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What if They Broke Up?

By now, I think every romance reader knows to expect a happily-ever-after. And if they don't get it, they know how to punish you for it in the reviews. Lol. Even HFNs ('happy for now' endings) often meet with scathing criticism or sad face emojis: 'I want to see the wedding!' 'I want to see the baby!' Hey, I get it. As a writer, I fall in love with couples too, and want to see them happy. I don't need every detail, but I do like some foreshadowing that they will have a happy future.


But y'know what I've been wondering lately? What if they broke up?


I know how subversive that is, believe me. But I do wonder. I read a novel recently that worked backward. The action begins with the breakup and the book is a retrospective on how the relationship came to that place. It's been done before in film. See for instance, an oldie---I'm a big old movie fan, especially of angsty seventies stuff---called 'Too Far To Go' with the amazing Blythe Danner. It starts with a couple in divorce court, about to have their final divorce decree handed down and the entire film is them looking back until it finally ends with the scene once again in court, moments before they are officially divorced. In the very final shot, just as the judge announces the final decree, they lean in, just as they had before being pronounced man and wife, and share one last poignant kiss.

That moment was, for me, one of the most profoundly "romantic" moments I've ever watched on film. Because it speaks to the complexity of love, and a reality that we who write romance novels don't always want to face---that sometimes the most loving thing is to let someone go.


Okay, that's a lot of big talk, but like the killing of characters thing, I don't know for sure I would be able to do that, but what if? What if I did?


I like messy, complicated love stories. The ones that leave people changed and sometimes even bruised (though only figuratively) from the experience. And what's more bruising than a breakup when the love is still there? If you think about it, romance writers already know this intuitively. Almost every romance novel has the inevitable moment of peril about 75% in, when our hearts are in our throats and the writer teases us with a hopefully believable fear that the couple will not make it. The really skilled writers amplify that fear so that even though you know what genre you're reading and what ending you're likely to get, you for a while earnestly fear that the breakup will be permanent. Or if the writer is really skilled, they make you wonder whether maybe, after all, they should break up.


I'm not saying I'm such a writer, but still ... what if I gave it a shot? What if they broke up?


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10 komentářů


DL White
DL White
20. 2. 2022

I like a relationship in peril as much as the next guy but the comforting thing about romance is that I know they're going to fight their way through and make it in the end. I need to be ready for a litfic full of angst and wrestling with self. It tires me out to not know the outcome and if I want heartache and worry, I read a thriller. I would also fear, after so many romantic books published that people would expect one thing, get another and be supremely unhappy (because you know we skip over warnings, hints in blurbs, website excerpts, etc)

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DL White
DL White
21. 2. 2022
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I feel like you'd have to pub that under another name........ :D

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Dalia King
Dalia King
18. 2. 2022

As a K-Drama and C-Drama enthusiast, they love to have you whooping in delight and awwing with sweetness and then - whoops, somebody's dead; oopsie, they break up for good because he killed her father; wait a minute now, this new guy strolls in episode 15 of 16 and suddenly he's the new love interest! They still call them romances though 😅


All of that to say, (some) Korean and Chinese TV have gotten me used to the happy romances with unhappy ending elements. If you give it a shot, I'd read it 😀

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Nia Forrester
Nia Forrester
18. 2. 2022
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Now you're gonna have me looking for K- and C-Drama to watch. I definitely watch the horror and suspense stuff, but now I feel a new obsession coming on. Thanks! Lol

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Janae Miller
Janae Miller
18. 2. 2022

As a lover of love it's not what you ever want, but love and loss are deeply intertwined and real life doesn't always end with the HEA. Sometimes, I just acknowledge that the story is (most often) juat a glimpse into the character's complete life trajectory and that we're just peaking in on the "love" portion. I think Deuce and Zora were a great example of that angst you mentioned because that's definitely one of *those* books where I was hoping like hell everything works out, but Iwasn't fully convinced until the end that there'd be no more little fires and I loved that apart of that was because that book explored so much more than just their love. The…

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Janae Miller
Janae Miller
18. 2. 2022
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And the thing is it has to be possible because it's possible in real life, but it's complex enough in real life so to capture it in a book is the challenge, I think.


Deuce and Zora 🖤 See, I couldn't be a writer because I feel like most of the time there's always at least a *little* more to explore, it'd never end if it were up to me! And with where we met them and how we've seen them grow in their stories and in the background of others they really could have almost a dozen more drop ins or shorts over time that would equate to the complete (or as close as possbible) story of their life…

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Sometimes I'm actively rooting for a couple to end. Not in a second chance "they'll make it back" kind of way, but an all out blaze because that's real life too. When the MMC cheats (I'm looking at you, Shawn), I want the FMC to toss the relationship out the window and not look back. At the very least have some revenge sex. The drama of that kind of feels delicious. The knot in my stomach when he screws up and wondering if the author is really going to take it there. We have plenty of books of going back afterwards. I also think there's something to be said about outgrowing relationships and realizing this is the end. Might have…

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Nia Forrester
Nia Forrester
18. 2. 2022
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Lol re: Deuce and Zora. I think a permanent breakup with those two just wouldn't read as plausible in some ways, but I have a feeling they're that couple who are just destined for a little tumult every once in a while.

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