Let’s Talk About Love… — A Guest Post by Author Laura Toffler-Corrie
YA romance can be described as an uncharted journey through the unpredictable, insensible territory of the heart. However, the directions for writing romance can often take you down a rather familiar road.
There’s a main character, usually a girl, who is flawed in a way the reader can identify with; awkward, unpopular and, or unwisely headstrong. There’s the love interest (usually a boy) who though far from perfect, has personality problems that are way cooler. He’s often dark and moody, with traits that might include sociopathy, illness, strange supernatural inclinations, blood lust or actual physical decay (as in the case of zombie love). The couples must fight for their relationship. And their feelings are idyllic, transcendent and pure.
Now I totally get this, because you see, I also love to read and write romance, but my ride skews a bit off the traditional path. Remember Jane Austin’s, Emma? Now there was an unsentimental romance I could really be desirous of. Emma and George Knightley were friends and had many opportunities to observe each other’s faults. However, in the end, they wondered to themselves, could this be love?
The truth is, to reference a more recent pop culture romance, I’m Team Jacob. I liked this mostly regular (although incredibly buff/werewolf) guy next door. He and Bella were buddies. They hung out together, listened to music, talked, laughed. She dropped by his house, he sprung two stories up into the window of hers. They fought. They sulked. They made up. He loved Bella for who she was. Werewolf-ism aside, they had a comfortable affection that felt warm and genuine.
In the end though, as we all know, it was dreamy Edward who won Bella’s heart. All Jacob got was the dreaded ‘F’ word: friendship. The kiss (or in this case the handshake) of death. But here’s a surprise that’s not really surprising: Many romantics are living a lie. My friend who is fiercely Team Edward, has a real life love who is strictly a Jacob.
So then the question is: What do romantic readers, such as myself, really want? Do I want escapist stories because real life love can be so, well, mundane? Do I believe that a realist can write about imperfect love that’s still romantic?
To that I vow an emphatic, “I DO!”
I feel there should be a new category of romance. And I shall call it: Practical Romance. It could be a mash up of traditional courtship, replete with idealized charm and magic, mixed with the strum and drang of everyday relationships.
In my version of Practical Romance, instead of the Girl choosing the lofty Prince Charming, she might opt for his more grounded brothers: Prince Leaves the Toilet Seat Up, Prince I Forgot Your Birthday or Prince Sometimes Just Generally Bugs the Crap Out of Me.
And instead of romantic book covers showing side angles of girls on stormy hilltops, or buff guys on the deck of pirate ships, ‘Practical’ covers could sport images of guys emptying the dishwasher or relinquishing control of the remote. Smoking Hot!
This could be the future of YA! And I believe this new ish genre might already be creeping it’s way into the hearts of readers.
Take The Hunger Games, for example. Obviously it’s more of a gut wrenching dystopian allegory than a romance, but there is a strong lover’s triangle at play. While Gale might be more of an old school traditional romantic choice for Katniss, she chooses Peta. He’s the imperfect, often weaker guy (who she ends up saving a lot) but yet he loves her in a way that is real, quiet and true.
Even though my latest YA, My Totally Awkward Supernatural Crush, has elements of old school romance (Jenna, the main character’s love interest is an angel) he has quirks and faults. Among other things, Luke has trouble asserting himself when he’s needed the most. It’s Jenna who has to slap him with an unsentimental reality check. She says:
“I cannot believe you’re giving up so easily. What kind of angel are you anyway? So you had a brief life and tragic death, and then an angelic rebirth and now you’re trying to corral a demon back to wherever he goes back to. Boo hoo! It’s always you, you, you!”
And when Luke wants to learn more about her warty life, he asks:
“Ya wanna talk about it? Angels are better than therapists. And cheaper.”
At which point, she’s not afraid to answer:
“I hesitate. If I tell him, will he think I’m a loser? But I want to tell him, so I take a deep breath and I spill: the story of the fro-yo dis. And true to his words, he really does listen, not only to my words but also to my feelings.”
My characters, off beat and somewhat mismatched, have to work to make it work.
So, in the end, it seems to me that the romantic YA we all love can portray relationships as jagged, irritating and imperfect. And I think that’s okay. As long as it’s still a little dreamy…
Laura Toffler-Corrie is the author of THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF AMY FINAWITZ and MY TOTALLY AWKWARD SUPERNATURAL CRUSH. She holds an M.S. in school psychology, as well as an M.F.A. in dramatic writing from New York University. She and her family live in South Salem, New York. Visit her online at http://www.lauratofflercorrie.com/.