Saturday, October 12, 2013

Scene-spiration: Romance

Writing romantic scenes doesn't always come easily to me.
Photo credit: Bschwen
It's one of those things I really have to be in the mood for. Maybe it's because while I like a little romance in the novels I read, it bugs me if it overwhelms the central plot. But that was another blog post. Writing a good romantic scene is also tricky because it's territory covered so many times over in YA, that you run the risk of filling it full of cliches.

Whatever the reason, when I'm not in the mood, writing romantic scenes feels like pulling teeth my characters wind up pissed off at each other. Not exactly the development I wanted in their relationship!

Like I mentioned last week, there are three key things I do to get in the mood for certain scenes: mood music, body language, and re-typing (or re-reading) inspiring scenes. What music and which authors I turn to for inspiration depends on the exact type of romantic moment I'm looking to embody in my scene.

For example, maybe I'll listen to Home by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros if the scene I'm about to write is going to have a cute, boy-next-door feel. Or Mazzy Star's Fade Into You if the scene is supposed to be more reflective or wistful. Or Breathe Me by Sia if the scene is a little sad (or William Fitzsimmon's So This is Goodbye if the scene is REALLY sad). I've compiled some more inspiration sources below.

******SPOILER ALERT: Quotes ahead! Read no further (or skim past the red text) if you don't want to see excerpts of scenes from The Sky is Everywhere, Anna and the French Kiss, Unearthly, Arclight and Transparent******

First Glances:
The first time the MC lays eyes on her/his love interest is always a key moment in a YA novel. Often (but not always!) you know immediately who this new character is.

Photo credit: Mario Trejo
It's tricky to write the "first glance" scene without filling it with the typical cliches. Catching someone's eye across the room, looking then looking away, the immediate 'electricity' - they're all things we've seen before, but hopefully with a unique setup, and a bit of work our scenes will be nice and fresh!  Here are some sources of inspiration:

Mood Music: 
Lights - Ellie Goulding
Little Bit - Lykke Li

Inspiring Authors: 
Jandy Nelson

Favorite "First Glance" Moments:

“His face is more open than an open book, like a wall of graffiti really. I realize I'm writing wow on my thigh with my finger, decide I better open my mouth and snap us out of this impromptu staring contest." 
          -- The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Just Plain Cute:
I'm a total sucker for the cute, 'maybe we're just friends but maybe not' type romance. It might start slow, maybe even with other significant others in the picture, but soon things get a little cuter, a little more flirty and soon you know that the playful banter between the MC and her/his "friend" is going to turn into something more. Here's some inspiration for those sorts of moments.
Photo Credit: Ozan Diril

Mood Music: 
Give me a Reason - Meiko
Home - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
All I Want is You - (cover by The Vespers)

Inspiring Authors: 
Stephanie Perkins, Jandy Nelson

Favorite "Cute" Moments:

“That was it? The whole story?"
“Yes. God, you’re right. That was pants.”
I sidestep another aggressive couscous vendor.
“Rubbish. Crap. Shite.”
Pants. Oh heavens that’s cute.
    -- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

"Well, well, a troubadour," Gram says, opening the door. She has obviously noticed the mesmery that is Joe's face and has already begun flirting. "Here I thought we were in the twenty-first century . . ." She is starting to purr. I have to save him.
           -- The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Falling for You:
Often in YA, there's a tricky balance to developing chemistry soon but not too soon. One thing I love about all the novels quoted below is their ability to show the chemistry between characters without feeling like "Insta-Love." Building up the cute moments, romantic tension, and denial to a moment where the MC suddenly realizes s/he is falling for the other person is, in my opinion, one nice way to achieve this.

Mood Music:
Image Credit: Bartok Ambrozik
Fade Into You - Mazzy Star
Figure Eight - Ellie Goulding
Record Collector - Lissie

Inspiring Authors:
Cynthia Hand, Stephanie Perkins, Natalie Whipple

Favorite "Falling for you" Moments:

This summer hasn't turned out at all like I’d planned. I’m not supposed to be standing in the middle of a barn with a blue-eyed cowboy who’s looking at me like he’s about to kiss me. I shouldn't be wanting him to kiss me.
                  -- Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

And then there’s the other thing
The thing I’m trying to ignore. The thing I shouldn't want, the thing I can’t have.
And he’s standing in front of me right now.
           -- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

We stay still for what could be hours, eternity, or a breath in time. No machines or alarms. No blinking light to remind us that danger could descend at any moment, and in the void, I find a point of focus where his arm wraps tight around my shoulders like a tether to keep me from spiraling into the abyss.
            -- Arclight by Josin McQuien

“I'm not crying over you.” His skin is warm, surprisingly comforting. I'm tempted to put my arms around his waist, just to know how it feels to hug someone besides Miles. Before I can think better of it, my hands are on his back. He flinches, but then relaxes again.
My whole body tingles and I feel slightly guilty about how much I enjoy the feel of him against me. I like Brady. Seth's brother. At least I think I do. But I can't seem to stop myself. I need comfort and he's here for me. I put my head on his shoulder, confused as hell. “I'm such an idiot.”
                 -- Transparent by Natalie Whipple

The Kiss!
For some people kissing scenes always come easy. I definitely have to be in the right mood. Maybe it's partially feeling frozen by the fact that, like first glances, it can be so easy to write kissing scenes full of cliches. It can be challenging to write them without sounding like a billion other YA kisses that have happened before. In my opinion, there's a tricky balance here too: detail enough to tantalize, but not so much that it gets 'gross', familiarity enough that readers 'feel' the scene, but also with descriptions/reactions that fit the unique personality of the MC.

Photo Credit: dtimoske
Mood Music:
Sweater Weather - The Neighbourhood
Desert - Emilie Simon
Collide - Howie Day
Kiss Me - Ed Sheeran

Favorite Authors:
Cynthia Hand, Jandy Nelson

Favorite "The Kiss" Moments:

“Come here.” His voice is so warm and rough-edged that it sends a shiver down my spine.
“I don’t think you really want to be with Christian Prescott,” he says.
I stare hopelessly down at my hands, afraid to look at him. “Oh and I suppose you’re my type, right?”
“I suppose I am,” he says, and he’s crossing the distance between us and taking my face in his hands before I can even think to stop him.
“Tuck, please,” I manage in a quivery voice.
“You like me Clara,” he says. “I know you do …. Try to tell me you don’t,” he murmurs so his breath is on my face. I look up into his eyes and see the beckoning heat in them. I can’t think. His lips are close to mine and his hands are drawing me closer.
“Tuck,” I breathe, and then he kisses me.
                        -- Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

He stops again. I think he's going to go on about Paris some more - but he doesn't. I look up at him. His face is serious like it was last night in the woods.
"Lennie," he whispers.
I look into his sorrowless eyes and a door in my heart blows open.
And when we kiss, I see that on the other side of the door is sky.
            -- The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

What about you? 

Do you have favorite books or songs that inspire great romance scenes? 

Tricks to keep things cliche-free, while connecting with readers on an emotional level?


  1. Terrific post! I agree about needing to be in the mood to write a romantic scene. Otherwise I catch myself using the same adjectives, cliché's, metaphors, etc. My goal is to make myself fall in love with my MC's love interest. Soooo hard to do. And I feel the same way about balancing enough detail without writing something erotic. My favorite love scenes in literature show very little physical affection, but sweep me away with the characters' emotions.

  2. Thank you! I found this incredibly helpful!



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