THREE ROMANCE CLICHES THAT DRIVE ME CRAZY

Ah, romance in YA. I’ve got a serious love-hate relationship with it. On one hand, all of the cute moments in YA romance that send me squealing into a pillow have me hungry for more. But on the other hand, one of the things that drives me crazy about YA romance is the sheer number of clichés I’ve read. Some of the clichés drive me crazier than others, and yet some I find myself asking for more of.*
Without further ado, here are three romance clichés that drive me crazy.

*I would like to note that I have seen instances in which these clichés were “freshened up” rather beautifully, but these cases are very rare for me personally. 
Insta-Love ❤

“And then their eyes met from across the room and they just knew that they were meant for each other…” It wouldn’t be entirely untruthful to nickname the cliché of “insta-love” as “Disney-love.” After all, nearly every Disney princess movie has moments of insta-love (although in Frozen, this cliché is flipped beautifully). 

Yes, attraction happens, but falling in love with someone in a matter of minutes is utterly ridiculous. 

This idea of “love at first sight” is not only unrealistic, but it also is super shallow (and not the smartest thing in real life, if you know what I mean). Who falls in love with someone after a glance from across a coffee shop or a quick conversation about the book you’re reading? How can you know it’s really love if all you know about the guy is that he has icy blue eyes and a baseball cap? 
Love Triangles ❤

Newsflash: LOVE TRIANGLES ARE KINDA DONE. If I have to pick up another book with a love triangle in it, I might cry. Yes, love triangles can be done well (it’s possible!), but honestly, we’ve seen it a thousand times before. Nothing seems to have changed. It’s so easy to figure out which guy the girl is going to pick! 
Not only are love triangles super predictable, but they add weak (unneeded!) tension to the plot. 
There have been books I’ve read that have love triangles in them just to have love triangles. The love triangle adds nothing substantial to the plot. In some cases, all of that unneeded baggage about which boy the main character is going to the dance with can take away from the story. I don’t want to know about Suzy’s inner turmoil about Eddie and Bob. I want to care about something more than the love triangle in a book and see something more original, something more real. 
Insecure Girl Meets Gorgeous Boy ❤

This cliché is so common it’s not even funny. We go from a main character thinking that nobody loves them to suddenly meeting their “true love” and then suddenly having extremely high self-esteem levels. In this cliché, characters feel worthless without their love interest. But when Prince Charming comes along, the mirror is no longer as harsh. The critics’ voices become muted. They’re happier. They’re content. They feel worth something, now that someone so wonderful loves them. 
This is cute, but isn’t this cliché teaching readers to find their worth in what others think of them? 

Instead of encouraging readers to find their worth in what the Lord thinks of them and the beautiful people He made them to be, this cliché teaches readers that their worth comes from having a Prince Charming to tell them how lovely they are. Truthfully, our worth comes from the God who created us and loves us more than we can imagine, not a tall, dark and handsome guy. 

What do you think? Do any of these clichés drive YOU crazy? Have you seen any examples of these three clichés that you liked? 

WHAT I LEARNED FROM WRITING DEAR JAMIE, LOVE RORY

I can’t believe that next week this fun little celebration for “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” will come to a close. It’s been so much fun celebrating with you all (and I’d just like to say THANK YOU for all of your sweet comments <3). But before the celebration ends, I’d like to share two things I learned from writing “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” with you all. 
The first thing I learned was that being afraid of failure (and letting that fear control you) can only lead to just that: failure. 
Here’s something I don’t tell anyone: At first, I wasn’t even going to enter One Teen Story. A couple years ago, I had written a story for them and ended up never sending it in. I was too afraid of losing, too embarrassed to think of others reading it. Yet I still wanted to enter someday. My fear of failure (which was fueled by plenty of self-doubt), however, kept me from doing so until One Teen Story‘s latest contest. 
About a week or so before the deadline, I told myself, “I’m just going to do this. If I lose, I lose, but at least I can finally say that I tried.” About three late-nighters, a few scrapped stories, and plenty of agonizing over everything, I sent “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” to One Teen Story

First picture ~ Grapes at a California Vineyard ~ Second Picture ~ Writing in the Redwoods

A couple months later, I received an email saying that my story was placed on a shortlist. I freaked out. A little while later, I got an email saying that “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” had won. I freaked out even more. 
Looking back at it now, if I had let my fear of failure keep me from sending my story in, I couldn’t be writing this now.  
I’m not going to lie: Failure is SCARY. It’s a crippling beast, but if you let your writerly fears rule you, you will never get the chance to reach your dreams and succeed. Being afraid of failure and letting that keeping you from taking risks can only lead to failure. Don’t be afraid. You CAN reach your goals and achieve your dreams. 
The second thing I learned was to write the story of my heart. 
In an interview with Patrick Ryan of One Story, I was asked what the best bit of writing advice was that I had received. My answer? Write the story of your heart. 
I’ve tried writing stories for others so much, that when it came time for me to throw together a story for this contest, I decided to finally let myself write the story of my heart. Once I let myself do that, my writing got better, and I began to fall in love with this beautiful craft even more. 

