How to write what you don’t know? aka Romance

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    Hope Ann

    This week’s question is from Porter:

    I am trying to write romance, but I am a young teen and I have never had any experience with romance in my life. Any tips?

    What do you think?

    Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.


    This is exactly my predicament 😂 because during Nano just yesterday I came to my romantic scene, and, not having the time to revise, wrote most of it pretty terribly and just went on. But I think I learned a few things, which I can share here:

    1) Romance looks different in every book, so it can be a minor part of the overall story. I’ve read a lot of middle-grade books where the guy kind of likes the girl, goes on a major adventure, and then she says something sweet to him at the end that kind of sweetens the victory. Or in A Wrinkle in Time, a romance (of sorts) is established by two lines of text: Calvin telling Meg her eyes are beautiful, and Meg blushing in response. Middle grade romance in my experience is very sweet and innocent and you don’t need to experience it to make it work.

    2) Do write what you know and what makes sense to you. When I tried to write an almost-kiss scene yesterday, I put a lot of fluff that was probably borrowed from the YA stuff I read in middle school. But then today, I put a line (“She wanted him close to her again, and his arms around her”) that seems kind of cliche compared to most YA, but I think it worked because it resonates with me and what I’ve felt in the past. (And I’ve never had a boyfriend.)

    So that’s a little bit of advice from my Nano experience yesterday and today. A lot of it might seem kind of obvious, but I hope you find it helpful!

    INFJ // The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)


    I know the conventional wisdom is, “Write What You Know” but I think this can be interpreted very broadly. You may not have lost your entire family in war, for example, but most of us have experienced painful loss–the death of a friend or relative, or even a beloved pet. You may never have been “in love” but you’ve probably seen people around you (parents, older friends, siblings, even just characters in a book or movie) in close, romantic relationships that give you a taste of something you hope to experience one day. But, as @literatureforthelight said, a story for young teenagers doesn’t really need a heavy romantic element anyway. There aren’t many 14-15 year olds making lifelong commitments to each other these days…which is where the real romance comes in.


    I left a ridiculously long post for last week’s question, so shall restrain myself.


    1. I’d say that, surprisingly, it’s good to trust your intuition.  As a writer.  What @literatureforthelight said above sparked that thought.  Saying that you used fluffy or cliche phrases, indicates that you knew they were just that: sappy.  While bearing in mind being twitterpated is a real thing, you can probably judge what sounds bogus.  Or sincere.  Using your taste and skills as a writer.  But yeah… You can also say dumb things if you’re infatuated.  Reaaaaalllllly dumb things.  Just maybe keep the sweet nothings as the icing, not the entire cake.


    2. Observe.  Watch a real life couple.  It’s in the little things.  Keep a log.  Even try to compare how their personalities contrast and mesh.  Is one an introvert? Does the other have a temper?  The 16 personality test can be overused but it really is a great place to lay a foundation.  You’ve an ESFP and an INFJ… Let the miscommunication commence.


    3.  Ask.  While you’re stalking that couple with notebook in hand, go ahead and ask them. Retelling the start of their “romantic”story doesn’t get old for them.  Judging by the happy nostalgic look that spreads over their faces as the memories are described.  It’s fun to play detective.  I’ve saved so many real life things I’ve watched.  Because yes… Truth is so much stranger than fiction; it can imbue your fictional relationship with a high level of believe-ability.

    4. Romance does make the world turn but I agree with @zee that YA doesn’t really need the do or die forever element.  @literatureforthelight I also have always loved A Wrinkle in Time and the way it portrayed Meg and Calvin.  Powerful but subtle.


    Huh.  Almost restrained myself…

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    Hope McClellan

    You gotta start with friendship. All relationships start somewhere. And personally I believe it’s important that you like someone as a person before liking them romantically. Because eventually the “butterflies” will fade away, so you gotta make sure you have a firm foundation beneath that.

    Take that with a grain of salt because I’m in the same boat, but that’s personally what knowledge I’ve gained from my parents’ relationship. The warm and fuzzy feeling of love fades away, and you want to make sure that 20 years later you still love them as a person.

    "Write the vision, and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it."
    Habakkuk 2:2

    K.M. Small

    Read books with good romances, talk to people who have been in love, and go with your intuition. If your characters have never been in a romantic relationship before, that’s even better–they have the same amount of experience as you, so writing their perspective should be easier.

    As everyone else has said, there are lots of different kinds of romances. Maybe pick one that’s easiest for you (like a guy and a girl becoming friends, then liking each other after that) and get comfortable with it.

    Lastly, trial and error is always good. Play around with some different stuff. Get feedback from someone who is honest but encouraging.

    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

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