Lola’s Ramblings: Why I hate the Obligatory Break-up Scene in Books

Posted April 21, 2016 by Lola in Lola's Ramblings, Romance / 32 Comments


Lola’s Ramblings is a feature on my blog Lola’s Reviews where I ramble on about a book related or a non-book related topic. These are discussion type of posts where I talk about a topic and readers can weigh in on the topic in the comments. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like tours, cover reveals, memes, challenges, recaps or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are discussions of a certain topic and my point of view on them. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.

Today I want to talk about the obligatory break-up scene. Lots of romance books seem to include it nowadays, especially in contemporary romances it seems popular. It’s when you’re reading a romance book and the couple is getting along nicely and then usually around the 70-90% mark suddenly something happens and they go their separate ways, only to realize they were wrong and get back together. One of my recent reads had a obligatory break-up scene and it frustrated me so much I slammed the book close and went to do something else and only later continued the book. That made me think that I could write a whole blog post about how much I hate the obligatory break-up scene, so I did. Now let me start by saying that while in general the obligatory break-up scene frustrates me to no end, this does not mean I automatically dislike the book, although it can lower my overall opinion. And there are books where the break up scene does feels natural and is well done, so yes there are exceptions, there always are exceptions.

Why I hate the Obligatory Break-up Scene in Books

  • Why always break-up? It seems to be the norm in romances that they always break-up, why not have a few words, but stay together or work their way through it? I recently read a romance where the couple didn’t break-up, in fact they weren’t even officially together, but the main character learned something that made her doubt him and she needed some space, so she avoided him for a day and he came to her and ask what he did wrong. I loved that as it felt realistic, they didn’t have a big fight or break-up, yes she avoided him, but she had a good reason for that and it felt in character how they handled it and the guy actually come to her and try it solve it. I also read a romance where the couple had a bit of a fight and the main character wanted to run away, but the guy caught up to her and they talked things through. Again they didn’t break-up and they talked things through. So knowing that it can be handled differently I wonder why do they always need a big break-up, big fight and then go their separate ways and then come back together usually after an epic declaration of love.
  • Not every romance follows the same pattern. The thing that might bothers me most about the obligatory break-up is that it’s so common, a lot of romance books have it and in my opinion not every romance follows the same pattern. Not every couple has a break-up, yes some do and it’s okay for romance books to reflect that, but I also like to see other patterns. I like my romances to be realistic and I like to see other conflicts or issues rather than the obligatory break-up towards the end. And yes I know there are enough romances that are different, but I still think the obligatory break-up thing is too common, especially in contemporary romances.
  • Often out of character. I often feel that an obligatory break-up scene is out of character, characters say nasty things, jump to conclusions, lie when they normally don’t or don’t fight for the relationship while I think it’s more in character when they do. It frustrates me when characters act out of character as it only emphasizes the obligatory nature or the conflict or the conflict for the sake of conflict.
  • Seems to be added as conflict for the sake of conflict. This one ties in strongly with my previous point. Often an obligatory break-up scene feels like it’s added as a last ditch conflict, to have the couple overcome one more thing. And it often feel artificial because of that. It feels like the scene is there to add more conflict, not because it feels natural.
  • Takes me out of the story. An obligatory break-up scene takes me out of the story, it annoys me and I often have no urge to read further at that point and it happens regularly I actually put the book down then and continue later.
  • Often caused by miscommunication, lies or not communicating. Miscommunication, lies or lack of communication are three things I dislike in romances in general and they are often the basis for the obligatory break-up scene as well. It’s just frustrating when they break up because they didn’t tell the other something, when they start lying you just know it’s going to come back and bite them. That’s just the way lies work (especially in books), eventually they come out and it often isn’t a good thing for the relationship. I know people lie and it’s realistic, but it’s so predictable and annoying when such a lie leads to a break-up scene. Back to my first point, make them resolve the lie or the lying in a different way, have the couple talk about it and I already appreciate more. Then again if you love someone I think you should be able to speak the truth.
  • I can’t relate. Reading is personal and different for everyone and my personal experience is probably another reason why I don’t like obligatory break-ups as I can’t relate. Almost everyone I know around me that has a relationship didn’t go through a break-up and the few that did ended their relationship with a break-up and didn’t get back together or they went back and together again and then repeat, but the big majority never had the break-up thing. Yes there are troubles and issue sometimes, but people stay together and work it through. So in my opinions the obligatory break-ups don’t happen as often in real life. I also didn’t went through a break-up in my own relationship with my boyfriend, yes there are some difficult times or things we have to work through, but we never broke up. So that’s why I can’t relate to it and it makes me harder to understand when it happens in books as well.
  • Predictable. Not only the presence of the obligatory break-up scene is predictable by now, but also how it proceeds. Once conflict is introduced later in the book I already start fearing there will be a obligatory break-up scene, I keep hoping the book will prove me wrong, but will end up a bit disappointed when it doesn’t and yes the obligatory break-up scene does happen. Then how it proceeds is usually predictable as well. The couple separates, go their own ways or try to get some distance, then realize they were wrong and they get back together usually after an epic declaration of love, grand gesture or sometimes due to a accident suddenly have the others realize how much they love each other. It almost always happens like that, it’s predictable and I dislike that. I do prefer the shorter break-up time as when the break-up itself drags on too long I just get impatient, we all know they will get back together and it’s annoying when it takes too long.