Let yourself go wild on the pages. Write the story you want to see on bookshelves. Write what you love. Write the story of your heart, because the world needs your story.
The Giveaway…
Before I go, just in case you didn’t know… I’m hosting a giveaway! =D I’m giving away a signed copy of “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” AND a beautiful California sticker from Kulana Stickers. Use the widget below to enter. The giveaway ends on August 9. =)

Click here to buy “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” on Kindle. 
Click here to subscribe to One Teen Story. 

What is one of your greatest writerly fears? 
What’s something you’ve learned about writing? 

I’m Tired of “Strong” Female Characters Part Four – The Wrap-Up

I almost can’t believe that this is the last part of my series on strong women in fiction! I’ve had a blast sharing my thoughts and tips and chatting about this topic with you all in the comments. Before I continue, here are the links to the rest of this series in case any of you would like to catch up. =)

The Rest of the Series…

I’d like to close this series not by offering any more tips or pointing out amazing strong female characters in fiction, but by challenging my fellow writers to craft truly strong women in their stories. 
We writers have the amazing ability to influence people through the words we write. We don’t just write our stories for enjoyment. We get to encourage people with our stories. We get to tell them truth. We get to inspire people. We get to show them what’s right and wrong. We get to tell stories that change people, that change the world.
We get this privilege… Let’s not abuse it. Let’s use it! 
My hope and prayer for all of my fellow writers is that God will guide them to write stories that will glorify him. I hope that those same stories can also help girls realize what it means to be a truly strong women of the Lord who don’t look to their abilities or positions of power for their strength, but to their Lord and Savior. 
Thank you so much for joining me during this series on strong women in fiction! Be sure to visit Notebooks and Novels again next week for a book review of Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Which of these posts was your favorite? Which was most helpful? Will you take on the challenge to write about strong female characters? 
P.S. Be sure to check out my article on PURSUE on friendships with the guys in your life! Click here to read 4 Tips For Having Great Friendships With Guys. 

I’m Tired of “Strong” Female Characters Part Three

Last week, I shared three tips on crafting a strong female character in this blog post. This week, I’ve saved my biggest tip for last. It’s just one tip, but I’ve saved this for one big post so that it’s easier to understand and apply. Are you ready? Here we go! 
Let Her Be Strong in Other Ways.
The only way that strong women seem to be depicted as being strong is in a fierce and violent way. 

The strong woman is the one beating up all of the bad guys. She’s the one leading the rebels into battle. She’s the one going undercover. She’s doing what the guys can’t (my thoughts on this will need to wait for a different post). But fighting isn’t the only way a woman can be strong.

One strong woman in fiction is Arwen of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. 

She doesn’t fight anyone. She doesn’t kill anyone. She doesn’t run around “breaking stereotypes” and “proving that women can do whatever men can do.” Yet she doesn’t sit around making doilies either. Arwen waits loyally for Aragorn to come back to her. She never lets go of the hope that she will be reunited with Aragorn. She encourages others around her. She is full of grace and isn’t afraid to be feminine. 

Arwen makes the hard choice to stay behind with the man she loves instead of leaving Middle Earth with her people for someplace far safer. She refuses to let go of love, even if it is the “easier” way out.

Sometimes, being strong doesn’t mean chasing the bad guys. Sometimes, it means simply being brave, no matter what’s going on around you. Sometimes it means being strong for others, even if we aren’t the ones charging into battle against an army of orcs.

Doesn’t it take more strength to heal than it does to hurt? 

Lucy Pevensie, from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, was given a special healing cordial from Father Christmas. She uses this cordial to heal others, including her brother Edmund. Yes, Lucy uses a dagger when necessary, but she is primarily a healer, in my opinion.

It takes more strength to heal and mend than it does to hurt others. It takes more strength to help others than to tear them down. Women were designed by God to be nurturing, loving, and caring. These traits shine in healing. Why shouldn’t the strong women of fiction do more healing, not just in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense? 

We need to see more women who are strong in character in the books we read.

