A fair number of romances start with the main characters not knowing one another. They can be insta-love, slow-burn, or gradual meeting of the minds and hearts, leading to romance. What happens when two characters have been in love for years, decades even, but the spark between them has faded?
Romances thrive on conflict. For a romance to rekindle (perhaps a second-chance trope, a loveless marriage trope that becomes a loving marriage trope, among other tropes), there needs to be conflict and change.
One or both characters need to experience an internal conflict that provokes a change in the relationship’s status quo. Let’s consider a second chance at love. This trope is often portrayed as two high school sweethearts reuniting after many years. Sometimes the couple dated through university, but their interests diverged, and they broke up. One wanted to pursue a career full-on, the other wanted to start a family or travel or some other interest that pitted them against their love interest. Many years later, they meet again, and things have changed. Perhaps the dream career turned out to be a nightmare, or years of travelling left a character feeling rootless. Whatever the circumstances, they are back together but so much has changed it’s unclear if their feelings are genuine or they remember the good old days.
Here are the beats that need to happen:
- they meet again by chance or through a special event (mutual friends’ marriage, high school reunion, etc.)
- a period of uncertainty as each character perceives the love interest as they were twenty years prior
- an outside event demonstrates a change in the love interest (they are no longer hot-heads, more considerate of others, etc.)
- the love interest notices the change but is unconvinced it is real or permanent
- there’s back and forth between the love interests as to what these changes mean
- an event triggers the love interest, and they revert in full or in part to their old selves
- the love interest experiences an internal conflict as to grow or revert
- a key decision is made to grow
- having embraced growth, both characters believe their relationship can work this time, and things go well
- a black moment that challenges personal growth and the ability of the couple to stay together
- each character leans and transforms into a better person
- the couple tackle the main issue and find their new happily ever after
What’s the spark in that? How is romance rekindled?
There are the superficial changes where one partner was turned off by the other’s weight gain or physical changes as they age. The partner matures and changes their perception of their love interest to appreciate that love isn’t just physical. It’s what the other person represents—kindness, love, good memories, shared values, building a future together, raising a family, etc.
However, the more profound the change in the character, the bigger the spark. A character that has pursued a dream so aggressively as to ignore everyone else in their life may wake up one day in the hospital having suffered a heart attack. That wake-up call provokes introspection and life changes.
The introspection and life changes provide the author ample opportunities to explore internal conflict (the struggle to eat healthier in a character’s mid-40s when they spent a lifetime on coffee and take-out). Internal conflicts also provide unique insights, a strong character voice, and enriching experiences for readers because the character arc is different.
To rekindle a romance, start with the conflict that tore them apart. Explore the conflict and figure out ways to make that conflict pop up again throughout the story until the characters resolve the issue behind the conflict. Determine ways the characters can grow out of the conflict, what they learn, what they experience, how their perceptions change, and what prompts the change. Play around with the push-pull of how the characters figure out their new selves and the new status of their relationship.
It’s romance. The advice is always the same: start with the conflict.
Which stories have you written that involve a rekindling of love? Let me know on Twitter @reneegendron. I’ve written one called the Long Wait for A Muse Bouche Review and you can read it here.
Thank you @SStaatz for the topic suggestion.