How break-up scenes/ conflict in romances they can be done well

Most of the contemporary romances I really love don’t have an obligatory break-up scene. An obligatory break-up scene usually can and will diminish my enjoyment of a book, usually not enough to knock down a star, but still negatively impacts my enjoyment. I do remember one romance book that almost was a 5 star rating and then the obligatory break-up scene happened and I disliked it so much it ended up with a 4 star, still a very good romance, but I dislike that part so much I couldn’t award it a 5 star anymore.
Okay back to the topic how can conflict or a break-up scene be done well? Mostly by being the opposite of what I mentioned before. I want the conflict to feel in character. If you have a character who runs when things get hard she will run when conflict arises, if a character avoids conflict she will do so, if someone has a fiery personality and gets angry and lashes out, she will also do so in conflict. That’s realistic and makes sense, but characters who are normally level headed and suddenly get irrationally angry or people who are always honest, but suddenly lie about something big, that just feels weird and out of character. I want the break-up or conflict to feel realistic, fitting the story and the characters. And if at all possible be original, I don’t want to read about the exact pattern of conflict or building relationships again. I want something slightly different. I want it to be shaped by the characters. Everyone is different and everyone’s relationships are different too, let that shape how they deal with conflict as well. I want to feel and understand why this conflict is there and if they really need to break-up, make me understand why. Although in my opinion a break-up is very serious and is usually what you do after everything has failed. I want to see couples try and save the relationship, instead of just giving up. So in general I think the best way to handle conflict in a book is to not have a break-up scene, but have the couple deal with it in a different way, but I’ve also read a few break-up scenes that did feel natural and realistic, but there are few of those.

What do you think of the obligatory break-up scene in romances? Do you like it or hate it? And which books handle break-up scenes or conflict well?


32 responses to “Lola’s Ramblings: Why I hate the Obligatory Break-up Scene in Books

  1. Ani

    I’m with you on the obligatory break-up scene. I like to call it the obligatory BIG MISUNDERSTANDING IN ROMANCES, because that tends to be the catalyst for the obligatory break-up scene in a lot of romances I’ve read (and a lot of K-drama I’ve watched). And like you, I really hate them when they feel like they’re included for the sake of being included–like the writer needed to meet some sort of romantic angst quota or something and the only way to do that is to write a forced obligatory break-up scene even though it seems out of character.

    One good break-up scene I liked is actually not really a break-up scene per se, because the couple don’t actually break-up face-to-face and just kind of move on; but the couple splits up for pretty legitimate reasons–Cindy Gerard’s The Way Home. So it made their reunion extra sweet.

    I can’t seem to pluck off the top of my head any other ones, though I read a lot of romantic suspense and the characters/couples tend to spend more time brooding about not being able to be together in the long run more than having actual break-ups. And then they have more problems to worry about anyway…

    Great topic!
    Ani recently posted…Thoughts: The Perfect HusbandMy Profile

    • That’s a good way to name it as well. And indeed often it’s all based either on a big misunderstanding or lack of communication. I don’t mind a break-up scene when it feels natural, but often it feel so artificial and added just for the sake of conflict.

      I haven’t read that book, but I do remember a few books where I liked how the break-up scene or conflict scene was handled.

