Young Adult fiction is sort of a booming genre at the moment.
Why? Well a lot of them are well written, have fun and intriguing plots, and the characters are rounded and interesting. Why else? Because YA has, especially since the Twilight boom, really managed to capture a particular element that I consider a large draw… The Romantic Subplot.
This is a really important aspect of YA fiction. Possibly this is because those crazy teenagers are just a puddle of hormones, and by appealing to that messy biological soup of needs and desires publishers can sell books. But I also believe that it’s deeper than that. Although so many of us, as a culture, are beginning to fall out with the traditional ideas of love and marriage, we ARE still in love with the idea that someone can do it right. And who can do it better than a writer?
Romances in books are almost predictable–you can usually pick them out within the first few chapters. (Even if there’s a messy love triangle–I mean, (SPOILER,) did anyone really not know Katniss was going to pick Peeta?) My point is that in a book, as a reader, you have the best seat in the house for the machinations in the story. You hold (almost) all of the cards… You know how things are going to work. And you like it. You wish you could have that feeling in real life. You wish you were reading about yourself and that cute guy at work, because then you would KNOW without a shadow of doubt that, when you run into him at the coffee cart, things are about to get interesting. Real life is unpredictable. Romance in a book, however, is always Meant To Be.
I guess my point is that romance makes everything better, like, 95% of the time. Can you still have pretty much the same book, in most cases, if you take out the lovey-dovey bits? Sure, usually. To stick with my Hunger Games references, Katniss could still have survived the contest and decided to take down Snow and the Capitol without the added stuff with Peeta and Gale. Sure. Would you have the same feelings reading it, or be QUITE as emotionally invested? If it was really well-written, possibly. But there’s something about two people falling in love amidst the chaos of the book’s conflict that really hits a reader hard, and makes them flip pages just that much faster to see how it all ends… Even if we know how it will end. (Unless you are reading George RR Martin, in which case throw the rulebook away and prepare to lose everyone you love.)
And romance is so versatile! YA doesn’t have the monopoly on a good romantic subplot. Sure, it has its own genre, but the fact is that you can combine romance with ANY OTHER GENRE and be just fine, making it a great addition to anything–kind of like Mrs. Dash on food. Even romance novels often have something else going on in the background, like a murder mystery or a historical thing. Western? Western ROMANCE. Syfy? Syfy ROMANCE. Fantasy? Fantasy ROMANCE. Seriously, give it a try. Like I said, 95% of the time it makes things way better.
Cases where a writer can usually squeeze by without any romance? (Yes, there are a few.)
Literary Fiction. We’re usually so involved in the main character or the lesson or the feelings we’re supposed to be having or the situation that romance isn’t so important. Literary fiction is a different kind of animal.
Stories with young main characters. (Like the first few books of Harry Potter.) Nobody expects a story about kids to be really heavy on the making-out or anything.
Really out-of-the-box stuff. If you’re writing something just to try to stretch conventions, the reader will probably understand that they are not on a normal train track here.
Everything else? You are clear for romantic liftoff!
To conclude, romantic subplots are a big part of writing. More than likely you’ve already considered them, especially if you are a writer who has already done a lot of reading. (And if you’re writing you SHOULD be a big reader!) You know how this works. If you are writing something for trade publishing, aka genre work, you probably won’t even have to work at it–the way our minds work, romance often niggles its way in there by itself. But don’t make it too easy! Everyone loves two characters who hate each other at first and then soften later… Or characters who are good friends, and then something changes. Even if it seems like they’re made for each other, often the plot, other characters, their personal histories, or other-worldly conflicts will throw a wrench in their plans. Remember, anything worth having is worth working for, especially if this is a romantic subplot.
Make the characters work for it, and your readers will thank you!
(Sorry for the incredibly long post. Obviously I feel strongly about love. xD)