If you're a young adult author struggling to get your romance on paper, then I'm here for you. In this blog post, I'll give you six prompts that will help you write an engaging YA romance. Just don't be surprised if you end up with a full-fledged story by the time you're done.
Before you start
Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, I advise you to start by following the six steps below. You don't need incredibly detailed plot and character breakdowns, but you do need something. These questions come straight from Nina Harrington's guide to writing short romance books for Kindle, which I recommend to any and all aspiring romance authors. Here are the steps:
- Step One: Develop a simple story idea or situation which you can describe in a few sentences.
- Step Two: Focus on one main character who will open the story. (you can start with this step if it's easier!)
- Step Three: Give that main character one limiting belief.
- Step Four: Give that main character one reason why they are at the end of their rope when the story starts.
- Step Five: Create the ideal hero or heroine who is going to challenge your main character and fall in love with them.
- Step Six: Combine the story idea with the character idea and get your main character onto the page and inside that story world—then introduce the lover.
If you don't know where to start, I'll show you how with one example idea. This is a very rough draft; if I pursue this idea it will change. That is not a problem, it is wonderful to help something beautiful change and grow. When answering these questions, hold the answers lightly. Anything can be changed, easily, in the beginning.
Free Writing Prompt
Step One: Develop a simple story idea or situation which you can describe in a few sentences.
A high school girl needs an intimidating boyfriend so her creepy, anonymous stalker will leave her alone. She starts dating her best friend, the son and heir apparent of the most powerful mafia family in the city, but this causes all sorts of problems with the other mafia families, who want him to marry their daughters instead.
Step Two: Focus on one main character who will open the story.
Our high school student, a generally good girl with “resting therapist face.” Other people come up and spill their guts to her, and boys in her class tend to develop obsessive crushes on her thanks to her manic pixie dream girl vibe.
Step Three: Give that main character ONE limiting belief.
That she shouldn't make trouble for other people, ever. She should always put others first.
Step Four: Give that main character ONE reason why they are at the end of their tether when the story opens.
She's being stalked by someone, she doesn't know who. They send her pictures of herself around town and threaten her from anonymous numbers and burner phones.
Step Five: Create the ideal hero or heroine who is going to challenge your main character and fall in love with them.
Our student's best friend since childhood, Marco, the son of the biggest mafia family in the country. He wants to get out from under his father's shadow and go straight, but his father keeps undermining him. Marco is not afraid to stand up for himself or for others, which is something our FMC (female main character) needs to learn.
Step Six: Combine the story idea with the character idea and get your main character onto the page and inside that story world—then introduce the lover.
Opening scene could feature FMC's cell phone going off, which makes her break out in a sweat. She screws up her courage and tells Marco, maybe after her parents ignore her.
More Writing Prompts
Please feel free to use these story ideas in any way you see fit. Here are some more examples you can use any way you like:
- Step One: When a girl joins her new school's music production class, she doesn't know what to expect. She gets paired up with an arrogant guy to create a song together.
- Step Two: A shy girl who wants to learn music production.
- Step Three: If she doesn't get it perfect on the first try, she might as well give up.
- Step Four: Her parents are going through financial armageddon, and she's moved in with her grandparents so she can have some stability while her parents sort out the mess.
- Step Five: A guy who's been messing around with ProTools since he was six or seven; he's now really, really good, and has had a few songs on the radio. Maybe he has a lot of brothers and has a rough and tumble, bantering personality.
- Step Six: We start with her entering the class, being the new kid at this wealthy school, and feeling out of place. MMC (male main character) starts teasing her, but when another student goes too far he steps in.
Here's another one:
- Step One: A girl with a unisex name (e.g. Carter, Morgan) discovers a portal to a parallel dimension, where a boy with her name lives in the parallel-universe version of her bedroom. They have to team up to find some artifact or defeat some evil.
- Step Two: The new girl in town. Her estranged grandparents died and left the house to her dad, who is dead broke and has no other options. So they move back home.
