Writing a relationship break up can be just as tricky as creating a romantic union between two characters.
In certain scenarios it can play havoc with your writer emotions. You might even find yourself reaching for the tissues, raiding the chocolate cupboard and compiling a sad songs Spotify playlist.
Back in the day, before I found my wonderful loved one, I endured a few break ups. For me the pain from a romantic split is horrid. It can make you cry for hours and the ache inside your chest feels like someone actually tore your little heart to pieces. In some cases the pain of a break up can be debilitating and prevent you from moving on with your life for weeks, months and even years afterwards.
My worst break up was with a life guard. I had met him in a nightclub and once I found out what he did for a living…I had mixed emotions. Yes, I dreamed about seeing him in his life guard outfit BUT I dreaded going near a pool with him on guard as I can’t swim very well. My arms and legs rotate at an astonishing rate and I create a LOT of white froth. One look at me and my white froth powering up the swimming lane and our love would have been over.
Anyway we dated for a few months and I thought he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.
In my head this was him at work.
In reality he was a life guard at a sports centre in Leeds.
In my head we’d already married in a country church, taken a honeymoon in a stunning location, with no water, so I didn’t have to showcase my swimming abilities, and had some gorgeous children, who could all swim like dolphins.
Even though he was stunning to look at he was a man of few words. On our dates he would just grin a lot and say ‘yep’ to every question. But, I was happy with limited conversation.
Who needs intellectual conversations when you have a tanned, hunky life guard sat opposite you in Pizza Express?
I reassured myself with writing in my diary…intelligent conversation is overrated in relationships.
Then he went on holiday with the lads AND he came back with some bad news. He’d met someone on a beach; a trainee hairdresser and according to him it was love.
He and this girl had sat up all night playing…travel scrabble. I did cast doubt on his claims they’d played Travel Scrabble till all hours and did nothing ELSE as he could barely string a sentence together in day-to-day life. *Sigh*
Anyway, I went through several stages of breakup and this is important for us writers:
- Denial – still phoning him after we’d split up. He never returned my calls.
- Anger – tore out the page in my address book (this was back in the day remember) and shoved it in the bin. Stamped on the mix-tape he’d made me, listened to a lot of U2 and refused to set foot in a swimming pool ever again.
- Information gathering – my poor best friend was tasked with finding out as much as she could about this life guard. When she was out and spotted him, she would be tasked with giving me a detailed description of what he was wearing, what he was doing, who he was with and here’s the biggie – DID HE LOOK DEPRESSED WITH NEW GIRL?
- Bargaining. I turned up at the club he used to frequent on the off chance we could still be friends and maybe his new girl could give me a cut and blow dry?
- Depression. I cried for days, ate a lot of mashed potato (my go-to comfort food) and wrote him several lengthy letters which I never ended up sending.
- Acceptance. A few weeks later and I was being chatted up by someone else in a Leeds nightclub. *sigh*
In my time I have read a few fabulously written break ups in books but these two have been unforgettable.
Oh my goodness this left me tear stained! The heartbreak when Phil leaves his wife Rosie is real. I was a snotty mess. The good thing Amanda Prowse did was build up my connection with Rosie and Phil before the split. Lots of sweet family moments and heart tugging romantic scenes. They were so powerful I forgot what was going to happen.
I read this when I was younger but the literary pain still lives on. A sweet, slightly obsessive, teenage romance, packed full of awkward intimate moments and embarrassing conversations. The break up suffering is real and I don’t think as a reader you ever get over this one. Again what works is the way Judy Blume connects you to her characters before the split.
Here are the things I think should be considered when writing a break up:
- You need to get the reader hooked emotionally before the break up. Let the reader get a glimpse into their relationship. Chuck in lots of sweet moments where they are nibbling on dough balls in Pizza Express and giggling whilst playing Travel Scrabble.
- You must remember a romantic split is a process which your character must endure and there is not a straight line of travel to the other side. There are stages (as shown above), pitfalls, rebound issues, painful reminders and drunken relapses.
- When it occurs one party needs to go into a state of shock. They didn’t see it coming. You need to write that stage of utter disbelief and show the shock taking hold of your character.
- Think about your character motivations for break up. Why are they breaking up? What has driven them to this point?
- You need to think about the denial stage. This is where one party won’t accept the heartbreak. In my case I did keep calling the life guard from the pay phone down my street. I sat waiting for him to come to his senses and I even went out and bought my own Travel Scrabble game. Your character needs to go a little crazy during this stage.
- It’s important to think how your character reacts to the split, both physically and mentally. Remember you have to show the upset and not tell the reader your character is upset.
- Remember to include the desperate information gathering stage. This is where you pester your friends, friends of friends, casual acquaintances who might have known your ex decades ago and anyone willing to listen to your troubles. During this stage all you want to know is why it happened, how it happened and any useful detail which might help your heartache.
- How does the break up advance your story? Is it a major turning point in your main character’s life? You can’t just write a break up into your story because you feel like making your reader cry.
- How does the break up happen and who does the breaking up? Do the actions from the person bringing the relationship to a halt reflect their character? If they are a coward you might have them do it via text, email or even just running off into the sunset, never to be seen again. If they are a kind and caring soul you might find they opt to tell the other in person
Take it easy out there, readers!