Most of us remember the moment when we first started to notice a strange attraction towards another person, perhaps a pupil at our school or a member of a club we attended – our first crush. This bizarre attraction brought about entirely new feelings for us, such as light-headedness and butterflies in our stomachs that stopped us eating for days on end, and the nervous regurgitating of rehearsed lines when we spoke to them. We were torn by the chaotic mix of both addictively craving to be near them and the fear of what might happen if we were, because it was unknown. We became victims to an overwhelming longing for the possible blissfulness of that thing called ‘love,’ something we simply didn’t understand due to our lack of experience and naivety of age, combined with all those impulses and sexual confusions that adolescence brought to our bodies and minds.
As writers, do we feel confident enough to look back and harness those intense memories and feelings in an honest, convincing and accurately believable way when writing teenage characters? Are we accurately describing teenage years, and will young adult readers be able to buy into, understand and relate to what we write?
There are plenty of YA authors that have successfully captured the teenage feelings of excitement, wonder and possibilities, and written them into their characters. Teenage infatuation needs to be written well, so here are ten suggestions to take into consideration, some with examples from YA fiction. I’m fairly confident that these examples won’t spoil the overall plot of the story they are taken from.
Leave it to the imagination
Don’t be overly descriptive or vivid when it comes to describing the physical appearance of a character, regardless of whether or not they are the object of infatuation. You don’t want to be putting precise images in the mind of the reader as to what this character looks like, because what we each find to be visually pleasing, luckily, often differs from person to person, and by leaving detailed physical description to a minimum, readers can use their own interpretation to twist the character into someone who they find attractive.
Resist reaction thoughts
When a character does, from whatever narrative perspective, describe a physical aspect of the character they’re infatuated with, don’t put in any reaction thoughts. I’ve stumbled upon a few books where authors have felt the need to write inner monologue containing words such as ‘dreamy’ or ‘sexy’ and they are not needed. If your build-up of the connection between the two characters has been written in a way that is strong and teasing, the reader will understand how the character is feeling, because they will place themselves in their shoes. Instead, focus on intimacy and interpretation of body language, physical body reaction, rhythm of breathing, racing of heartbeat, smells and touch, to create a more detailed scene for the reader to imagine.
The teasing back-and-forth of dialogue
The conversations and back-and-forth of comments between teenage characters experiencing ‘fuzzy feelings’ for the first time is both wonderful and tricky to write. It gives opportunity for the characters to be playful, especially if one has the upper hand in being aware of how the other character feels about them.
“You want to have intercourse with me,” I said matter-of-factly.
The boy laughed, a loud, raucous laugh, his hand slapping the horse’s neck. “I want to have intercourse with you?” He repeated, as if he hadn’t heard it right the first time.
“That’s right,” I said more loudly. “And I’ll tell you now, I will not let that happen. Not even if…” I searched for the right metaphor.
“…I was the last man on earth?” He looked out on the vast, unpopulated landscape and flashed a mischievous grin.
Eve by Anna Carey
In this extract of Eve by Anna Carey, Eve’s presumptuous first dialogue with her soon-to-be ‘crush’ Caleb is cringingly entertaining. It also allows a reader to get a glimpse of Caleb’s sense of humour early on.
The back and forth of any dialogue between two infatuated characters can aid in the perfect build-up of the will they/won’t they question, which is likely to keep readers reading. To achieve this, the characters need to have moments when they are apart, causing a reader to feel tension, apprehension and excitement for what may happen when they do come back together. These moments when the characters are separated must be for good reason and not just merely an excuse to create tension, because a reader will be aware of the unnaturalness of the situation and may lose interest.
When a character is engaged in, or almost engaged in, conversation with their object of infatuation, they could succumb to pressure and stumble, stutter and/or blurt out things they were not planning to say and that may be inappropriate. They might also be unable to speak.
“That’s a great picture.”
I stare at my sketch of a blackbird that has been pecking at crumbs on the deserted playground.
But I have stopped thinking about the blackbird and the sketch. Now all I can think is, She spoke to me! She spoke to me nicely!
Then I think, Say something! But all that happens is Say something! Say something! booms in my empty head.
Half Bad by Sally Green
In this example, the narrator is so overwhelmed that the girl he likes is actually speaking to him that he becomes unable to form words. This type of tension-filled dialogue allows for a perfect opportunity for humour to appear and shows us a more vulnerable side of a character, especially one who is usually strong and assertive.
Forbidden attraction becomes stronger
In One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, Nate and Bronwyn have nothing in common and no reason to talk. Then a student dies at school and, with them both amongst only a handful of witnesses, their shared traumatic experience gives them something in common. The death is treated as suspicious and, since they cannot talk to anyone else about it, their only option is to talk to each other, even though the police have advised the witnesses not to converse.
