Can a YA heroine fall in love and save the world? A panel of authors (including Ally Condie (Matched), Veronica Roth (Divergent), Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown), Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles), Lissa Price (Starters), Veronica Wolff (The Watchers), and moderator Sherri Smith (Orleans)) recently considered that
question at Comic-Con. The consensus? Heck yeah she can. Here, five things we learned
about balancing romance and headstrong heroines.
A book can benefit from a little love. A story can’t survive on action, adventure, and science
fiction alone—all the authors agreed romance is essential to their plots.
“Without it, it would be a much bleaker book.” So said Holly Black about the
love story in The Coldest Girl in
Coldtown, a new release in which vampire infection runs rampant and monsters
and humans are quarantined in walled cities called Coldtowns. “There’s not a
lot of gooey romance; if you pluck the love story out of the plot it doesn’t
work at all,” concurred Lissa Price. Romance allows Black's characters to discover "what
it means to be merciful even if things don’t work out" and Price's characters to explore issues of trust.
go weak in the knees, but that doesn’t make them weak. Equality is key—it’s essential to showcase strengths and
weaknesses that complement the characters in love, said Marissa Meyer. Fans of Divergent
may recall imagery that conceives of relationships as a collision of hard
objects—like sparks. “And that’s how I thought about [the characters] the whole
time,” said author Veronica Roth. “Instead of thinking of them as taking on
some gender role with each other, I think of them as two equals who occasionally
collide in good ways and bad ways.”
Notions of old-school
romance are long gone. In the past, romantic plotlines often painted a picture of a
vulnerable woman pining for a love interest. Not so anymore. Today’s protagonists have their
own stories, goals, and needs. As Veronica Wolff (who actually got her start penning
romance) pointed out, “The whole arc in the Watcher series is [Drew] discovering how
strong she is.”
You can’t save the world without someone to lean on (and
learn from). “Strong friendships are so important,” said Marissa Meyer,
who says she has taken inspiration from the band of superheroes in Sailor Moon. And so
is introducing well-rounded but well-meaning female antagonists, addedVeronica
Roth. "It's important to represent many different kinds of women."
comes in handy.
When asked whether the love triangles they create are inspired
by real-life events, the panel kept uncharacteristically quiet. “I’ll say
experience and leave it at that,” chuckledLissa Price.