By Victoria Garcia
A romantic plot can make or break any story, so it needs to be done well. A reader can love a book but be completely turned off by the romantic plot. As a longtime reader, I have felt this before. Some books are written so well, yet are ruined by an unconvincing love story.
In the world of literature, a typical teen fiction love story is when the author creates a three-character dynamic: two boys, one girl. This dynamic is enjoyable, it’s comfortable, and it makes sense, because of course two of those characters will end up together. But, is this actually realistic? Do authors need to always follow the same convention to write a convincing love story in teen fiction?
Let’s compare a few teen love stories and discuss what makes their dynamic well-written and what does not.
A weak example of a convincing love story in teen fiction
In Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were a good match and had chemistry. Everyone (except the Dramione shippers) approved of their relationship. But the same is not true in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, where Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy are a better pairing than Scorpius and Rose Granger-Weasley. A character even compares Scorpius’s love for Albus to Snape’s romantic feelings for Harry’s mother by saying, “You two belong together.” What about this interaction is heterosexual? If we compare the friendship between Albus and Scorpius to the friendship between Harry and Ron, we see a clear difference: there is no queer context in Harry’s and Ron’s friendship.
Albus and Scorpius have much more potential and chemistry as a couple than Rose and Scorpius. However, readers didn’t get this pairing because the author seems to prefer writing heterosexual relationships. After Rowling announced to the world that Albus Dumbledore is canonically gay and received positive reactions, why haven’t readers gotten another queer character in the books themselves? The author has shown readers that LGBTQ+ characters exist in the Harry Potter universe, and shown how this imaginary world coexists with our real world, so logically there should be more LGBTQ+ representation.
Rowling knows who her audience is and what they want, but instead dishes out the same heterosexual-based, never-changing universe. As an LGBTQ+ reader, this tells me the author does not actually believe queer people can exist in the Harry Potter universe and it’s honestly so heartbreaking.
To create a convincing love story in teen fiction, the writer must be prepared to make changes and take chances. The writer needs to connect with her audience. If the public is begging for a certain dynamic that makes sense and is within reason, give it to them! It’s not impossible to include a LGBTQ+ character who isn’t going to die or is already dead.
Books will be around for generations. To remain relevant, authors must be able to write for a contemporary audience by making an effort to understand the new generation. Readers in minority groups are tired of being underrepresented and queer-baited in literature.
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A strong example of a convincing love story in teen fiction
A good example of a writer who takes chances and puts a twist on dynamics is Cassandra Clare. Cassandra Clare is known for her risky love triangles, but she gets them right every time!
In her series The Infernal Devices, we have a love triangle: two best friends in love with one girl, who loves them both equally. The way Cassandra Clare writes this dynamic is beautiful. (Spoiler alert if you plan on reading The Infernal Devices.) Due to a life-ending illness, Jem Carstairs is going to die young. Because of this, Tessa Gray and Will Herondale, the love of his life and his best friend, choose to have Jem marry Tessa and live the rest of his short life happily.
It’s beautiful because Will, despite watching his best friend marry the woman he loves, is not bitter. He’s happy because they are happy. After Jem dies, Will and Tessa grieve together and eventually get married. There’s no guilt or anger in this love triangle, and it’s not polyamorous. It’s just that well-written.
As a reader, I never felt caught off guard by this dynamic. Not only is it different from a traditional love triangle, it is as convincing as a love story can get in a universe of demons and witches.
Cassandra Clare states on her website that ideas come from all around you, from everything you experience in your everyday life. She explains that it is important to make your characters seem like real people. This is accomplished by looking at the world around you and altering it to fit your story while keeping the real life emotions that come with real relationships.
I wholeheartedly believe in this statement. To write a convincing love story in teen fiction, focus on details of interactions between people. How about including a pair of blushing kids laughing on the sidewalk? Or four students crowding in the corner of a coffee shop? Maybe one friend looks both ways and the other friend tries to jaywalk. These are examples of characters, dynamics, friendships, and relationships based on the ones you see around you that you can add to your stories.
Just because a love story is a boy plus a girl doesn’t mean it is good or convincing. The book industry gets boring with the same heterosexual dynamics and romantic plot in all the popular books.
In the world of teen fiction love stories, be a Cassandra Clare, not a J.K. Rowling. Listen to your readers and think about who your audience is, or you who want your audience to be. Don’t be afraid to take risks when creating your romantic plot!