05 July 2017

Ooh-La-La! How to Write & Spot Good YA Romance Ft. May


Hello, everyone! I'm taking a quick break from NaNoWriMo to share another bookish and writer-ish collaborative I've been super pumped about featuring my friend May from Forever and Everly! If you're struggling with writing romance scenes for your novel, you've come to the right place. The two of us are super avid readers and we got thinking: how are romances in YA novels crafted? What are some of the typical stereotypes stumbled upon that need to be broke, and what kinds of aspects define a good, healthy relationship? After a month brainstorming, we each decided to take three points and discuss them. If you want to see the first part, head over to May's blog and check it out! I will warn there are some slight spoilers from several varying novels. 

Without further ado.
If all males came out dark and brooding with hawk-like eyes (like Batman!) and all females came out plain yet don't think they're beautiful until a guy comes up into their life, then the numerous representation we have of these types of characters in YA novels would hold perfect. Here's the problem: not everyone is like this. 

People hone different personalities. 

Almost none of my guy friends classify as the brooding type— the sullen types who are hard to crack open are rare. The guy friends in my life consist of runners winning state championships who talk about cars and weird theories, thespians who also rock at debate with an obsession over science YouTube videos, or ROTC members pondering excessively about the importance of the Elvish language in Lord of the Rings while walking their dog. More than likely, this display of different personalities may be the case for the readers out there. One of my favorite characters from a recent book I read, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, is Reid Weirtham, who is Tolkien-crazed with an obsession over Easter mini eggs and plays a grocery game involving early 2000s music, like, "The one with the girl playing the piano singing about if she could fall into the sky." But there is no hint of Batman likeness in him.

Sorry, Reid.

The same goes with the girls. Some of us write online but are reserved meeting other people, are pretty good with weaponry, or run with little care in the world. This is a bit off-tangent, but it irks me so much to read YA books where girls don't consider they're beautiful until a guy tells her this. I understand in romantic relationships the two individuals help bring out the best in each other and love one another despite some faults. It's okay to tell someone they're beautiful. What's NOT okay is the girl hanging on the perception to be beautiful, they need to have a boyfriend and base their perception solely on that purpose. It sometimes sends out a negative message. Self-love is an important and powerful thing to hone, and I admire honestly admire female characters who can understand this.

"Well, of course you don't need [a boyfriend]," Nadine says. "But it's okay to want one." 
The Upside of Unrequited
There are many ways romance can spark between two characters with different personalities-- like all relationships, a common ground needs establishment and from there, a basis of a relationship grows. That's all there is for it to start. It gets tedious to read about the same types of characters falling in love. For now, push those default cookie-cutters aside. Break the stereotypes of these pairings. Take out two new ones, and watch them grow.


Fourth grade year. My mind focused on the sketch I drew with glitter pens and tuned out the constant whining of staying inside for recess due to the cold weather. A Twilight bottle slammed in front of me, followed by a cold stare. The moment came to answer the question forced upon everyone: Team Edward or Team Jacob? "Team Jacob," I squeaked in reply. Even at the height of the saga's popularity, everyone at the age of nine saw the first two movies. Everyone knew Jacob was better. Who liked sparkly vampires, anyway?
Ah, love triangles, another common trope springing with buoyancy on the page of many YA novels. 

No, not THAT kind of love triangle. Although I do love the pun.

They're overdone. The source of problems readers have with the trope their predictability, appearing from one novel to the next. I applaud the Young Adult community lately because they've slowly weaned away and branched out from the formulaic. The same character archetypes accompany the triangle (again, stressing the importance of stepping away from stereotypes) ninety percent of the time. It's dull.

That doesn't mean love triangles should become archaic. One of the things I applaud about well-crafted triangles is they push the main plot along (even if they're a subplot) without taking full siege and depict how love isn't always straightforward. People have crushes. They break up, make up, have fights, and get through the mess of it all.

Unless they're well-written and advance the plot, it's best to keep away.

