A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Love sells (according to Barbara Taylor Bradford) but that’s not reason enough to include it in a novel. There can be nothing worse than gratuitous romance, it’s like adding extra salt to a gourmet meal. Romance should be integral and essential to a plot, otherwise, however hard you try, chances are it’ll come out as lame and shrivelled as a deflated heart balloon.
Admittedly, nearly every story I’ve ever conceived (unless it’s for the under-5s) has had some element of the love-ly stuff within it. I blame that partly on growing up chasing the passion of my literary favourites, most notably Heathcliff, whose words can still get my pulse rocketing, ‘If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day….’
And simply, just wanting to be Baby: ‘I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.’ That’s right, Baby, resist that corner.
Probably the love stuff is also half the reason why I write YA fiction in the first place. It being one of the two eternal questions that haunted my teenage self (okay, if I’m honest, they still do): ‘Why do we have to die?’ and ‘Do you think he fancies me?’ Generally, one tended to offset the other.
Love and Death – it ain’t anything new as ingredients for a novel, but there are no more powerful bedfellows.
So forgetting the death part for a minute (I wish I could), what do you do as a writer when you’re faced with plot developments where you’re forced to get all jiggy with it (ahem, solely in the novel of course)?
Alongside writing, I’m trained as a relationship counsellor, and so generally I try to approach love and romance in my novels as I might in a counselling session…..it’s all about the questions you ask:
What are the problems in the relationship?
What are the challenges?
How are they attracted to one another?
Is there a third person in this relationship?
What patterns does this relationship have to their own family life?
What are their expectations?
What gaps in their lives do they want love to fill?
Like real-life romance, the characters in novels need to go through the same jumble of dilemmas and choices, navigate the same maze of emotions that accompanies most relationships.
Never make the course of love run smoothly, because generally…well, it doesn’t tend to. Like with any plot strand, problems need to be created for the characters to reconcile; work out differences, longings, jealousies and anger…..or not.
That works too when it comes to your characters swapping saliva….amongst other things….the best route I’ve found is to keep it true to real life, however and wherever the book is set, a kiss is still a kiss. Go with gut instinct – if I’ve ever tried to force a bit of romantic physicality in a scene – it comes across as just that: forced. Instead it’s best to let the characters take you on their journey; they’ll let you know when the romance needs to get serious…the moment when they need to make a move. I try and tell myself, if I let it happen naturally, then the saucy stuff will take place only when and if it’s relevant….and the characters will let you know….how far they go.
But (because I can’t end this blog without bringing Love’s partner Death back in) it’s important too to remember that in real life not every relationship has a Disney-happy ever after. Don’t be afraid to make romance turn nasty. As much as there is hope and light in love…..there is darkness also. After all, in life, every single romance will one day come to an end. And on that jolly note, Happy Valentine’s……
Alex Campbell announced she was going to be an author at the age of eight. But no one took much notice. Which was generally how life developed thereafter. After a nomadic school career in back row daydreaming, unobserved by her teachers, ‘Alex Who?’, she moved into the world of PR and copywriting where she got other people and products noticed instead.
Now, living near Bath with one husband, two children, and many abandoned manuscripts, she can’t stop smiling that her eight year old self has finally been heard and the kind people at Hot Key Books are publishing not one but two of her YA fiction novels. LAND out 2014 and WRECKED, 2015.
When she’s not writing she can mainly be found in dark art-house cinemas or propping up coffee bars, or worse.