Guest Author Anna Banks: Heat Up Your YA Romance... Without Going Too Far

As an author who writes (and reads) both YA romance and adult romance, I can truly say there’s a line in YA that you don’t cross. Not to say that some YA doesn’t have sex in it, because there are plenty of books out there that do (mine do not). But while adult romance focuses on physical gratification, and can often be very graphic, I notice that YA romance with sex in it focuses on how the characters feel. So here are a few tips on making a steamy YA romance work for you, even without sex.

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You can make a YA romance swoony just by creating some palpable tension between your characters. Many times, this is more romantic than actual sex between your characters. Every little touch, every little physical contact your characters share can build this kind of tension. Your characters do not have to react to the touch. For instance, the hero can place his hand on the small of your heroine’s back to guide her somewhere. The heroine only acknowledges the touch, maybe even without reacting to it. But the reader? The reader will file it away as an increased comfort level between the characters. Then there are the touches that mean something. Such as a hero running his knuckles along the cheek of your heroine. Or your heroine absently grabbing the hand of the hero. (BTW, I’m saying “hero” and “heroine” as examples, so if you’re writing LGBTQIA+ romance, then please apply this to your circumstances). These touches are intentional and more meaningful, and should be accompanied by some sort of reaction, either internal or outward from your character(s).

Excerpt from Nemesis:

Tarik waits for me then, our lips barely touching, as if asking a question without words. He waits for me, letting me know that my answer will determine if this will be our first kiss or his last effort at one. He waits for me, tiny me who is about to tremble from the ledge under the scorching heat of his touch.

And I make him wait too long. He pulls away, sliding back a few inches, a small rush of cooling desert air filling the space between us.


Don’t miss the opportunity of making the dialogue between your characters swoony. I’m talking about spoken dialogue, body language, and internal dialogue. With spoken dialogue, really go for the jugular. Imagine the most romantic thing a guy could say to you. What’s the most romantic thing a fictional character has ever said? I bet you can remember how you felt when you read it. Follow that lead. Early in your novel, you’ll probably want to use internal dialogue and body language. Later, after you’ve created that slow burning build of tension we talked about earlier, feel free to have your characters blurt their previously unspoken attraction, or even a hint of jealousy. (Note here: Don’t get too caught up in jealousy, because it can be harmful and a little creepy. But a little bit of healthy jealousy never hurt anyone.) For instance, a bit of envy in Nemesis:

“How do you mean Mistress Sepora?” the officer asks. By the way he says her name—he caught on rather quickly to her name, Tarik thinks—he’s already quite taken with her. Tarik frowns against his will.

As for dialogue, a small example from Nemesis:

He grinds his teeth. “I’ve tired of this absolute politeness between us,” he whispers.

“Would you rather I be rude?” But her bluster falls flat. She won’t quite meet his eyes.

“I would rather you be mine.”

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You don’t need sex to make YA hot. Kissing will often do, and do very nicely. Do you remember your first kiss? The one that made you all atingle, and set you on fire? (Not the awkward one that felt like a slobbery assault and fell below your expectations of how a kiss should be. I’m talking about the most fabulous first kiss you ever had with someone). Remember that song It’s In His Kiss ? Well, it is. Check out Sepora’s impression of her first kiss from Nemesis:

I do not have to be a Lingot to know that Tarik is asking me a question with this kiss. That behind all the possession and jealousy and the desire there is something gentle in the way his mouth moves on mine, probing and inquisitive and strong and powerful. I will make him ask it though, out loud. I want to know that he’ll never let me go, not because I know where to find spectorium, but because he’s in love with me, the way I am with him.

But for now I do not press the issue. Not when I’ve only just disintegrated in his arms, not when I’ve only just got a true taste of him, not when his scent intoxicates me beyond my wits. His hands work through my hair, using it as something to grasp me tighter, to pull me closer, and I moan against his lips. I’m on the tips of my toes, needing all of him pressed against me, needing him in every sense of the word. Beneath my hands his biceps flex; beneath his, my skin burns hot.

So, don’t be afraid to bring out the big guns in your YA romance, even if it doesn’t include sex. There are plenty of ways to get your readers swooning for more!

Want to win a critique of the first 50 pages of your book? Tweet at Anna Banks (@byannabanks) and Swoon Reads (@swoonreads) with the working title of your book, #loveyourNEMESIS, and #SwoonSweepstakes for a chance to win! Sweepstakes ends on 10/21.

Author spotlight

Anna Banks

NYT Bestselling YA author of The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012), OF TRITON (2013), and OF NEPTUNE (2014). JOYRIDE …

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