Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Getting Rid of the Ex

No, I'm not talking about that former spouse you may wish you could chop up and bury in the Mojave Desert. I mean our fictional characters' past relationships.

Most characters in a romance novel start out with a past. And, unless the characters are super-innocent, that past usually includes at least one serious relationship. This is especially true when it comes to pregnant heroines, or those with children, for obvious reasons.

Which leads to my question: What went wrong with the old relationship?

Often a bad past relationship is a major part of the internal conflict. Maybe the ex was a lying, cheating scum, and the heroine is afraid to love again. Or maybe he fell down a flight of stairs, and the heroine is now terrified of stairs. Enter our hero, who lives upstairs and the elevator is broken….

Okay, I haven't seen anyone try that one.
But it's a rare book in which either of our main characters are coming off of a positive relationship. Not that I haven't seen it done, and done well. (Usually because the ex has passed away. Could this mean the only good ex is a dead ex?) But I'm wondering if sometimes it's a little too easy for us to negate our characters' past romances. Maybe it's the notion that true love only comes around once, so those other times don't count.

I admit I've done the same thing, especially in my current book, MEG'S CONFESSION. I wanted to have a pregnant heroine … so in order to have her ready to love again so quickly, I figured had to be something wrong with her marriage. Light bulb! They had a fight just before he died, and he said he didn't want children. When he dies, Meg is still angry and guilt-ridden, which is what leads her into the confessional.

And what do you know, my latest work in progress has a heroine who's had some bad experiences and doesn't especially trust men….

Okay, an ex from a good relationship is pretty hard to pull off in a book – maybe even harder than in real life. But since we're all products of our experiences, I'd like to think some good can come out of those past involvements, even if they didn't last. So in my next book, I'm gonna try to include at least one former romance that ended on decent terms.

What about you? How do you usually deal with your characters' old relationships? How do you get rid of the ex?


Samantha Hunter said...

I have often rooted my character's traumas in other places, from family, or in the case of Untouched, the US Government, LOL. So it's not always an ex that leads to their problems in a relationship, though in the two books I have out this year, my August Blaze and a Christmas Blaze, I did have two nasty ex's, though both ex-relationships also compounded bigger problems in the heroine's life, so it wasn't just that they had problems with love, they had deeper fears/problems that had to be gotten over to be able to function well in a relationship -- so I think I like creating complexes, rather than just having one experience affecting them -- in my books, characters are often at a turning point after a lifetime of thinking/being a certain way.

As for "good" ex's, one of the best conventions of urban fantasy, and sometimes paranormal romance, that I love is the multi-hero -- Patricia Briggs and Charlaine Harris do this particularly well, giving the heroine several relationships that have problems and benefits, so it becomes very difficult to choose who's the best for the heroine...

Congrats on your book -- love the picture! :)


Kalen Hughes said...

If it's a good relationship (and it involves REAL love) then it's hard to see why they'd be exes unless one of them is dead. I mean, I have exes that were great boyfriends, but clearly we weren't "in love", hence we broke up. It makes for bland back story.

I went “the only good ex is a dead ex” for my first book (though I hadn’t thought about it that way, I just knew I didn’t want the heroine to be one of those widows who’d only had bad sex and didn’t know what an orgasm was). I saved the bad ex for my second book . . . and I let my heroine from book one be the “bad ex” of the hero of book three (at least in his own head).

Nancy Herkness said...

Let's my first book I killed off the ex and, to add insult to injury, had the heroine find out he'd cheated on her when she was going through his papers after his death. So I made that relationship really problematic.

In the second book, I let the ex live but made it clear he was a heartless jerk who dumped her when she had medical problems that made it impossible for her to have children.

I guess I subscribe to the "only good ex is a bad ex" school of thought.

Sierra Donovan said...

Thanks for your comments, guys! I guess you're right -- stories do tend to be more interesting when we make life hard on our characters. Bwah-ha-hah!