When I sold Angel’s Fury to Egmont, Twilight had just become huge and as a result every new YA novel, it seemed, had a love triangle. From Hunger Games to Mortal Instruments to Harry Potter (where the Hermione, Harry and Ron trio finally caused problems) all YA authors were in on it. Because it turned out that teenage girls wanted to read about romance (Fallen, Shiver, Hush, Hush the list goes on ad nauseum) and it turns out that readers like love triangles – two guys fighting over an ordinary seeming girl (e.g. Bella), the big build up, the heroine’s heart-rending decision, the inevitability of someone getting a broken heart. In a love triangle readers can pick sides, root for one character over another, laugh, love and cry.
The writer’s provision of a love triangle to their reader provides an emotional roller-coaster of fun.
Frankly it got to the point where I literally couldn’t read another teenage love story without feeling as if I’d been to a sweet shop and over gorged on love hearts. I needed something savoury to balance it out and went on a fast diet of gritty adult sci-fi to cleanse my palette.
The first version of Angel’s Fury that I wrote (then called Incarnation) had no real love story. I had written the glimmerings of an attraction between Cassie and Seth, but in my mind the real interaction was between Cassie and her past life - the characters she had to deal with internally. She had to learn to love herself, not someone else. I agree with her mother when she says, ‘you need to focus on your health, not on boys.’
But my editor did not agree with poor old Mrs Farrier, she told me to enhance the romance angle, make Seth more three dimensional and give him a larger role. In short, add a love story. I imagine editors all over the country were giving authors similar versions of the same riot act.
So I added a love story.
By that point I knew what I didn’t like about the love stories in many of the teenage novels I’d been reading. I have a real problem with ‘love at first sight’ (I believe in lust at first sight, but love? I think that has to grow)
I don't like a teenage girl who becomes a doormat or victim for her ‘big love’, who takes his bad behaviour as her due and loves him more for it.
So when Cassie sees Seth for the first time she feels a connection, she thinks he is hot, but she isn’t in love. Their relationship grows over the course of the story. They do have one confusing kiss, which is neither romantic nor real. The most special physical interaction they have is at the end, when they hold hands ('his fingers met mine in the lightest of touches'). I wanted the love story in Angel’s Fury to be like old fashioned black and white films, a slow build up to a single kiss or special moment (in this case hand holding).
I did not put in a standard love triangle, but it is the element of choosing that I think is the key part of the love triangle and Cassie does, in the end, have to choose between the boyfriend she wants and the best friend she needs.
Readers seem to like that the love story in Angel’s Fury isn’t the point of the book, that it’s a slow burn. I like it too. I also like that giving Cassie a love interest gives her someone to bounce off, another way to grow, another set of confusing feelings to explore.
I don’t think that every YA novel should have a love story, but somehow I have found a love story in each of my new works in progress: one love triangle (where the boy the protagonist picks is not the one you expect) and two doomed love affairs (in The Weight of Souls, due out in August, the protagonist falls for a ghost and in my most recent work my main character falls for a girl fated to die in every dimension). But in my books the love stories are not the whole point. My protagonists, are not ‘looking for love’, the love is incidental to the adventure, but enhances it immeasurably.
Love enhances a real life, so why shouldn’t it enhance the lives of my characters. What is a life without love? And so my question is ... can you have a fully formed protagonist without a love story?