      And that type of romances are out there a lot too, where they don’t have as much time together and never get a break-up. Those still feel a lot more natural in most cases.
      Lola recently posted…Lola’s Kitchen: Cheesecake RecipeMy Profile

  2. I don’t really read much romance, but I know in romantic films, or when there is a strong romance element in another genre of book I’m reading, the obligatory break up really does annoy me. Mostly because it is generally the result of a misunderstanding that could be literally cleared up in seconds if they just told the other person one little detail, and I find it super frustrating. Usually it’s something that you would just naturally tell the other person when it came to an argument anyway, so it’s just so unrealistic!
    Laura recently posted…Review: The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieMy Profile

    • I read quite a lot romance books and the obligatory break-up scene really annoys me. If a book doesn’t have one I already do enjoy that part more. And indeed the fact that it’s often a big misunderstanding or lack of communication that could be cleared up easily if they talked is what bothers me. And indeed in real life often people would mention it and just naturally tell it when it comes to an argument. I hate it when books have such unrealistic scenes.

  3. I dislike the breakup most when it’s a vehicle for drama…when a simple conversation would solve everything yet there has to be a huge, drama-filled scene where no communicating happens…and then later, once they’ve had time apart or time to cool down, they realize the error of their ways. Yes indeed, I dislike it. I understand that sometimes a story wouldn’t exist if the characters were able to just communicate BUT… using a misunderstanding as a means to create tension and gratuitous drama is irritating.
    Of course, there is a flip-side to this…some authors can use a breakup well but I tend to think it’s usually because of more substantial reasons.
    Great topic this week, Lola!
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…That’s What HE Said #60 ~ Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts #41My Profile

    • I can imagine that sometimes you need some time apart, but the way it often goes in romance books is just so unrealistic with the big drama because of lack of communication or miscommunication. And indeed sometimes that lack of communication or miscommunication is important for the story, but overall I still don’t like it, especially when it’s too obvious to the reader. And I especially dislike it when that misunderstanding will be used to create drama. And yes I’ve read a few books where the conflict of break-up or time apart scenes were written and that always makes me happy, so yes it can be done right and I often appreciate those books even more because of that.

  4. it honestly depends on how the author handles it!! The only time I like it is in HR. In contemporary I have a really difficult time with it. In CR, it always leaves me frustrated with the story especially when it causes unnecessary drama and miscommunication.

    • I agree it really depends on how it is handled, but 8 out of 10 times I strongly dislike it. Like you said it usually causes unnecessary drama. I don’t mind drama, but I do want there to be a real reason for it. I haven’t read as many historical romances yet and I don’t think the ones I read had a break-up scene, but I can imagine this is something that most often happens in contemporary romances.

  5. I am on the fence with this. Sometimes I like the drama and sometimes I don’t especially if it took them so long to get together and they finally do only to get broken up for some stupid reason. Always drives me crazy. Also lack of communication drives me nuts too. Like a complete misunderstanding that could have been avoided. I love the fact you slammed the book and had to walk away. That happens to me often when I read romance, I am always rolling my eyes, yelling at the book. 🙂
    Michelle@Because Reading recently posted…#Review ~ Find Me (Finding Me #1) by Michelle MankinMy Profile

    • It rarely happens to me that I slam the book closed, but the obligatory break-up scene can really get to me. Especially when everything is going well and I am enjoying it and I dare hope they won’t break-up, but smoothly course along to the end and then bam there it is.
      And lack of communication or misunderstandings always annoy me, especially when they could’ve been easily prevented. At least make it believable. This is also one of the reasons I rarely give romance books 5 stars, I can only think of a 3 romances that I gave a 5 stars rating on the top of my head.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly. I do not like break-up scenes either, especially if the scene feels contrived and unrealistic, as you said. If the characters aren’t mature enough to handle a rocky patch, then maybe their relationship isn’t as perfect as it’s supposed to be. And it makes the reunion scene predictable too, since the reader can then guess how, and why, and when, and it-will-have-a-heartbreaking-love-declaration-usually-in-public-and-some-happy-tears.

    • A break-up scene can be handled well sometimes, but usually it just feels unrealistic and out of character. And indeed if things get badly enough they break up it makes me wonder if their relationship is as good, but the break-up seem to serve to make their relationship stronger? I don’t get that part. And indeed usually some big reunion scene in public that’s just as dramatic as the break-up. Both scenes are so predictable.