When I think of a strong female character that is strong in character, I almost immediately think of DC Comic’s Wonder Woman. Wait a minute, you may be saying. Isn’t she one of those cliché strong women? And aren’t you a Marvel Comics fan?* Well, yes, Wonder Woman does a whole lot of fighting, but what I love about Wonder Woman is that she has a strong character. She is full of compassion. She wants to help others. She stands strong in her beliefs, no matter what. She encourages the people around her. She is full of grace, and despite all of her fighting for justice, she is also gentle. Wonder Woman isn’t just strong physically, but she is also strong in character. She’s a great example of a strong female in fiction, in my opinion. Her character is something that girls can truly look up to!

*Yes, I am a HUGE Marvel Comics fan, but I have two exceptions to my I-don’t-like-DC-that-much stance. Those two exceptions are the Flash (Grant Gustin’s Flash, of course) and Wonder Woman. 
These are just a few ways that women in fiction can break free from our culture’s fake version of strength and be truly strong. 
I’ve only scratched the surface of this subject with this post. There are so many different ways women can be strong without having to hurt others or be a ninja-warrior. Are there women that can beat up bad guys? Yes, there absolutely are. Is there anything wrong with having a female character who happens to be skilled in archery or swordplay? No, there isn’t. But girls need to see more than just that in the women they look up to fiction. 
I hope you’ll join me next week as I wrap up this series on strong female characters. 
What do you think? What are some other ways women can be strong? 

I’m Tired of “Strong” Female Characters Part Two ~ Three Tips On Crafting Strong Female Characters

Last week, I talked about why I’m tried of “strong” women characters and why we need truly strong women characters in this blog post. This week, I’m going to offer up three tips to help you craft truly strong women characters in your stories. Let’s begin, shall we? =)

1. Let Her Be Feminine
Take a moment and think about some of the characters that fit the “strong” woman cliché. What is one thing that they all seem to have in common? Pretty much every single one of them is barely feminine. This doesn’t mean that they don’t just not like the color pink. This means that they are rough, fierce, sarcastic, etc. One could say that they are more masculine than feminine. All so that they can be “strong.” 

Since when did actually being feminine become looked down upon? Since when did it make a woman weak? The message that all of these “strong” women are sending girls is that to be strong, you can’t be feminine. And I’m just not talking about the difference between being a tomboy and being a girly-girl. I’m talking about almost everything that makes a woman a woman being viewed as weak. 
God created girls to be different than guys. Shouldn’t this beautiful truth be celebrated in our stories instead of glossed over and tossed away? Why not celebrate the feminine aspects of women such as their gentleness and grace? Why not fill strong women with compassion and love? Why not let them find joy in serving in ways, such as cooking, helping with kids, and cleaning? Why not let them be women
The Take-Away: Your strong female characters are allowed to be feminine. Let them like girly things, have feminine pastimes, act feminine, etc. Let them be WOMEN.
2. Let Her Have Feelings
A message that I feel is promoted in YA fiction today is this: Ignore all of your feelings, and you’ll be stronger.* This is a message that I believe girls around the globe are soaking up, and that is definitely not okay. Why can’t a girl face her feelings and make wise decisions instead of ignoring them?  Girls are very, very emotional. Our emotions are a big deal! We need to see women in the stories we read handling how they feel the right way. 

In the Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen is notorious for shutting out her feelings or acting purely upon them, both of which have dire consequences for her and the people she loves. Both aren’t healthy ways to deal with emotions. What would’ve truly made Katniss stronger would have been her facing her feelings and learning how to deal with everything she felt.** 

The Take-Away: Let your character have feelings. Don’t turn her into a ninja-robot. Allow her to be able to confront her feelings and handle them in a healthy way.

*Either that, or let your feelings do the driving, but that discussion is for a different post… 
**I am by NO MEANS trying to hate on Katniss Everdeen (she’s one of my favorite cliché strong woman characters). I’m just trying to make a point with someone whose way of dealing with her emotions drove me nuts. xD 
3. Let Her Need Others
Strong women are often applauded for not needing a man to save them, for being able to everything themselves. But what’s wrong with being the damsel in distress every once in a while? Isn’t it a mark of true strength to acknowledge that you can’t do some things on your own and to accept the help of others? Why then should strong women not need help, from men (especially men) or other women? Why should having a man help a woman make that woman weak? 

Two strong women (or should I say girls?) in fiction are Susan and Lucy Pevensie of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. One of Queen Susan’s gifts from Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, besides her bow and arrow, is a magic horn that can summon help when it’s blown. In the films and the novels she uses it a few times when she and Lucy get into trouble. Does calling for help and receiving it make these queens of Narnia any less strong? Absolutely not! 