Don't get me wrong, The Infernal Devices isn't a bad series and it's one of my favorites out of Cassandra Clare's books, but there's a story accompanying this that made it awkward...
The fall of 2013. I had just been inducted to the ranks of teenage old and there I laid, stomach first in bed, reading The Infernal Devices. Why reading about shadow hunters and other paranormal creatures set in the twentieth century at ten in the evening was a good idea sat beyond me. Here a scene came, with Jem and Tessa lip locked and kneeling on the floor. My fingers flipped fast to the next page to get away from the awkwardness, and move forward a week later, with Allegiant newly released. Christina, in the novel, makes a remark towards Tris and Four about "addition" or "multiplication." The innuendo flew over my head until I reread the book. I hadn't taken eighth grade health yet, but I tied all the pieces together. It made sense.
Intimacy sprouts across romance plots in books-- intertwined fingers, sweet kisses, and engaging in other things. Yes, teenagers engage in these things; to argue otherwise is to stand blind against what happens out in the real world. Kissing may be the epitome of YA novels, but sometimes, there are more powerful ways of conveying romance besides the conventional physical actions (and no, I am NOT talking about the nasty). Adding in the slobbery but pertinent details of how a person latches onto one another and glorifying the situation? There is a fine line between sweetness and grotesque within novel details that needs addressing.

Physical actions don't have to majorly dictate a couple's love for one another. There are more powerful ways of expressing love. Maybe there's a character who puts down their barriers when a other character needs support, or maybe one person is panicking over an event and another character has a comedic way to help de-stress.

An example coming to mind is The Princess Bride. In the beginning, Wesley (known as Farm Boy) replies to Buttercup's demands by replying, "As you wish." The repeated phrase is revealed as his way of saying, "I love you," introducing their relationship.

A bit off topic: FINALLY watching this movie tomorrow while doing chores! I'm so excited.

Another example is "Something Old, Something New," in the Lunar Chronicles anthology, Stars Above. Two characters sneak out of a wedding and look up to the stars. Kai remarks he frequently looks at them and wishes Cinder, his significant other, to be there at his side all those times. Even though she replies to him flippantly, she says she does the exact same thing. Isn't that fangirl worthy?

Point being: if writing a romance plot, small moments, such as the aforementioned, should outweigh (in frequency) the intimacy, even when the couple gets together. Go for a slow burn. If this balance is portrayed well, then even brief kissing scenes feel well deserved, more satisfying, and powerful then hammering intimacy in every chapter.

Thank you so much, May, for doing this collaborative with me! I had tons of fun and I'd love to do it again with that one other idea we had in mind. Again, if you want to read her post, read her post here!

What are some important aspects of YA romance you think are important but we didn't mention? What romance tropes urk you? Do you agree with these points (or disagree slightly) with some of these points? Name some noteworthy YA ships that you think are a great portrayal of well-written couples!

30 comments:

  1. I really agree with this Abby! This was a REALLY good post, especially because I'm writing some romance currently.
    I used to have a HUGE issue with writing romance, the girl would always fall for the guy etc. *cringes* It was no fun to write after a certain point.
    It's so much more fun to write as well as read the little things that make up relationships, to portray realism. Because honestly the cliche "less is more" quote is SPOT ON.

    Great post Abby! You have these topics no one seems to come up with :) That makes it really fun to read your blog <3

    Anna - www.worldthroughherheart.blogspot.com

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    1. It's not bad if the girl falls for the guy-- I love novels that tell falling in love from the guy's perspective, especially if it's very sweet.

      YES "less is more." I haven't really considered it like that, but it does hold truths! That doesn't mean that the kissing scenes don't have any weight-- it just means their value goes up when there's a rarity of them.

      Thank you so much, Anna! I try to write about the things people usually don't talk about but either see or don't talk about because of how uncomfortable it is, although i do try to keep it age appropriate as I can, seeing there are younger readers on my blog. ^.^

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  2. YES! I am a simple person, if there is an adorable romance, I ship, but too often is the romance awful and cringy and cliche!!! My one wish in this world is that YA romance would improve. May this post educate the masses. :D

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    1. YES! What are some of your favorite examples of romance done to characters just right? I love the Lunar Chronicles for this reason-- the characters have time to develop to the point that while their origin storylines (their fairy tale stories) appear cliche, they still are real wholesome characters and that's why they're enjoyable to read about. May this post educate the masses, indeed! xD

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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    2. Lunar Chronicles all the way!! I also love how the Heroes of Olympus really does deal with all the relationships realistically.

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    3. TRUE. The Heroes of Olympus series did relationships wonderfully without it always feeling like a melodrama. Although one thing that irks me...

      *SPOILERS*

      Leo kind of gets paired off with Calypso. I'm happy that Leo has a girlfriend, but I felt like maybe it was too convenient? Maybe. I'm still happy it did work out, because now they're helping out Apollo! Whoo!!!

