YA and Romance: A Requirement?

Love…exciting and new. Woah. That was the 70’s, there for a moment.

FYI, Happy Hour of the Damned hits the stories today in mass market paper back format. Go get it. I liked it. Still do.


Here at the Tamago, I’ve talked before about how some of my best writing comes out of my subconscious, often when I’m dreaming. My recent situation is a little weird.

Let’s make this clear, kids. I’m not advocating drug use for any sort of creativity. Nope. Just say no.

That said, as you know, I’ve been ill, and I’ve been sleeping weird. I’ve been sleeping, but the dreams have been disjointed and fragmented weirdness trips, the kind you get when you fight germs. Yesterday morning Bryon drove me to work because my arrival alive didn’t look too promising. I dozed into a weird place, and what I needed to do to the troll story came dancing out.

Then I went right back to dreaming about alternative patterns for the American flag.

What happened might seem obvious to a lot of YA writers. The main character of the story was becoming dull and reactive to other characters. What he needed, said my subconscious, was a dynamic love interest. At the expense of a couple of other characters, but it’s going to work. I can see it clearly.

That makes me wonder. Do I have to have a love interest to make a book a YA book? Is it a requirement? My subconscious seems to think so.

Romance plot ruminations follow, as do spoilers.

In the troll book, we have three main protagonists. David, the younger brother, struggles with his temper and a hot-headed nature that make it difficult for him to live among humans in Decorah. His family treats him like he’s special needs. He has a crush on Hild.

Hild, our young woman, wants more from life, and has a crush on Grant. There’s some potential tension between the two brothers.

But Grant DOESN’T have a crush on Hild. It’s the thing that’s expected, and Grant is willing to give his parents what they expect in some ways, but Hild is the little sister, not the love interest. He was very clear about that.

I could have riffed the story off Hild and David, but what’s the point of Grant being around at all? Just to react? I didn’t like that either.

In later stories, Grant is meant to become the stalwart protector character, but he has a streak in him that is dangerous. I had meant him to hook up with a frost elf character in the next story. They’re a good pair, and they play off each other well. I’ve moved that plot forward. Duh. Took me long enough.

Magdalene brings another frost elf with her because of her design (which is good. The other character, Erin, is a plot catalyst). However, that may other characters are going. I find it ironic it’s taken me about a year to get here. Usually the breakthroughs come a bit faster.

I wonder if this turns the book into a true YA. Most successful YA books I’ve read have romantic tension. I want to do a book where the characters in the relationship are both solid and equal. I think there’s enough discovery potential in the two characters to make this work.

Can you have a YA without the romance these days, or does that automatically turn it into an upper middle grade? I’d be interested to hear your opinions about what needs to be in a YA story.

Hope your writing inspiration is flowing a bit more than mine appears to have been.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

3 thoughts on “YA and Romance: A Requirement?”

  1. I went through a phase from about 13-15 years old where if a book didn’t have at least a little romance, I WOULD NOT READ IT.

    I don’t thin you HAVE to have it in a YA, but also, romance is one of the #1 things on teenage minds (especially girls, maybe?). So ignoring it is kind of like ignoring the fact that they have to go to school or something. Unless you have reasons in the story for it not to be there (totally different culture, maybe, or it’s an Action Driven book that takes place over two days?).


  2. I’m struggling a bit with this, too. I’ve got what I thought was a YA novel in the drawer waiting for a rewrite, and one of the things I’ve realized is that it reads a lot younger than I’d intended. I think part of that is the lack of a romantic subplot – I adamantly kept my two main characters as ‘just good friends’ because a romance between them didn’t seem to fit the story.

    Now I’m trying to decide whether to figure out how to age it up (probably in part by adding romance) or call it an upper middle grade, and rewrite with that in mind, instead.

    So all that’s to say, I don’t know the answer either. If you figure one out, let me know!

  3. I don’t think you have to have romance to make it a YA book. I order for the YAs at my day-job (librarian), and there are plenty of awesome, brilliant books about friendship, rivalry, and triumph over one’s circumstances that don’t contain romance.

    When I order books, I look at the age of the protag (over 14?) and the darkness of the text. If it’s dealing with pretty mild things, it might end up in the kid’s section. If it’s dealing with a lot of darker themes — violence, drugs, death, foul language, etc — but still reads for the 14+ crowd, it ends up in YA.

    Food for thought. 🙂

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