  7. I don’t read contemporary romance and I don’t think is really something done often in the genres I read, so I had no idea this was actually a thing. But I agree that’s really overdramatic and immature to just break up because you hit a bump in your relationship. Like, have they never disagreed or gotten angry or screwed up with each other before? Talking, it’s really a handy thing lol. And if it’s out of character, that’s even worse! Then it clearly is there just for the sake of conflict.

    As for the not-communicating thing, that’s just all too realistic, unfortunately. So I don’t mind when authors use that in particular. It’s frustrating, yes, but it’s also frustrating in real life when people lie or don’t communicate.

    I agree that the break-up-back-together thing is unrelatable/unrealistic though. Wait—I was about to say that every couple I’ve ever known who broke up and got back together didn’t last, but I actually do know of one lol. So it’s happened that I’ve seen once in my entire life. It’s just, usually when two people break up, it’s for a reason, you know? So yeah, I understand why you’re frustrated with the obligatory break up scene!
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight recently posted…Book Review: The Labyrinthians (The Labyrinthian Trilogy Book 1) by J.A. ArmitageMy Profile

    • It mostly happens in contemporary romances, so if you don’t read that genre I can imagine you wouldn’t encounter this scene often. And yes usually they never disagreed before or they did never really talk things through and then just break up. And yes more characters should talk in books, it’s really handy ;).

      If a break-up is in character I don’t mind, but when it feels really out of character or overreacting and for the sake of conflict it just bothers me. It feels like every contemporary romance nowadays needs a break-up scene. Only few romance books get a 5 star rating from me as there is often something that prevents me form really loving it.

      I do agree that not communicating can be realistic, but it still bothers me in books. It also depends on the exact scene, sometimes I can understand why a character would not communicate something. Like the sci-fi romance book I reviewed yesterday there is some non communication going on, but I thought it made sense and it didn’t bother me that much. But that’s not always the case in other books.

      I guess it does happen that a couple breaks-up and then gets together and stays together. It’s just that in books the romance allows follows this pattern and I would rather have books be like real life in that every romance is different and how it develops. And yes breaking up is a big deal in my opinion and for an important reason, so I want a book to reflect that or not have them break-up.

  8. This is why I’m usually weary of romance books. I agree with all your reasons but especially with “Seems to be added as conflict for the sake of conflict”. It often seems just an overused and unnecessary device for me! I just finished King, by T.M. Frazier and this issue has become so formulaic that I could smell the fight/break-up pages away! I t bothered me even more because Frazier’s writing, characters and story arc were really good and it kinda tarnish an otherwise great book with a rookie mistake that I thought Frazier was too much of a seasoned writer to make!
    Daniela Ark recently posted…Book Review: Red Rising, by Pierce BrownMy Profile

    • Yes I’ve also read books that were great, but then the fight and break-up scene got there and it just tarnished the book a bit. I agree that is seems overused and unnecessary. I’ve read a few romance books that I really loved and some without the obligatory break-up scene, that found another way to handle the conflict or have the couple handle an issue. And I just love it when I find a romance book that does that.

  9. Omg I HATE THE OBLIGATORY BREAK-UP. Lol. You nailed this one. And it’s why I’ve never written one into my books either. My characters have fought or misunderstood each other but they usually talk it out. When these break-ups are used as a vehicle for drama, it just doesn’t work for me. I just do not get it.
    S. J. Pajonas recently posted…How Do You Design Your Covers?My Profile

    • Guess why your romance books are some of the few romance books to get a 5 star rating from me ;). I am so glad you don’t write obligatory break-up scenes. And I subtly hinted to Summer Haikus in this post as a conflict scene that was well done without getting to the break-up.

      I don’t mind when a couple fights or have misunderstanding, but I much rather they talk it out. or if they break-up, that it feels real and not just as a means to add some drama. Those scenes don’t work for me.

  10. Interesting post Lola, I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped and thought about this before. But now that I do, you are right! It’s a cliche and has become a lazy troupe in romance books. I much prefer books where the characters work through their issues together, that seems more realistic to me. And I’m with you on characters who jump to conclusions about things, it annoys me so much. Why can’t they just ask and not make crazy presumptions. In real life, I would rather tackle an issue straight on and not just add one and one and make three!
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    • It’s too much of a clichĂ© and it seems almost every contemporary romance has an obligatory break-up scene. I much rather see them work through an issue together and talk things through instead of making weird presumptions. And often those scene just feel unnatural or out of character.