Nate sneaks Bronwyn a second mobile phone. After at first being reluctant to answer she finds having him at the other end of the phone a comfort. Over time their phone conversations become longer and more frequent. Since this type of communication allows for a physical distance between the two characters, they feel they can be more honest with each other, and sometimes fairly flirtations. The natural and gradual build-up of connection between Nate and Bronwyn is noticed by the readers before the characters realise it themselves.
A complete lack of normal functioning
The presence of a character of infatuation can cause the infatuated character to forget everything else, even when their current situation is as confusingly perilous as waking up in a vast, foodless prison filled only with a tangled maze of stairs:
He was just the kind of boy who got her all stirred up, who distracted her, who made it practically impossible to think about anything else.
House of Stairs by William Sleator
These feelings can be so overwhelming on all other senses that they leave a character unable to think of anything else but their ‘crush,’ even when their ‘crush’ is a vampire:
I don’t know how long we sat without moving. It could have been hours. Eventually the throb of my pulse quieted, but he didn’t move or speak again as he held me. I knew at any moment it could be too much, and my life could end – so quickly that I might not even notice. And I couldn’t make myself be afraid. I couldn’t think of anything, except that he was touching me.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Twilight takes the overpowering and somewhat ridiculous feelings of teenage infatuation and puts them into the supernatural context of a teenage girl falling in love with a vampire. Twilight, although extremely popular, has been heavily criticised and people seem to have been put off by its success. However, if you want to feel the realistically consuming build-up of teenage infatuation then Twilight by Stephenie Meyer is a must-read – do not merely watch the film as it cuts out the needed details of Bella’s first-person perspective.
The all-consuming longing
This type of infatuation can lead characters to become slightly obsessed, and often leave them feeling confused and perhaps distressed by their lack of control. This could well make them avoid the character they are infatuated by, because they know they cannot act like their normal selves around them and this makes them uneasy.
I think he avoids being alone with me.
I avoid being alone with him, too, because my whole body sings to be near him, because every movement he makes is charged with electricity.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Little touches mean everything
Any body language or physical contact from a character, even accidentally, and even movements that are not considered of any real significance to anyone else, are important, remembered and often over-analysed by an infatuated character.
His fingers grazed her bare arms, and her body felt suddenly fizzy and warm. She wondered how they must look from above: like two pieces of a puzzle, fitted neatly together.
Panic by Lauren Oliver
Remember to allow your infatuated character to dwell on the little details. Maybe their ‘crush’ looked at them for a little bit longer than normal. Maybe they even spoke to them. Maybe they sat next to them in the lunch hall because it was the only available seat, but to the infatuated character, with their delirium and fixation at an all-time high, will read far more into it than that.
The unknown is both exciting and terrifying
The ‘fuzzy’ feelings of teenage infatuation rely on the possibilities of the unknown juxtaposed with the human nature of the inevitable, and so it is likely that characters experiencing this emotion are new to having feelings of attraction for another. This feeling can be exciting, but could also be quite scary for many, and it’s important to remember to include, when appropriate, some aspect of nervousness, confusion and/or fear.
Another aspect of concern and worry for teenagers exploring their ‘fuzzy’ feelings is the repercussions of something not going quite right due to the gossip it could stir. For fiction set in our modern times, or in the future, the fast spreading of rumours via technology adds another element of pressure.
It’s important to be aware of, and sensitive to, sexual bullying, which is becoming more common amongst young adults and consists of repeated, harmful, and humiliating actions that target a person sexually.
It’s human nature
There will be a very natural, primal pull when it comes to first experiences of physical contact. Realistically, when engaging in a first kiss there will likely be some teeth clashing and trodden-on toes, but the initial act of coming together will be something the characters have no time to think about in the moment, because they will simply be drawn together.
That feeling of belonging
When we have our first boyfriends and girlfriends, there is a strong sense of belonging, ownership and pride – we chose them and they chose us. When a character sees their partner in a crowded place, the other characters in the crowd have a shared feeling of respect for the unspoken connection that the couple has. This connection can also add an opportunity for anxiety and tension, since the actions of the ‘other half’ can reflect negatively on their partner.
It is important to note that in all of these example there was no follow-through – the heated debate on whether sex should be included in literature for young adults is still ongoing, but many of the target readers of young adult literature are content enough to get caught up in the tease of the chase, with little concern to activities that may or may not happen if the characters were to get together.
The reader of your story needs to feel as though the moment of teenage infatuation is so desirable that they would give anything to be experiencing what the main character is at that very moment in time, regardless of the risk – be it parental disapproval, starvation or World War Three – because the overwhelming experience of the ‘fuzzy’ feeling is usually stronger in the infatuated teenager than the fear of the jeopardy.
© 2018 Rebecca Delphine
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.