Book Writing AdviceBook, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

How to Write a Young Adult Romance Story

Have you binge-watched all the To All the Boys I've Loved Before movies on Netflix? Are you anticipating the release of The Summer I Turned Pretty on Amazon Prime? What do these popular movies have in common? They are all adaptations of popular young adult romance books. Young adult romance continues to be one of the most popular YA subgenres and does not show any signs of stopping in the future. In fact, now is the perfect time for you to write that YA romance that you have been creating in your head for so long.

There will always be an audience for YA romance because young adults continue to grow and experience life, and they sometimes rely on examples to reassure them of their own problems and answer their burning questions. You can think of a YA romance as a resource for young adults, and you are acting as their guide. Before we get into YA romance, let us first define young adult.

Am I too old for this? Definitely not!

A young adult is typically described as anyone between the ages of 12-18 years old, but the genre is not limited to this age range. The protagonist may even be in his/her very early 20s, but this is rare. Typically, the protagonist will be around 15 or 16 years old, making the character a highschooler. The subject matter of the story will correlate with the age and experience of the protagonist.

Young adult is most commonly defined by the coming-of-age narrative where the protagonist learns life lessons. The protagonist will experience a combination of internal and external conflict that aids in growth and development that is essential to his/her characterization.

There are many subgenres of the young adult category, including fantasy, mystery, and romance, which is what we are going to be exploring. Despite the differences in subgenres, all young adult stories contain essential themes.

Common themes of young adult stories include:

  • Exploration of identity
  • Sexuality
  • Romance
  • Family and friendship
  • Moral dilemmas

You should keep these themes in mind when developing the plot for your story because they will be essential components to creating dynamic characters and experiences that resonate with a young adult audience. Now, let us specifically define young adult romance.

Young adult romance

This subgenre features adolescent protagonists who are growing up and trying to find their place in the world. Their stories are complicated by their newfound interest in romantic relationships, as they navigate the rocky shores of young love. Common tropes found in young adult romance stories include enemies-to-lovers and friends-to-lovers, and stories often take place in a school setting or during summer vacation.

Things to keep in mind when writing YA romance

Walk in your audience's shoes

As we have discussed, the young adult genre is typically meant for readers between 12-18 years old. Although these stories are not limited to this audience, it is important to consider who your audience is and what kinds of material they want to read and, more importantly, what kind of material resonates with them. Young adults will want to read relatable stories where they can see themselves in the characters.

You have to put yourself in your audiences' shoes: What advice do you wish you had been given growing up? What kinds of stories do you wish had been available to you when you were a young adult? What personal experiences can you put into your own story to help others?

Here is a list of topics to consider writing about in your story:

  • Sexuality: Young adulthood is a period of time where people explore their sexuality and romantic interests, figuring out who and what they like. For instance, maybe your protagonist is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and is struggling to express themselves. Think about how your character's sexuality plays a role in their everyday experiences and influences their romantic relationships.
  • Sex: Sex has been a taboo topic for way too long. Although you do not have to explicitly discuss sex, it is important to not glaze over the topic. Young adults are curious and value open conversation over silence. Given that you are writing a YA romance, sex is bound to be a topic of interest for high school-aged readers.
  • Friendship: Friendships are a huge influence on our development regardless of age. Friendships come and go, and we actively seek out friends that we relate to. What role will your protagonist's friends play in his/her life? Is there potential for a friends-to-lovers trope in your story?
  • School: Odds are your protagonist is in high school. What kind of student are they? Are they social or shy? Does your protagonist meet his/her love interest in school? What role does school play in your love story?
  • Stress and anxiety: Jugging school, family, friends, and now a potential love interest, your protagonist is most likely going to experience stress and anxiety. That's okay and natural. Mental health is an extremely important topic that is increasingly more relevant for young adults. Do not sweep this under the rug.

There is more to a YA romance than just the romance. Although the romance should be the central focus of the story, you cannot ignore competing factors in your protagonist's life. After all, romance is just like life: complicated.

Summer lovin' or high school halls?

Teenagers sit around a campfire
Summer camps and high school are two popular YA romance story settings. Photo from Tegan Mierle.

Speaking of romance, where will yours take place? Will your romance take place in between classes in the school hallways or at the lockers after lunch, or will yours be a summer fling?

You should consider how the setting will influence the narrative. A big city romance will understandably be far different than a small-town rural romance. No matter what setting you choose, make sure you artfully weave it into your narrative and explain its importance to the foundation of the relationship.

Here is a list of potential settings where your romance can build:

  • Summer camp
  • Math class
  • Sports practice
  • Vacation
  • Small town

They're just so relatable!

The whole point of a YA story is to create realistic, believable characters that your audience will like (or dislike!) and find relatable. How do you create these kinds of characters? You should consider who you wanted to be friends with during young adulthood and what kinds of friends you needed. These are the types of characters you want to build. Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl have really entertaining characters, but ask yourself this: Are they relatable? For the average young adult, the answer is likely no.

When you describe your characters, do not overemphasize their physical appearance. While it is important to give a physical description of your characters so readers can image the characters in their minds, emphasis should be placed on their personalities and individual journeys more than their appearance. We are more likely to associate with people who have similar morals and interests than we are to associate with physically similar people.