In reality, we can’t do much of anything alone. We all need saving at times. Why should the strong women in our stories be able to do everything themselves and be strong on their own? To “empower” women? To prove a point? To promote feminism? If so, those are terrible excuses for making women in fiction weak in the name of strength.

The Take-Away: Your character doesn’t have to do it alone. Let her be the damsel in distress every once in a while. It doesn’t hurt to need saving every once in a while! Put your character in situations where she’ll have to rely on others and/or work with them to achieve her goals. 

I hope that you will join me next week as I continue this series on strong women in fiction by offering my last (big!) tip on crafting a truly strong woman character. 

Which of these tips do you find the most helpful? Why do you think that strong woman characters aren’t very feminine? Do you have any tips to offer? 

I’m Tired of “Strong” Female Characters Part One

You know her. She’s got an athletic build and the uncanny ability to wield any weapon. Occasionally, there’s some superhuman power. More often than not, the title of savior/chosen one/leader/queen/princess/empress/insert-important-title-here is thrust upon her. She’s got a great distaste for anything pink, sparkly, or remotely girl (although she’s known to rock a dress when forced). Usually she’s got a handsome boyfriend that she ends up having to protect. And in the midst of it all, she’s keeping a bunch of secrets beneath her warrior-queen exterior.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the strong female character.

If you haven’t met her, then you obviously haven’t read a lot of YA fiction. She comes in many forms, such as the fantasy/sci-fi version I painted a picture of above. She can be found in pretty much every genre. She can be the main character, the secondary character, a background character… She’ll probably be there somewhere, if not in a book, then in a TV show or movie. And to be honest….

I’m tired of this “strong” female character cliché.

This is not to say that I don’t like some typical cliché strong female characters. In fact, they can be done very well. I’m thinking of memorable characters such as Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Parvin Blackwater of the A Time To Die series. But it seems to me that we have begun to define strong women by physical strengths, talents, and powers, their boyfriends and multiple love interests, their positions of power, their ability to go it alone, a hatred (or at least some form of dislike) of all things feminine… The list goes on.

Why does a girl have to be a warrior-queen to be strong?

I know lots of strong women, and none of them are half ninja. They find their strengths in places other than their looks and their ability to beat up boys and lead rebel nations. Strength, in our culture, has become more of a physical attribute than anything else. Strength is defined by how you carry yourself, how athletic and muscular you are, how intimidating you are… The list goes on. But the strength that these strong female characters have isn’t true strength. 

True strength doesn’t come from being a rebel leader or wielding a bow and arrow. 

True strength is something that comes from within, not from the outside. True strength isn’t ignoring your feelings, it’s confronting them. True strength is finding the courage to do what’s right. It’s staying strong though all life throws at you. True strength comes from faith in God. True strength is something that female characters in YA fiction desperately need.


I want girls to know that their strength doesn’t come their fists. 

I want them to have real strength, not the fake version that has been offered up to all of us in today’s movies, books, and TV shows. I want them to be inspired to be truly strong by the stories I write. Fellow writers, we get the privilege to change this cliché and inspire girls to become truly strong women though our stories. We get to do more than just entertain with the stories we spin. We get to inspire. We get to motivate. We get to encourage. What an awesome privilege that is, am I right?


Next week, I hope that you’ll join me for part two of this series as I offer some tips on how you can make the female characters in your writing truly strong. 

What are your thoughts on strong female characters? What do you think is true strength? Who is your favorite character that falls into the “strong woman” cliché? 

FLASH FICTION DASH 2018: The Day We Say Goodbye

Today I’m excited to be participating in the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash, hosted by Rosalie Valentine of Penprints. I was super excited to receive my prompt from Rosalie, and when I did, I was even more excited to write about it! You can see the prompt and read my flash fiction piece titled “The Day We Say Goodbye” below. I had a lot of fun writing it and hope that you all enjoy reading it. Happy reading! =)
Note: I only loosely based the piece below on the photo, so not all of the details will line up perfectly. Bear with me, okay?I got a little carried away. xD

The sky doesn’t seem to know that this is the day we say goodbye. It beams at me, sunlight smiling, clouds as fluffy as cotton candy, the color blue so blinding it hurts. I wish that today could be a grey day. I wish that the sky would cry with me.

