As a member of RWA, I’ve come to expect that things labeled as romance come with a Happily Ever After (HEA) or at least a Happily For Now. So, when my characters made it clear in my debut series (starting with the paranormal 13 to Life) that there were significant romantic elements throughout, I had to wonder about teenagers and love.
Although my novels incorporate things well outside of the “norm” (at least I haven’t run into werewolves in the small town I live in—though there is that one neighbor who makes me wonder...) there also has to be a sense of authenticity to my characters. So I sought a balance between memory and my current observations of teens.
When I was growing up it was pretty much understood that teens only suffered from crushes and infatuations. That whole Romeo and Juliet play that dealt with the idea of teens in love? Written by a tights-wearing hack! And what did it teach readers? That teenagers who think they’re in love wind up dead. Yes. What, that wasn’t the message you got? Anyhow. The concept I learned while growing up seemed to be that love—that authentic connection worth building a life around—could only magically happen after someone turned eighteen or, better yet, twenty-one, and was ready to stand before witnesses and register the intent of their emotional connection with their government.
In short, teens couldn’t feel love because they didn’t have the life experience to identify it as being different from a crush.
I accepted that for the most part while I was growing up. Teenagers were just hyped up on hormones. There was a certain logic to it—a safety in the science that was probably a balm to parents. I mean, think about it: if you teach kids that what they’re feeling for each other will just pass like a bad case of acne and couple that information with the dangers of early pregnancy and the crippling impact of venereal disease you should be able to totally avoid the latter two, right? But kids—they aren’t as easily persuaded. They tend to think for themselves (or along with a peer group that regularly contradicts parental standards).
They even—gasp!—fall in love sometimes. I remember a couple I’d attended Renaissance Faires with as a teen. They fell in love with each other when they were sixteen, got married and are closing in on their twentieth wedding anniversary. Are they the norm? Nope. But is it possible to find your match while you’re still in high school and have that Happily For Closing-In-On-20-Years? Evidently yes.
So, back to the search for the authentic teen voice.
I believe that love—real love—is built. It doesn’t happen like the phrase “love at first sight” suggests. That’s just attraction. Then perhaps there’s chemistry and a spark. But for love, there needs to be a connection that runs deeper than the physical. And often that’s built through joint experiences. Going to the same school can count as such a joint experience (though, between you, me and the worldwide web, there are plenty of folks who went to my high school that I certainly didn’t love—or even like). But generally the things connecting people run deeper still. And that was the lesson my characters clarified for me during the writing of this series.
Can the characters in my YA paranormal series have a Happily Ever After even though they’re teens? Sure. It’s possible. Will they? I honestly won’t know until I’ve sent the final book’s first pass pages back to my editor. But, as an author of paranormal stories I like the idea the possibility exists and can be documented.
Previously a teacher and now a farmer raising heritage livestock in upstate New York, Shannon Delany has always been fascinated by history, myths, legends and paranormal research. Her debut series (including 13 to Life and Secrets and Shadows, coming in February 2011) began as the winner of the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world.