      *END SPOILERS*

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  3. I really agree with all three of your points!
    1) Reading stereotypical romances really do irritate me. Like, if all boys and girls are portrayed in a certain way in YA books, then why do I not know anyone in real life that act like people typically do in books? I definitely want to see a greater variety of characters and romances in books.
    2) I feel like love triangles are just added to novels unnecessarily a lot of the time because authors seem to think that love triangles appeal to teens. Based on what I've seen and heard, though, most people despise love triangles. But yet, for whatever reason, those books that do have love triangles in them tend to sell the best.
    3) Saaameee, though. Slow burn romances filled with small, sweet moments are the best!

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    1. 1) EXACTLY. I wanted to rewatch the Twilight series not because of how bad it is and trash it, but to learn why it isn't good in the romance aspect. It literally bothers me because Edward admits he has been watching Bella sleep and it doesn't bother her one bit and she's complaining about leaving Edward and she's like, "No. don't ever even think about doing that." The second one is more rational but I still cringe at how bad it is. We need more characters like us. Regular people who deal with life every day.

      2) I personally despise love triangles if they're not done right as well, which is 99% of the time. I don't mind if they end out okay and if they don't detract. I know for a fact in the Legend trilogy there is kind of a love triangle but it's BARELY touched upon.

      3) YES. The only downside for the readers? The excruciating wait. On the bright side, us writers and the authors slowly just cackle evily while also sympathizing.

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  4. I agree with the slow burn. One of my favorite TV shows, When Calls The Heart, employed this exact strategy, and it has kept me hooked. And yes, guys really do have much more personality than brooding and macho. We definitely need to show it.

    Great post Abby!

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

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    1. When is When Calls the Heart on TV? I've heard so much about that show but I can never find it when looking through The Hallmark Channel (is it on the Hallmark Channel??? That's what I heard). The slow hook does keep the readers on end, and, even when the audience is complaining while waiting and agonizing waiting, it's all worth it. And the fangirl squeals are with it and so called for.

      YES. Also the thing that bothers me is that brooding and macho automatically gives the image of someone who has a great athletic build... um, that's great, but like different personalities people are also composed with different body sizes, and that's perfectly okay if they aren't muscular.

      Thanks, Catherine! ^.^

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  5. This was an amazing post, Abigail! My parents don’t like me to read books with lots of romance, as they feel it represents real relationships in the wrong way. There are so many books that sound amazing and that I’m desperate to read, they ALL seem to have romantic themes! It’s so annoying. How long have you been allowed to read books with romance in?

    I thought your tips were great. So true.

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    1. Thanks, Gracie! To a degree, I do agree with your parents-- a lot of romances are either too cliched or if not, too idealistic-- two opposite ends of the spectrum.

      Some book recommendations with some clean romance! It took me a bit to compile this list, which has books where love is more of a side plot but also portrays love realistically. I'm not too sure where your reading tastes lie, so I am going to give you several suggestions. The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan does have some romance, but it's not too much to overwhelm. If you want to delve into YA, there's a reason why The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is a good place to start-- romance is a main plot (it's not the main focus) but it's not thrown into every single scene and it's appropriate with virtually no love triangles. The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is middle grade and there isn't a lot of romance, but there is one couple hinted at in the books further in the series (which I'm still screaming about). If I remember correctly, The Princess Academy (only the first book) by Shannon Hale has some romance, but it's mostly clean and it's very sweet and simple, but that's more in the Young Adult category. Lastly-- although take this one with a grain of salt-- Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham is clean with its romance. I know it's the second one out of a duology, but even if you didn't read the first book, it's easy to catch on. The only reason why I'm skipping to number two of the series is because that one remains fresher in my mind, and the first one had some more older themes. That's a lot of books, but it's all over the place in terms of plot and age group so hopefully one of these will be okay.

      As for your question: my parents didn't mind me reading books with romance, as long as I judged a book's contents properly, so I've been reading actual romance novels really since thirteen (so around your age), partially also because I personally wasn't ready to read romance, and I didn't want to encounter any heavy stuff and freak out as to how to deal with it. Now that I'm older, they trust me to make proper choices. There were times when they did interfere with what I was reading if it was a popular title and they've heard things about it. If I feel like I'm reading something that's inappropriate or I'm too young for, I close it at once and move onto the next book. I think your best bet is doing two things, if you want to read books with romantic themes but are having a hard time convincing your parents otherwise.

      I'm getting a character limit, so I'll have to cut up this message into two parts.

