Over the Fence: Writing with the Boy Next Door Trope
The Boy Next Door is one of the most popular tropes, or themes, in romantic fiction. Why? Well, what’s better than having a crush on a totally cute guy who lives only a stone’s throw from your front door? Nothing! Some of our favorite YA novels, including Katy Upperman’s Kissing Max Holden and Sandy Hall’s Been Here AllAlong (and of course... Katie Van Ark's The Boy Next Door), feature crushes who live just over the fence, and we love seeing these characters get together after so many years of being neighbors.
But how do you avoid the common pitfalls that make your Boy feel blah and write a Boy Next Door who jumps right off the page?
Boy Next Door Dos
• Friends (or Frenemies) First — The most fun part of reading Boy Next Door fiction is seeing the protagonist realize that the person they know so well has moved from the friend zone to the “I really, really want to kiss you” zone. This transition works best when the author establishes a strong relationship between the two characters pre-smooch. Whether these neighbors love or hate each other when the book begins, give their relationship a strong foundation so we can feel just as giddy as they do when friendship turns to romance.
• Conflict, Conflict, Conflict — Part of the fun in a Boy Next Door story is trying to predict when these two characters will discover their feelings for each other and just kiss already! One way to keep these characters apart until the kissing occurs is to provide realistic, compelling, and believable conflict. Why can’t these characters be together? In Kissing Max Holden, it’s because Max has a girlfriend (OOPS). If the relationship with the Boy Next Door is too easy, it won’t be interesting, so give us conflict!
Boy Next Door Don’ts
• Clueless Protagonist — Most books rely on dramatic irony, where the reader knows the characters should be together before the characters themselves know. However, the Boy Next Door plot is tough to pull off if your protagonist is oblivious to the cutie next door for too long. Even if your protagonist doesn’t feel romantic feelings towards her neighbor until late in the book, let us see some stirring of emotion towards him so that she’s not totally oblivious to the attraction. It’s hard to like a protagonist who, until the final page of the book, ignores her feelings for the guy we know she loves.
• False Conflict — You need a realistic and believable reason for the Boy Next Door to not be dating the protagonist on page one. Otherwise, they’d just date; they don’t even need to own a car! But beware adding conflict between the protagonist and the Boy Next Door that feels false and easily resolved. Even if we know these characters are going to likely end up together, adding in conflict that feels untrue will lose your reader’s trust.
Now go forth and write the Boy Next Door character that we all want to read!