- Step Three: She needs to prove herself worthy of love to be loved, almost as a way of compensating people for putting up with her.
- Step Four: Things keep disappearing in her room, and she finds things that don't make sense, e.g. technology that doesn't fit any chargers, or patches for bands that she can't find on Google.
- Step Five: Our FMC's MMC double, a guy with the same first, middle, and last name, but a mirror-image personality. She's insecure, he's wildly confident. She wants to fade into the background, he's the life of the party. She doesn't know what she wants to do in life, he has a plan mapped out.
- Step Six: First scene can be the girl looking for something before her first day of school, e.g. her favorite pen. Or maybe her dad bought her a special pen that he can barely afford, and now she can't find it.
Here are three more:
- Step One: On the night before high school graduation, the MMC rescues the FMC from danger. She's a girl he knows by sight from his classes, but not better than that. Together, they go looking for some holy grail: a mythic party, a rumored cryptid, a wishing well that's supposed to grant you whatever you want if you ask for it the night before you graduate high school. They find it, possibly after they fall in love.
- Step Two: A former child prodigy now trying to figure out who he is.
- Step Three: If I'm not a prodigy anymore, I'm nothing.
- Step Four: He's being interviewed in a “where are they now?” feature. The journalist asks him, “How does it feel to be a has-been at sixteen?” He plays it off but the question rattles him all the same.
- Step Five: Our FMC got kicked out of her house at fourteen and has been struggling on her own ever since. She really wants to go to college, but how? Right now she sees a life of more of the same, forever, so she's vowed to live in the moment while she can.
- Step Six: Our ex-prodigy is in a convenience store when he runs into a friend who saw the interview. This gets him thinking about the interview. As he's mulling it over, he notices FMC screaming and trying to get away from some creep.
- Step One: In this universe, cyborgs are treated as less than human and used as slave labor. One girl who thinks she's human discovers that she's a cyborg, on the eve of a high school exit examination that would reveal this fact to everyone else. She has to figure out a way to pass the test and pass into normal society.
- Step Two: A girl who discovers she's a cyborg, that her memories are implants. She has no idea and thinks she's real. Think Rachel from Blade Runner.
- Step Three: No one will accept me for who I am. I must hide this forever, especially from the people who love me.
- Step Four: She can't get some piece of technology to work properly–a subtle tell that she's a cyborg. Or maybe she's very, very good at the technology in a way no human being really is.
- Step Five: A human boy who figured it out before she did. He's always teased her while secretly protecting her. Maybe his father is an anti-cyborg figure of some repute.
- Step Six: We start with the FMC appearing like a normal HS girl, but something is slightly off.
- Step One: When an “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal gets exposed, an unwitting beneficiary and a fraudulent test taker team up to make sure they come out of it looking clean. They both want futures far away from their messed-up families. They don't know they will fall in love…
- Step Two: A bright, disadvantaged high school girl takes the SATs for rich students to save money for her own education. She knows what she's doing isn't on the up-and-up, but she needs the money. Besides, it's just a test.
- Step Three: Other people will always let you down, it's only a matter of time. Take what you can and get away from them.
- Step Four: FMC took the SATs for some rich couple's daughter, Regina, and now her name–and the fact that her SAT scores aren't genuine–is all over the news. News anchors are asking “Who took the test for her?” but nobody knows…yet…
- Step Five: MMC is the son of a businessman who used this service to ensure his son would get into his alma mater, instead of the school he really wants to go to. Maybe the son's mother is a trophy wife from Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, and he wants to go to college over there for free (lessening father's financial hold on him), but his father is using the scam to keep it from happening. MMC had no idea any of this was happening and is utterly disgusted with his father. His father might be dead by this point, giving him even more complicated feelings.
- Step Six: They meet because Regina sent MMC over to try to “intimidate” FMC into silence, but FMC and MMC quickly figure out they have something in common.
All of these are free to use in any way you wish. Have fun!