Sarah Dessen on Writing Unforgettable Love Interests

Posted by Marie on June 5, 2019
Since 1996, bestselling and award-winning author Sarah Dessen has captured the hearts of teen readers with contemporary titles, including Along for the Ride and The Truth About Forever. Her latest novel, The Rest of the Story, is another addition to her swoony repertoire. As an expert on crush-worthy characters, Dessen shares her tips for creating unforgettable love interests, along with book recommendations that set an example.

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Crafting love stories is one of my favorite parts of my job. But it's also one of the hardest. What I've learned is that if I really want my narrator to connect with someone, I need to fall for them a bit as well. (Which means I get to flirt on the page and still be loyal to my own husband. Writing has its perks!)

The truth is that when I was a teen, I was never attracted to the student body president type or the captain of the soccer team. Instead I found myself drawn to the boys who were funny, never had gas or lunch money, and could tell a great story. Anyone can be perfect. But someone with flaws who can laugh about it? I'm in.

What I remember most about crushing on someone as a teen was that a whole world could start from one thing, like an inside joke. You loan your crush a pen in class. They say they won't give it back. Then every time you see them in the hall between classes, you say, "I want my pen!" and they laugh and say, "Just try and take it," and you grin all the way to English class. It's a pen. It's something tiny. And yet it means SO much. I am smiling right now writing this.

Don't get me wrong: I love a big swoony scene. But in life, and books, love is about more than just those big walk-into-the-sunset-holding-hands moments. It's also the little things that really make you fall for someone. Like when they remember something about you that you thought they'd forgotten. Or say just the right thing exactly when you need to hear it. Or even lend you a pen.

The truth is, in life and on the page, you need the big gestures and the small touches. That’s what love is all about, right? Here are a few books that I think do this really well.

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Nobody sets up great, crushing situations like Jen Smith. Hugo is supposed to take a cross-country train trip with his girlfriend. When she dumps him, he has to find someone else with her name to take the ticket. Enter Mae, a filmmaker, who enlists Hugo in a project about what love really is.

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There's nothing like a mystery to really fuel a love story. Simon and Blue only know each other through email, but their anonymous exchanges allow them to be truthful in a way they couldn’t otherwise. And nothing is more swoony than honesty.

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Sometimes what sparks passion with a person isn't just what you have in common, but also how you see things differently. CJ and Owen are drawn together while working through real-life family and social conflicts, and Sugiura captures so well how easy it can be to fall in love along the way.

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This is my favorite in the series because you really see all the inside jokes and affection that Lara Jean and Peter have built up with each other. Jenny Han is great at capturing that whooshing sense of a crush, when you suddenly realize the person you think doesn't know you're alive is actually not only aware of you, but possibly interested. (Oh, I sighed a happy sigh just writing that.)

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It's really hard to pick a favorite Morgan Matson book, as they all capture incredible meet-cute moments and couples whose chemistry jumps right off the page. But what I love most about her work are the fun, chaotic details that mirror that of love itself. Come for the love story; stay for the dogs, weddings, and family chaos!

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Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Kenzie (new)

Kenzie Rose Totally agree! Great article 😊

message 2: by Meli Playful (new)

Meli Playful Wonderful article!!

message 3: by Danielle (new)

Danielle Chauvin i love this! thanks for sharing :)

message 4: by Micaela (new)

Micaela Bonner I love Sarah Dessen! Her books got me through some tough times in high school and to this day I can reread The Truth About Forever a million times over.

ahoneycombofbooks And that’s why I love her books ; )

message 6: by Nida (new)

Nida Kazi Love this! 💜

message 7: by Diana (new)

Diana 💟💟💟

message 8: by Dan (new)

Dan It’s a great article. I’m looking forward to reading The Rest Of the Story ❤️❤️❤️

message 9: by Paty (new)

Paty A. Loved this! That’s something I’ve always loved about Sarah: she’s big on the little things :)

message 10: by Izzy (new)

Izzy Her novels were an amazing way to pass the time. Loved them!

message 11: by Emily (new)

Emily And now I can’t stop smiling while reading this article—one of my favorite authors!

message 12: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Jill I love this 💜

message 13: by Serah (new)

Serah I can totally relate! <3 I can't wait for your book to arrive here in Phil!!

message 14: by Mella aka Maron (new)

Mella aka Maron I was just thinking about this the other day - it’s the small things that make you fall in love.

message 15: by Selene (new)

Selene Ledezma Great article! And now I have some more books to add to my to-read list :D

message 16: by Christi (new)

Christi Gonzales Thanks for this. Loved the article and books

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