visit her website at


  1. I completely agree with you. It should progress naturally. I think it's unrealistic to tiptoe around the subject. And let's face it, most teens know more about sex than their parents probably suspect (or maybe even would like). Regardless, if your characters are heading down that road, it wouldn't be realistic without at least those thoughts/questions running through their minds even if they ultimately decide not to. They're teenagers!

  2. Thanks Renita! Since I know you write YA, I feel you know where I'm coming from! When does your book come out officially? We'd love to review it or interview you on All Things...

    1. It comes out August 20th and I'd love that. Thanks! I'll contact you to set something up.

  3. I agree with you. It all depends on whether it works for the story and the characters. I don't write YA, but I remember reading some YA books where there was only one kiss between the two main characters, and that was after they had already started dating. And then I've read other books where the characters went a lot further than that. I think it also depends on the context. Teenagers today have very different ideas about sex than they did decades ago, like the fifties and sixties. (Just look at how different teen shows were back then.)

  4. So true, Neurotic! We aren't in the era of Nancy Drew anymore when it comes to the way teens think about romance and sex!