3 Ways I Knew I Write Young Adult Historical Romance

Dear Reader,

I have been struggling with my genre for almost a year now. I write historical fiction, that much I know because I write stories about fictional people set in a historically-based setting. I use real-world facts to provide the skeleton of my story, fill in details, and let my imagination run wild from there.

My stories also have a romantic element. I write about emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles between personalities. I care about the vulnerability of opening one’s heart to someone else, knowing they may destroy, cherish, or be apathetic to it.

As such, I’ve been saying I write historical romances. Quirky historical romances, if I were to be precise. The quirky is because I bring in elements from the other genres I read for inspiration: fantasy, science fiction, women’s fiction, etc. My last book was pegged as gothic because of the setting, ghostly elements, and suspenseful mini-mystery.

Yet, historical romance doesn’t feel like such a great fit, either. Why? Because I read a lot of historical romances. The Julia Quinns, Candace Camps, Mary Jo Putneys, and Amanda Quicks of the world might raise a brow if they actually read one of my books. Why? I don’t write sex. I’m not interested in writing about it, I never hint at my hero/heroine having sex or even thinking about it. There is sexual tension, of course, or else they wouldn’t be attracted to each other.

Thinking about this made me wonder, you know, maybe I’m writing historical romances for young adults. After some soul searching, I realized there are three ways to tell that I’m writing historical romances for young adults.

1. I include enough historical detail to keep the attention of a fifteen year old, and not much more.

I make no claim to being a historian. I am, at best, a hobby historian. I’ve always loved learning, I am a very disciplined sort of researcher and can access a lot of information in a short amount of time. I had two journals full of handwritten notes from multiple primary and secondary sources for Haunting Miss Trentwood.

Yet the one complaint I hear more often than anything else about that book is I could have gone into a little more detail. Just another paragraph or two in a few spots. My point is that I had more than enough information with which to choke the story. Should I have included a little more? Yes, if it would have helped the story. It is not my goal to provide a history lesson, it is my goal to entertain, without stretching the facts of history as we know it today.

For The Rebel’s Hero, I do plan on writing an author’s note at the end of the book because there will need to be more historical background. I’m covering a part of the Civil War that you just don’t hear about as often, and I won’t be able to cover it in as much detail as I’d like within the actual story.

2. My protagonists are coming of age.

Now, Mary from Haunting Miss Trentwood was in her mid-twenties when the story occurred, which is a bit older than the traditional coming-of-age story. The fact remains that in the story, Mary goes through a change and comes into her own, as it were. She has a romance, deals with family struggles, and makes decisions about who she wants to be and what she can do to become that person. Pick up any young adult book, no matter the genre, and it will be addressing the same issues. Think of Libba Bray, Ann Rinaldi, Laurie Halse Anderson.

3. My stories are fairly straight forward.

If the protagonist is in a love triangle, you will probably be able to guess who they will pick before the end of the story. I don’t like tricking my readers into thinking they’ve figured someone out, and then writing a sort of “Gotcha!” where the character suddenly runs off with someone else. I believe I do this because in every love triangle I’ve seen in real life, only the third wheel sees the love triangle. The couple who is actually falling in love has no idea that third wheel is there.

When there is conflict in my stories, it is something where the hero and heroine need to work together… after or while they work through their interpersonal struggles. I find this is a common thread in young adult stories as well: the hero/heroine don’t quite understand one another, but they are attracted and WANT to understand each other. They go through the growing pains of attempting to become a couple, and their bond is strengthened by a common goal. Again, it is the relationship that is important to me, the coming of age within a relationship that occurs.

This isn’t to say that a young adult historical fiction doesn’t have plot twists and turns, of course.


There are other ways, I’m sure, that are pointing me in the direction of young adult. But these are the three that came to mind immediately. What are some other ways to tell if you’re writing (or reading) a young adult book?

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This is part of the ROW80 bloghop.

10 thoughts on “3 Ways I Knew I Write Young Adult Historical Romance

  1. Hi Belinda,

    I appreciate your post. It's always interesting to me to read what a writer's process is. 😀

    I'm not sure if I can answer your question better than you already have, but from what you say it does sound like you are writing young adult historical romances, and that's a great thing because it helps readers learn a little history and hopefully will whet their appetites for finding out more of what happened in the past.

    You pose a fascinating question. I'll admit things do get tricky when dealing with historical fiction because back then life spans didn't extend as long as they do now, and folks had to get married and start families earlier so the more modern criteria we apply to young adult literature may not easily fit. For example, if you're writing a story set in the Middle Ages, aristocratic girls were subjected to arranged marriages when they were born, and some were married off as early as age nine and having children not long after they hit puberty. Or, if you're writing a Regency novel, then aristocratic girls had their "coming out" parties when they were around 15 and were considered old maids if they hadn't gotten married by their late teens. So the process of coming of age continues to happen after they get married and have kids. Of course it's interesting that this is what has become the norm in Regency romances, when Jane Austen who wrote the ur-texts for Regency romances, questions the convention of girls getting married too young with Lidia in Pride and Prejudice and makes the case that women can and should get married in their late twenties or even older with Anne in Persuasion.
    What I thought of after reading your post is: Are you concerned that you're writing young adult historical romances? Is this a label you want to avoid or not? I think it's an interesting label for you to pursue.


