Many think of romance as grand gestures: dozens of roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, diamond jewelry. That may work for some, but to me romance isn’t about big gestures or stereotypical gifts. Romance means a special, almost magical connection between two individuals. It’s knowing and caring about what another person values and what will make them feel understood and loved.
It’s universal. It’s personal.
Once, when I was a student doing a junior year abroad in London, I went on a date with an American boy who had many romantic notions, not only about the kind of romance that happens between a boy and a girl, but also a fascination with the Romantic poets—Keats, Bryon, Shelley—and about reading and writing poetry in this beautiful, history-laden city. He pulled out all the stops for our date: a European-style picnic with baguettes, brie, wine, flowers, and reading romantic poetry.
I was not impressed. I was angry.
Why? Because the date had nothing to do with me. He knew nothing about me and gave no thought to learning about what I might enjoy. He didn’t talk to me or get to know me. I was just a pawn in his elaborate romantic fantasy. (And I’m pretty sure he was deceiving himself, too.)
Romance is an important aspect of many novels, yet, as writers, we often struggle with how to convey romance, how to capture the essence of two people falling in love in a way that will capture readers’ hearts as well. Sometimes we resort to overblown romantic gestures that fall flat.
However, one beloved YA novel that catches the essence of romance beautifully is Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. It’s full of sweet, personal connections between fully fleshed-out, individual characters.
There’s a moment when St. Clair gives Anna a gift—not flowers, chocolate, or expensive jewelry. It’s just a little trinket, probably costing less than a dollar, useless, meaningless to almost everyone except the two individuals involved. It’s a little bead in the shape of a banana—St. Clair’s silly, affectionate nickname for Anna. To the two individuals involved (and the reader), it’s full of meaning. It’s personal. It’s his name for her. It’s an “inside joke”—something that only the two of them share. And it means he’s thinking about her. It’s romantic. Anna, and readers, are falling head-over-heels for St. Clair.
To me, in both life and in novels, that’s what romance is all about—a unique, individual, personal connection that hints at the mystery and power of love. And a little can go a long way.