When thinking about your YA romance story, it is important to consider how the love interests meet and what they are like. Here is a list of questions to consider when you write your protagonist and his/her love interest:

  • Are your characters flirty or shy?
  • Is your protagonist obvious about the way he/she feels, or are the feelings hidden?
  • Do your characters play any sports?
  • What kinds of values do your characters have? Are they similar or different?
  • What kind of relationship trope is present: friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, friends-enemies-lovers, nerd-athlete pairing, or maybe even a love triangle?
  • How does a romantic relationship impact your characters' daily lives and beliefs/goals?

You do not want to create static characters. Your characters should be flawed, not perfect. Growth and development are essential to create likable characters that transcend the pages into reality. How does your protagonist grow throughout the relationship? Does love interfere with the protagonist's personal growth, or does the love interest help the protagonist find himself/herself?

Perfecting plot

Just as you should strive to create believable characters, you should also create a believable, relatable plot. One of the biggest mistakes in writing YA romance stories is to just thrust two characters together and boom! Suddenly they are together. Instead of writing a quick love story with minimal interactions between the characters and no growth opportunities, try to build the romance over time. Everyone loves a slow burn… but not too slow!

Conflict is inevitable in any romance story, but especially so in a YA romance. As we have mentioned before, young adults have a lot going on in life: school, friends, family, identity crises. Adding a romance into the mix will definitely complicate things for your protagonist, but in what way and to what degree?

You should aim to create some obstacles for your couple to overcome. Smooth sailing is not realistic for a YA romance story. In fact, conflict can make some relationships stronger. You should make sure the conflict is realistic and does not overpower the relationship. Here is a list of possible conflicts for a YA romance story:

  • Long distance relationship
  • Love triangle (a classic trope)
  • Fear of familial disapproval
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Losing yourself in the relationship

Talk flirty (or nerdy!) to me

Student carries a backpack and books
YA romance story protagonists are typically high school students. Photo from Element5 Digital.

There is nothing worse than poorly-written, cringey dialogue, especially in YA romances. While you shouldn't be afraid of clichés, you should try to avoid falling into tired traps your audience has likely read tons of times. Instead of saying something like, "I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding", try to rework overused lines and make them your own. Better yet, try to coin your own unique phrase that other YA writers will want to incorporate into their own stories.

That being said, don't be afraid to be awkward. Nobody in high school is as cool as we think they might be, so don't be afraid to mimic your characters' awkwardness in their dialogue. Smooth talk is swoon worthy, but stuttered speech can be just as effective.

Your characters are young adults, so they should speak like young adults. You should prioritize realistic language over complicated terminology. Do not make your characters sound too mature or too young. There are always exceptions to this, so be purposeful in using dialogue to characterize your characters.

Since you are writing a YA romance story, you will want to use slang terminology that is common with young adults. You also want to include current trends that young adults would be familiar with, but use these moderately and smartly. Please, do not overdo it on the slang terminology. The young adults are begging you not to try too hard! (And so are we…)

You're not like other writers...

Odds are, you have some kind of motivation for writing your YA romance story. Every story has a purpose: What is yours? Once you establish the reason behind your writing, you can establish a unique voice for your protagonist and give him/her some purpose that is clear throughout the story.

The YA genre is defined by characters' motivations. Is your protagonist exploring his/her sexuality throughout the story? Are your characters struggling to realize their goals? Is there a moral dilemma guiding your characters' growth? When you write your story, make sure your purpose shines through in the plot and characters.

Getting a read on the characters

Once you have built your characters, it is time for you to establish a point of view. Will your YA romance be a classic first-person POV so that the readers can hear and see all of the protagonist's innermost thoughts and feelings? Will you use a third person POV so we can hear from the protagonist and the love interest, adding even more dimension to your story? Or, perhaps you will include a POV that switches back and forth between first person protagonist POV and first-person love interest POV. This is becoming increasingly popular.

Whichever POV you choose, make it purposeful to your story. Every character has their own unique point of view-what will your characters' POV be?

What is love (baby, don't hurt me…)?

Two hands reach for each other
Most YA romance stories have a happy ending, but this is not always the case for some fictional couples. Photo from Phix Nguyen.

Just like with most stories we read, we crave a happy ending. A happy ending gives us hope for the future and a sense of satisfaction. However, happy endings are not always realistic. Romantic relationships, like life, are not perfect and come with many obstacles.

Although it can be frustrating to not end the story with a classic happy ending, sometimes it is more realistic and meaningful to give the story a bittersweet ending. This could mean that your characters do not end up together because of something like distance or a difference of opinion, but this speaks to reality.

Although you are writing a romance story, it is important to remember that you are writing a young adult romance story. This means that themes that are essential to the young adult genre should have a continued presence in your story. One of the most important themes of the young adult genre is learnt lessons and exploration. Maybe your protagonist didn't get the girl or guy in the way that we might expect, but he/she got an opportunity to grow from a unique personal experience, helping them define themselves as an individual.

A good ending is one that makes sense and aligns with your story. There can be twists and turns, but they have to make sense for your narrative. If you want to have a suspenseful ending, be sure to reserve the cliffhangers for a potential series, not a standalone. No matter what kind of ending you choose for your couple, make it purposeful (are you sensing a theme, here?).

Writing romance

Do you think you're ready to write your YA romance story? We laid out some suggestions for you to keep in mind while crafting your story, but don't forget this is your story. The key to writing a successful YA romance story is to make it your own. Write your story for your past self. Write what you needed to hear and what you think young adults today need to hear. Create a voice so your audience can have a voice.

Header image from freestocks

Get in-depth guidance delivered right to your inbox.