    1. Thank you, Milli!

      I would definitely say that the genre "young adult" is in terms of how a publisher would categorize the ideal reader, and not the characters within the book. I think it's more about the voice of the book, the style and pacing, on top of the things I mentioned in my post.

      I'm not concerned that I'm writing young adult historical romances. In fact, I feel pretty good about it. Better than straight historical romances, anyway, because I don't get into the steam, etc.

      Thanks for your comment!


  2. Ha! Your post made me think about what I write, and helped me come to the conclusion that I definitely write adult historical romance. 😉 I loved Haunting Miss Trentwood (I've gotten behind in my GoodReads reviews), but I do see why, when, and where your voice fits perfectly in the YA genre. So what's next on the agenda?


    1. Haha that's awesome! Glad it helped.

      I'm so happy you liked Haunting Miss Trentwood. It was such a treat to write. I think the one concern I have about claiming the young adult historical romance genre is that adults may not realize that they might enjoy the book as well, if not more, than the young adult reader.

      The new book is currently in the works: The Rebel's Hero. It began as a re-write of Catching the Rose, but now it is an entirely new story with a new historical timeline and everything. It's a story about a man who has no memories of his childhood until he runs into a runaway southern spitfire who doesn't want to marry the man her step-father chose. Suddenly the hero begins to experience flashbacks that hint to a wicked family secret, but only when in the presence of the heroine.

      Tricky stuff!


  3. I am struggling with sim. problem what /which genre – I hate these labels what happened to a good story – plain and simple – if there is no sex in a book why would that make it a YA (we don't have this in UK – its called teen) aren't us adults entitled to a bit of rest from all this 'show/tell full on graphic sex – I like to use my imagination (much more fun!!) – what is this young adult anyway either you are an adult or you aren't!!

    All the critrea you mention can be in adult fiction – esp. if as you do the coming of age is within a relationship – I have read about middleage folk who go through that – lack of hard fact well also in other age groups – some novels such as Byats stories are so dense with fact one needs weeks to read them – others are so light its a meringue feat both are appicable to young and old – it's the story that counts surely.


    1. Oh I agree, I dislike labels, but at the same time, there has to be a way to help readers find my books! If tagging it with particular genre keywords will help, then I'm ok with that.

      I definitely wouldn't say that the criteria I mentioned is exclusive to young adult, only that these three criteria are fairly consistent in young adult books. I can't say the same for adult books. I do believe the story counts. This genre label is really more to help readers find me and vice versa.


  4. You know, when it comes down to it, it really doesn't matter what genre you call something as long as it's a good story. The only thing you have to be careful about is when there IS sex because then you have to make sure that everyone knows it ISN'T YA. It doesn't have to be YA just because there's no sex. Adults don't have to have sex in every book they read. I really liked Haunting Miss Trentwood. :0)

    Bottom line…only you can decide your genre. You'll probably have a lot of different opinions on it, but it's your story.


    1. Well, I think I also worry about the level of historical detail; I feel like a book catering to adults might be expected to have more historical detail, or something.

      I agree with the whole "adults don't have to have sex in every book they read." Most of my favorite books don't have sex in them, though I didn't realize that until I really sat down to think about it. I'm glad you liked Haunting Miss Trentwood!


  5. I am dealing with a similar conundrum at the moment, as the story I'm working on is most definitely a coming-of-age story. There might be a romance subplot, but it's looking doubtful at the moment; the story is much more focused on the development of her identity as a woman and a potential queen. I'm hesitant to stick the YA label on it until I've finished the first draft, however, because I've found that no matter how meticulously I plot, my work tends to shift and change in the process.

    I think the three elements you highlight are definitely key features of YA work, though not exclusive to them. Still, books involving protagonists who are coming of age and dealing with all of the ramifications that emerging adulthood brings have always seemed (to me, at least) the hallmark of YA. I stopped reading YA literature when I was in high school — I was ripping through them way too quickly, and I felt like I needed some "thick" books that I could sink my teeth into — but I've been struck lately with how versatile YA has become (or perhaps it always was and I just never noticed). Books like Harry Potter have demonstrated that literature written for youth and teens can have wonderful "cross-over" potential to adult audiences, and I think it's because the larger themes that are hinted at within the stories are universal ones that appeal to readers of all ages.

    In my "return" to YA, I am rereading Tamora Pierce's "Alanna" series. These books are easily the most inspirational of my childhood (I read them over and over again), and shaped my imagination and my expectations for female-driven fantasy in ways I can only imagine. Revisiting these books as an adult have reminded me how deceptively simple the stories are — uncomplicated (or at least free of excessive twists and turns), straightforward, and yet powerful all the same.


    1. Oh, YA has always been versatile, if you ask me. At least it has been since the 90s, which is when I began reading them. I still read YA, I think because there's a certain level of optimism in the tone of YA books that I seem to miss in books that are meant for adults. It's that deceptive simplicity, I think, that is a big draw to me. You just have to admire that subtlety in writing.

      If you like the Alanna series, you might want to try Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. And Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy. Excellent stuff.


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