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    2. One: make sure you have a good idea of how real relationships are portrayed. Ask people like your parents how romance actually is and ask what it's not. It's important to remember what's good and healthy versus the opposite. If you're able to differentiate what's healthy and what's not, it's easy to move past a book with an unrealistic portrayal of romance (because at one point or another we may accidentally stumble upon a novel with a bad depiction of romance) and say, "That's wrong and that shouldn't be done." Romance should be sweet, and inappropriate behavior labeled as "romance" shouldn't be romanticized, glorified, justified, or tolerated at all. Make good judgement.

      Secondly, look at book review sites or blogs with your parents, like Goodreads, (or find books you think they'll be okay with and then show it to them) and maybe look through the reviews and make your choices from there. Sometimes my parents (my mom, mainly) would have to read books ahead, such as The Fault in Our Stars when I was twelve, just to make sure they're appropriate before letting me read them, and that system worked.

      Even if doing those things doesn't change your parents' decision right away or even if they only let you read certain romance books but not a lot, it does show that by taking these steps and running through this process with them that you are showing you want to handle this the right way, maturely. I know that sometimes it's annoying to wait around when you're told you have to be older-- it's something I have to encounter too (it took forever to convince to use my actual name since I blogged under a nom de plume for four years, and even now I'm not allowed to post photos of my face online, although this too is kind of a personal choice). It sometimes feels rather dumb that we have to wait, but it's better to wait than to sneak around, get caught, and perhaps delay the day when they finally say okay. Romance is a weird genre, anyways. O.o

      If you have any more follow-up questions or want any more book recommendations, I'll try to reply back as soon as I can!

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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    3. Wow. Wow. Wow. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply like this, Abi!!!! You're the BEST. EVER. I will check out all of these books. I've read the Penderwicks and love them so much. All your tips were super helpful and thanks once again for all this amazing advice.

      It sometimes makes me feel a bit left out to see all these book reviews by bloggers way younger (or the same age) as me, of books in the romance genre. My parents are careful and I do understand why. I want to grow up learning about the reality of relationships.

      I have read books with relatively innocent romance in and all the classics, pretty much. Their viewpoint is pretty old-fashioned though! I mean things like Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, lots of Shakespeare, etc.

      Thanks again!!! Did you get my invite to join in my blogging project? Here's the link: https://graciechicksblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/beautiful-ideas-determined-bloggers-one-word-change-an-equation-that-can-mean-only-one-thing-another-blogging-project/

      I really hope you can get involved!

      Gracie xxxx

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    4. Of course, Gracie! I'm glad I've helped you somewhat. ^.^ It seriously amazes me that you read so many classics at such a young age-- I was like that, too, although I haven't read the full extent as you have. While the core of romances are the same as the innocent ones in old-fashioned books, I think the way people go about certain things (like how people meet and how they're asked out or courted) have changed a ton in a century, so it is a bit important to know what changes have occurred and maybe take away what to do (and what not to do) from these books.

      I'm really excited for doing the blog project! Charis, May, and I are working on something BIG. xD It's going to be fun!

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  6. This is so true! It's so difficult to find GOOD YA romance lately. It makes me want to work even harder to be the one to write it.

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    1. TRUE. The last good romance I read was The Upside of Unrequited, although it isn't for everybody to read. I know you're writing a YA romance, but I seriously trust you're going to write a good, healthy one. I have faith in you!!!

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  7. I so agree, small moments should definitely outweigh the intimacy, I think that's how it should be in real life as well <3

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    1. It's kind of sad because a lot of media perpetuates this cycle saying intimacy to the next level is great-- literally all someone has to do is go on Snapchat and look at the stories by huge companies, and the only way to really tune it out is to be aware and be conscious in selecting what we're exposed too.

      In all honestly? If I ever fall in love with someone, I really hope they value the small moments more than the intimacy <3 It really should be more about the small moments being valued, anyways.

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  8. This is too true! Have you read A Court of Thorns and Roses? The way intimate scenes are written...it's really awkward to read. :(

    Actually, this post couldn't have come at a better time for me because of a story I've been updating on my blog. I think love triangles will be okay, but I do need to watch out for stereotypes! Thanks for the reminder!!

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    1. I haven't read the series yet, although after hearing about how bad it was (yup, I heard how bad it gets) I removed it from my TBR pile. It's funny, because there was a video I watched and this vlogger bashed how bad it gets, and that's what got me to move away from the series in the first place. I heard Maas's worldbuilding is pretty interesting, though.

