A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Love is a drug

tightrope love

Writing romance, like tightrope walking, is much harder than it looks. Those who do it well make it look so easy it can be tempting to just leap up onto that high wire yourself and give it a go.

But in reality, writing love is a delicate, complex balancing act.

Some writers just can’t do it. They add a romance to their story but without enthusiasm. Like it’s required. These writers barely brush the surface of love. The two characters like each other, eventually they kiss (briefly) and then on to the real story, which is the crime or the escape or whatever.

Those books leave me frustrated. I don’t believe the couple. I can’t feel what they feel. I don’t even understand why they like each other.

Other writers try but don’t quite hit it. Tongues ‘tangle’. (Ow?) Hands ‘fist’. But still the reader can’t feel the adrenaline that makes new love so real. So intense.

So dangerous.

True love is boring

Failing to capture the thrill of early love is not the only potential pitfall for writers. Because, as soon as a fictional couple is in a happy relationship a lot of oxygen leaves the page.

It’s hard to find drama in steady, strong, reliable love. The only tension to dig up happens when the loving couple quarrels, and that quickly becomes tiresome for readers.

Nobody likes a squabble.
City of bones

Because of this, the best books keep the lovers apart.

The best romance writers break their characters’ hearts over and over again.

It seems cruel, but I’m telling you it works.

It is, again like love, a delicate trick of balance. Your characters must get so unbearably close – close enough to kiss – but then fate rips them apart again, and takes the reader’s heart with it.

Love lessons

In my opinion, the master at this among young adult writers is Cassandra Clare. Both her Mortal Instruments series and her Infernal Devices series keep the lovers at the centre of the story apart for reasons far beyond their control. We never doubt their desire for each other, but Clare makes it infuriatingly impossible for them to be together.

They come close at times – briefly intertwining when you least expect it – and then here comes the plot to drag one of them off again, leaving the other heartbroken and confused. And the reader utterly hooked.

Similarly, Elizabeth May handled it beautifully in her debut novel The Falconer.

In that book, the main character is so distracted by her need for vengeance by the time she realises she’s fallen for someone it’s too late. And fate is about to destroy them both.

Only love can break your heart

In my series, Night School, the lovers are divided by the main character’s indecision and inability to trust. Allie doesn’t have the confidence to know her own heart, and she’s torn between Sylvain’s suave charm, and the brooding darkness offered by Carter.

She wants to choose Sylvain but keeps finding herself pulled back to Carter.

Keeping her from making a final choice for four books has been an interesting and complex learning experience for me, as a writer. I need the readers to understand why she can’t decide, and to be as indecisive as she is. Otherwise, they’ll just grow frustrated with her and walk away, which is the last thing I want.

In each book I’ve examined Allie’s motivation. Explaining why she’s torn. Her background, her family, her life.

Each time I worry that I haven’t got it this time. But I knew I’d struck the right balance after Book 2, when Night School fans created Team Carter and Team Sylvain Facebook pages. And joined both of them.


C.J. DaughertyCJ Daugherty
CJ Daugherty is the author of the Night School series of romantic thrillers set in an exclusive boarding school where no one is ever who they seem to be. She is represented by Madeleine Milburn. Her latest book, Night School: Fracture was published this summer by Atom/Little Brown. The series is being translated into 21 languages.

About CJ Daugherty

Former crime reporter CJ Daugherty is the author of the international best-selling Night School series, and the co-author of The Secret Fire. The first book in that series is out now in the UK and the US.


This entry was posted on February 12, 2014 by .

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