I’ve never really understood the phrase “love at first sight.” Sure, I understand the literal definition, and yes, I can kind of get the some enchanted evening appeal of spotting a stranger across a crowded room – preferably when set to a Rodgers & Hammerstein score – but it’s never really made sense to me. No, I’m with Shakespeare’s Helena on this one. “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” Forget biceps, brains are sexy. And yes, Helena needed enchanted flower juice from a fairy to land a man, so maybe she’s not the best source of dating advice, but in this, I totally agree with her. How is it possible to fall in love with someone you haven’t talked to?
I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that you have to write what you know – although in all honesty, I usually do – but I am a firm believer that you should write what you like. And when it comes to a love story, I know exactly what I like: banter. I want my hero and heroine to talk, talk some more, and then never stop talking. Think Beatrice and Benedick. Think Darcy and Elizabeth. Think a Gilmore girl and, well, anyone. Forget Cupid’s arrows. The only things I want flying on my pages are quips. For me, love is words. So when I write young adult romance, for me, the most important thing is the dialogue.
I can tell when I’ve made a good match between characters because the dialogue flows easily. If I’m writing so fast my fingers can barely keep up with my brain, then I know this relationship is meant to be. And then I do the ultimate test – I read the pages out loud. If anyone says something that I wouldn’t want to say on stage (I used to be an actor, before I started writing), then it’s out. I imagine how an audience might react – would there be a laugh here? Or crickets? Would everyone in the room know that these two would never run out of things to say to each other? If the answer is a resounding “YES!”, then I know I’m onto something. (If everyone in the room is hoping they’d just shut up already? Well, then, that’s a different issue altogether.) I know “show don’t tell” is a classic piece of writing advice, but quite frankly, I’d rather hear two characters fall in love than see it happen. When it comes to romance, tell me everything!
Dialogue is hands-down my favorite thing to write. That being said, I don’t think that snappy dialogue is the only way to write romance in YA – far from it. My advice to you is this: find your banter. Find what you love about love. Maybe you are the some-enchanted-evening-love-at-first-sight type. Or the hate-turns-to-love type. Or any one of the millions-of-ways-people-fall-in-love types. For me, love is words. It’s easiest to write love when I write what I love. And that sounds like happily ever after.
Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pinkand the Confederates Don’t Wear Couture. She grew up on the Connecticut coast, where a steady diet of Little House on the Prairieturned her into a history nerd at an early age. She spent much of her childhood dressing up in bonnets. While attending Middlebury College in Vermont, she blossomed into a full-fledged Civil War buff and was voted Winter Carnival Queen. After graduating with a joint major in theater and history, she acted her way around the country, performing in more than 25 states, primarily in shows where she got to wear corsets.
Currently she lives in Chicago, where her closet is almost big enough to hold all of her shoes. When she’s not writing, she loves baking, shopping, cuddling her dog Lorelei, and dragging her boyfriend to chick flicks.