      I've been reading your story on your blog! It's really good so far. I kind of see what you're potentially setting up (if we are talking about love triangles) but from what I see, you can definitely pull off a non-clichéd one. No problem, Jo!!!

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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    2. Wow thanks! If you're thinking Crowe, Arryn and Gabriel though, that's not the love triangle. ;)

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  9. Oooh, I love this! I'm especially behind the break stereotypes, more people fall for people with good hearts and personalities than a good body or a pretty face.

    And you're watching the Princess Bride?! I think you'll like it. It's a little cliché and unbearably cheesy in some parts, but it's so good for some reason...!

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    1. YES ALL THE WAY. It's important to read about people who are just like us, the readers. Like love triangles, I'm not saying that the brooding types should go away all together, but good hearts are so much more important and if someone does try to pull off a brooding type character, well, get ready for some groans from some people.

      YES. I finished it last night and while it doesn't follow the book's plot altogether (although the way it's presented in the movie is much better than the thirty page annotator backstory), it's still good and follows the book plot decently. I am kind of still shaken by the fact Prince Humperdinck looks like Mark Ruffalo, though! I feel like I would've appreciated the movie more had I seen it when I was younger, but overall, it's solid. It's comedic, too, and I'd love to watch it again!

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  10. I freaking love Reid. That whole book was just goshdarn adorable and made me giggle and squee shamelessly. Becky Albertalli is fantastic at writing nerdy boys.

    I also hate the kissing just for kissing's sake and try my best to avoid that in my own writing. I've heard the rule of thumb that if your characters are going to kiss, the kiss has to mean something. In other words, save it for the big stuff so it has a more powerful affect. If you need to show a little act of love, go for something different.

    Yes, I love that "Princess Bride" example! It's so cute, too, when characters have an inside joke or phrase like that that you know is just a veiled way of saying I love you.

    Slow burns are so frustrating for the reader, but so much fun for the writer. xD And ultimately it pays off way more than the insta-love.

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  11. I LOVE this post, guys!! And I'm so sorry I couldn't participate :( But we must do something like this again in the future.

    ANYWAY. This post. Your points are all so true and excellent. I don't mind love triangles, but only if they're done super well - I HATE it when two boys fall in love with a girl and basically worship her and think she can do no wrong. That irks me NO END.

    Totally agree that love goes beyond physical intimacy and kissing! I love to see the characters do small things for each other, like remembering her favourite flower, or taking the trash out because she knows he hates doing it. Those are bad examples, but you know what I mean ;) Physical attraction only goes skin deep, and I prefer to see the characters show love for each other by being more thoughtful. It's the small things that count, I think.
    Also, I LOVE slow-burn romances :)

    Amy @ A Magical World Of Words

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    1. We actually have an idea for something like this, but we haven't actually worked on the process on doing that or even initiating that process, but it would be fun to do something with you in the future, Amy!

      It's so weird that I'm just replying to this just now-- there was an episode of a Filipino drama my mom was watching and what you just said, about two guys practically worshipping this one girl. Yes, sometimes people make irrational decisions for the people they love, but if it's a scenario after scenario... it just gets super tiring to read, gah.

      YES. Honestly, small things like that make up a relationship. Like, some people think that the really good romance stuff (in real life and possibly in fiction) happens when the characters haven't gotten together yet, either meaning they're dating or they reached the marriage part. Umm, just because they're now together doesn't mean that they're excused from doing all the cutesy stuff. I love seeing old couples in real life who are just still super sweet to one another. THAT MAKES UP A GOOD ROMANCE, and indeed, it is the small things that count.

      YESSSSSSS to slow-burn romances! They are my favorite things ever, too. Although it's agonizing to wait. For. The. Characters. To. Get. Together. >.<

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  12. Woo hoo! I don't really have much to say because, well, we've talked about this for a month or so??? XD All I have to say is: thank you for doing this collab with me -- I think it was successful and it was also so fun! <3

    may @ forever and everly

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    1. Yeah, we have!!! xD I also agree that this collab worked out really well! I'm so happy to be working with you and Charis on Gracie's blogging project!

      xoxo Abigail Lennah

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  13. Abby, I've missed you!! Hopefully I'm back in the blogging world for good now, and I can read your amazing posts when they come out, instead of binge reading them when I'm supposed to be doing chores. Hope you liked The Princess Bride. It's one of my all time favourite fantasy rom-coms (although it's possibly the only one). <3

    Aliah | Indigo Ink

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