Perhaps romantic fiction sells so well because humans are, by design, interdependent. Our story people, like real life people, interact with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and as part of community organizations to which they belong.
I recall reading somewhere that maintaining healthy relationships can be challenging. Those in close male-female affiliations sometimes feel more anxious than not. So as part of building a story plot it’s not unusual to have a female lead character leave a relationship where maybe she did too much to please her former boyfriend. Maybe she gave the most in their daily lives, some things she later realizes weren’t in her best interest. Often she has risked her emotional health in a co-dependent alliance.
As a rule romance writers use hurtful love as part of a hero or heroine’s background. Why is that? Because at the start of a book protagonists need to be free to set forth on new, more sound loving relationships.
What are some of the issues left behind, but that may still worry (mostly) our heroines?
Perhaps she took an exaggerated sense of responsibility for a former partner. At work, or at home it might even have hurt her financially.
She may even now have difficulty at first identifying her feelings, but trust is difficult.
Might she worry that a new man she meets, who gives the appearance of being wonderful, be hiding traits she has yet to see? Has she not quite shed deep feelings of having had to “walk on eggshells” or risk angering or offending the man who had once been in her life?
A new heroine may exhibit signs at first of low self-esteem and tendencies to think she’s not worthy of love?
A big albatross in many successful books is when the main character fears being walked out on, left first as perhaps happened when someone she/ or he loved deeply found someone they deemed better, more loveable, etc.
Might she have stayed in a physically harmful relationship out of not knowing, seeing there were avenues to leave and leave safely? This plot device works especially well for a heroine who is already a mother.
Of course those unhealthy bits in our character’s makeup don’t last long into a story. Because readers want to buoy their own spirits and feel uplifted. They want to see characters who don’t sap their energy.
These are just a few reasons why I love scanning the self-help shelves in bookstores or libraries. We don’t have to send our main characters to counseling, although we may. There is a slew of information in real-life books about healthy communication, setting personal boundaries, and other tools that help us help our storybook people to eventually reach their HEA.
What is your favorite method of setting up anxious backgrounds, internal strife, self-doubt or other difficult life patterns for your main characters? Do you employ incidents overheard while out doing everyday errands? Does your ever-widening circle of friends provide true-life tales if changed a bit, you use successfully? Do you research on the Internet? Or pull up times from another decade where you may have been catalyst to help a flailing friend?
I’m always interested in how fellow writers create their wonderful, believable characters. One thing I find so fascinating is how many times writers essentially start with the same basic concepts and yet turn out gripping stories.
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“A Montana Christmas Reunion” Harlequin Western 11/2016