I have discovered, doing NaNoWriMo, that I would be a rubbish romance author.

Not, I hasten to add, that I am rubbish at writing people into romances. Judging by the speed at which the dialogue is writing itself, I am fine at that. The characters are flirting their little brains right out, and both of them like it. It's the same thing that happens when you get two real people in a room together and they hit it off -- the two of them have postes and ripostes and are too invested in that to let anyone else get a word in edgewise.

No, I'm talking about romance as a genre, the kind of story where 'will they won't they' is the central all-absorbing conflict of the plot.

There are various ways to make it difficult for your characters to link up. Environmental factors are popular. The dramatic version has them separated physically by unpleasant circumstances, or socially by class or tribal affiliation. Disney's Aladdin is a classic example -- she's a princess, he's a street rat. Of course it can't work! But of course they eventually realize they want it to, so magically somehow it does. It's supposed to take the whole story to happen, though, and a lot of the time it's either ended with "we run away and elope, physically avoiding the obstacle" or "an authority figure acts as deus ex machina and gives us permission". Particularly tear-jerking books may be all about The One Who Got Away, where the lovers end up never seeing each other again.

The funny side of this is Comedy of Manners and/or Comedy of Errors. The first is when the characters (eventually) realize they want each other but are constrained by social mores, and so are somehow unable to communicate in any way other than at gala events, via veiled insinuations and double entendres; the second is when circumstances conspire to create misunderstandings about someone's intentions, or just to make the lovers physically miss meeting again and again, until the end of the play. They can both be very witty, but by their very natures are also very artificial plots, that rely on either repeated coincidences, or figuring out how to make the narration convey the stark difference between the character's thoughts and actions. Artificial isn't necessary bad; it just makes for a more elegant, less organic story.

The internal version of this is Romance Between Emotionally Conflicted Participants. This is the heart of all "why do I love them so much, they're so crazy/dangerous/confusing/broken". One or more parties in the budding relationship spends most of the story trying to logic themselves into or out passion, until at the end of the book they finally give up and let themselves be swept away. It's based not on "I can't," but on "I shouldn't". The continual wobble between "not a good idea, go away" and "fuck it, you're hot" makes one or both parties vacillate between encouraging and distancing the other, creating lingering questions about whether the relationship will ever work. The resolution is usually in favor of "fuck it, you're hot", but it also sometimes ends in tragedy when the unstable person or persons involved do something fatal to either the relationship or their partner, e.g. Othello.

A subset of Emotionally Conflicted is Poor Communication Kills, where they may both be in love (or think they are) but somebody fails to explain what they want in any reasonable fashion, and it ends up going poorly. The quintessential example is Romeo & Juliet, which would never turn out that way today. You can't tell me a pair of 13-year-olds IN WUV wouldn't have texted each other 9,480 times by the end of the first day, and developed their idiot plan via smartphone. They might both still have ended up dead, but it would be because they both decided it was a romantic idea in an emoji-riddled haze of hormones.

I have very little patience for any of these things in real life. It turns out that I have even less patience for writing them.

A wise lady who writes an internet advice column likes to tell querents who are overthinking relationships to death: "People who like you will act like they like you". The protagonist's ally-slash-romantic foil likes her. So he acts like he likes her. This is not to say he doesn't act oddly sometimes; he is, in many respects, kind of an odd person. But he does consistently behave like he respects her opinions, thinks well of her as a human being, and enjoys being in her company. He's not a continual tsunami of leers, passes, and sexually-charged comments, but he is conspicuously not at all uncomfortable with flirty banter ping-pong, and in fact encourages her to open her mouth and let the smart-aleck replies out. He also talks to her about things that have nothing to do with sex, romance, or the idea of applying either of these to her, with equal equanimity. Because, you know, he likes her.

The protagonist takes a little while to realize how much he likes her, but then, it takes him a slightly shorter while to realize the same thing, so it all works out. There are some cultural factors in play; she spends the book surrounded by people whom she considers to be, in many respects, utterly fucking mental, and she is at first unsure to what extent he is one of them. She's also eighteen and less confident in her ability to distinguish between people who kinda like her, and people who really really like her. She's pretty clear on really really liking him; she's just uncertain whether there's really a good moment for her to say so, and if so, what it might be. They are a bit busy with other strands of the plot most of the time, and stopping to ask if he wants to make out might be an unwise delay.

The other plot strands eventually converge to push it to a resolution, but if they hadn't, I expect the two of them would have kept spending time together until one of them asked the other one on a date, like normal, sane, functional people.

I am really very tired of YA books all running like being young and inexperienced is the same as being stupid and unstable, especially when they star young women. I do! I don't! I do! I don't! Waaaah save me from my hormone-ridden self! Nuts to that. Being young and inexperienced mainly just means that when you do figure out what you want, you're not always sure what the process is for asking for it, much less getting it. When everyone involved happens to want the same damn thing, getting there may be slow and awkward, but it doesn't make you into a whirling dervish of spitting chaos. Nobody chases in this romance, and nobody plays hard to get. If nothing else had happened, they would just have kept talking until gravity took over, and they spiralled inwards towards a conversation about getting together.

There is one more aspect to this that I have decided I am simply Not Going To Deal With. The two of them do end up in bed together, and as the protagonist is eighteen, it's not out of the question that he might have been her first sexual partner. I thought about this for about a second and a half and went nope! not going there. Once upon a time she had a high school boyfriend, it lasted about a year, they slept together, one of them was an adolescent jerk about something and they broke up, the end. I'm sure she was crazy about him at the time, but he is no longer relevant. He is otherwise so unimportant to the narrative that I don't even have a name or description.

Her romantic foil is a couple years older and has more experience in this regard, despite having a rather atypical life, mainly because he is the sort of person who runs on curiosity and thinks the best way to figure these things out is to go investigate. Interestingly, he's already responded to some crack about his theoretical "girlfriend" with a dry comment on what he prefers in a "partner", specifically using that word. I suspect A) all of his experience to date has been in a casual context, and not in a relationship, and B) not all of it was with women. Such things do we learn when we analyze the language choices of imaginary people.

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