But it doesn’t. And according to the weather app on my phone, it won’t. 
I play with the camera Ben got me for Christmas. I think of all the pictures we took on it, all of the memories that it holds. I don’t look through those pictures right now. I couldn’t bear it if I did. I’m waiting for Ben. Waiting to say goodbye. Waiting for him to leave San Francisco for college in Philadelphia.

The waiting might be the worst part.

An older lady hustles by me, nodding in my direction. I fake a smile at her. But then it’s back to the camera and back to waiting. I look at my phone at least ten times before I see him. His dirty blonde mop of hair shoved under a Chicago Cubs baseball cap gives him away in the crowd. He smiles when he sees me. Waves even.

“Hey there, Lilly.” And for a moment, just a moment, I let myself think that this isn’t the last time I’ll see Ben Jamison.

But then his smile fades and he tugs on his backpack straps and we both remember.

“So…” Ben says, looking down at his worn Nikes.

“So.” I wish I could say more. I wish that I could tell him everything that I’m thinking and feeling right now. I wish that he could stay.

“How was your day?”

How was my day? His train leaves in ten minutes and he wants to know how my day went. I almost want to hit him, but I won’t let me hitting him or crying be his last memory of me.

“It was good,” I say lamely, staring at Ben as if I have to memorize every detail about him before he leaves. As if I don’t have the hundreds of pictures. “How was your day?”

He shrugs. “Okay. Adrian gave me a box of Pop-Tarts for the train ride.” Our friend Adrian is obsessed with Pop-Tarts. Like, eat-a-box-once-a-day obsessed. His girlfriend Raleigh can’t stand it. I can’t help but laugh at the thought of Adrian sacrificing a box for Ben.

But a little laughing doesn’t change today.

Ben seems to realize this too. He lowers himself onto the bench next to me, mesmerized by the trains already leaving. “You know, I’m going to miss you a lot.”

I try to smile, but I’m afraid that it’s more like a grimace. “I’m going to miss you too.” I really want to say that I’ll miss the sound of his laugh and the way he’s always messing with his hair because it’s constantly in his face and the fact that he’s always taking pictures of something. I want to say that I’ll miss going to get ice cream and roaming San Francisco during the day and—

Ben interrupts my panicked thoughts. “Don’t try to be okay.”

I wish that my coat could swallow me up. “Okay? What do you mean, don’t try to be okay? You’re the one who started the whole okay thing, you big, you big…” I can’t get the word jerk out before I start crying.

Because the whole world revels in my pain, a loudspeaker announces that Ben’s train will be arriving in five minutes. Five minutes. The tears come down even harder.

So much for not crying.

Ben pulls me in for a hug, pats my back. I sniffle against his coat, inhale his scent of too much cheap cologne. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

“Me too,” he says softly. “Me too.”

And then he lets me go and starts rummaging through his backpack. I rub at my eyes, willing them to save the rest of the show until Ben is on his train and I’m safely in my room with a lifetime supply of tissues and desserts.

“I got something for you,” he says.

I make myself smile. “You didn’t have to.”

Ben hands me a package wrapped up in newspaper. “Yes, I did. Now hurry up and open it, before my train comes.”

Curious, I start peeling back the newspaper. And that’s when I see it. A gorgeous leather notebook, tied with a turquoise bow.

Ben starts talking as soon as my gaze rests on it. “My dad makes them, and he sent one for me to give to you before I go.” He takes his Cubs cap off, ruffles his hair.

“It’s beautiful.” I look up and tuck my black hair behind my ear. “I love it. Thank you.”

Ben sticks his cap back on and opens his mouth to say something, but is interrupted by a train pulling into a station.

My heart sinks and my grip on the notebook tightens. The loudspeaker grinds out its most terrible announcement. Ben stands, hoists his backpack onto his shoulders. “I guess it’s time.”

I stand too. “I guess.” Do. Not. Cry.

He pulls me in for one last hug, and it’s so quick because the train has pulled in and the doors have creaked open. I waffle between trying-not-to-cry and wanting-to-cry.

“Goodbye, Lilly,” he says against my hair. Then, he lets go. Steps back. Waves. “Don’t forget me, Lilly Mae!”

“I won’t!” I yell back. I can see his weak smile from here. One more wave, and he’s on the train. The doors shut. The whistle blows.

I hug myself and watch as the train pulls away.

Away.

I wave as it fades into the distance. But I don’t say goodbye. Because I know, deep down, that this isn’t it. Even though it hurts now, it’ll all be okay. One day.

So instead, I whisper, “See you soon.”


Have you ever participated in the Flash Fiction Dash? Do you like writing flash fiction? Let’s chat, friends! =D