  11. I hate it when stuff is added just for shock and awe, to make a conflict when one wasn’t necessarily needed, and if the characters really would have rather talked things through than stomping off like little kids, Lola. And you’re right, it has become one of the ‘new’ tropes in a lot of romances, and it’s really frustrating.
    I think that it would show a lot more about how strong their love really was if they show that they are mature enough to actually deal with the bad stuff – life isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, and sooner or later, they are going to have to deal with real problems.
    Great post!
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    • It just gets used too often, I want to see other ways conflict gets resolved instead of the stomping off. It is getting old lately. It frustrates me when it feels like a conflict is created where it wasn’t necessarily needed and it just feels off when you read a scene like that.
      I agree I think staying together and working it through shows more about the strength of their love that running away when the going gets tough. Luckily there are also some great books which don’t use a break-up scene like that, but I really could do with seeing it less often.
      Lola recently posted…Lola’s Kitchen: Cheesecake RecipeMy Profile

  12. Love this point, Lola!
    Why does it always have to be a break-up? I’ve asked that, too. And yes, why do people have to act out of character to achieve a conflict. That’s when I start to feel manipulated and it pulls me out of the story.
    It’s sad that I get so surprised when a big argument or misunderstanding happens and I hold my breath that they are splitting, but then they talk it through and don’t split. Yep, wow, that isn’t typical, but it should be especially late in the book as one more proof that the pair really works well together and has a strong love.

    Great points all around on this topic.
    Sophia Rose recently posted…To Be or Not to Be…Read TBR Pile Vote AprilMy Profile

    • Yes exactly why does is always have to be a break-up, why not another conflict or another way to handle the situation. And I hate it when character out of character to achieve the conflict, it just feels off to me and pulls me out of the story.
      And yes when they don’t break-up I am always surprised too as I’ve come to expect the break-up scene by now. And I like the books who prove me wrong even more for it.

  13. I’m trying to remember if I’ve read many books with the break up scene. I know there are some where they come close, have time apart, like you mentioned. I think that is normal. Hell, I’ve done that with DH. I’m also not a fan of second chase romances. I’ve read a few, but I would prefer not to have them. Too much drama. The issue is ALWAYS lack of communication. Okay, maybe not always, but enough to be the vast majority of the time. Great topic.
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    • The obligatory break-up scene most often is in contemporary romances, other romance genres have it els soften luckily. I like second chance romances, but not a fan if the issue is lack of communication. And yes sadly it often is.
      And when they come close and then spent some time apart that feels realistic and I much rather see that than the obligatory break-up scene.

    • Yes they really are one of my mayor pet peeves and one of the things that can really annoy me in a book. I don’t mind a break-up when well written, but when it’s just for the sake of conflict or based on miscommunication, nope.

  14. Yep, realism is a huge factor in the break up scenes. I’ll admit I haven’t actually read too many of them (I usually like reading the “getting together” books), but when I have read break up scenes, the irrationality of them (despite having a rational character) sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out! Great post, Lola!

  15. Deja

    Late to the party, but I’m writing my tenth romance and there is to be some kind of a break-up. I have written a breakup in a previous book. One of the MCs was anti-monogamy and a bit of a narcissist so behaved in a way that I cannot imagine someone of a healthy emotional state of mind wouldn’t walk away from. The readers loved the romance aspect, but a few actually thought the character was let off too easily. People were telling me the break up didn’t last long enough for her actions. They wanted more time of them apart! My character needed a lot of room for growth and that’s a tough line to straddle. What kind of reason could cause a break up other than distance? And how do you make sure that reason doesn’t make one of the characters irredeemable.

    I was weary of writing another break-up scene, for all the reasons you stated above, but my take away is, if there is a breakup, make it different. The formula is obvious and boring. And also, that break up better have a strong reason behind it. Basic miscommunication and lies ain’t gonna fly anymore. I’m keeping this mind as I write. Thanks for a great post. It helped a lot.

    • I definitely think there are situations where a break up makes sense, but like you said if there is a breakup either make it different than the standard formula or it has to fit the characters/ their personalities. And indeed as long as it has a good reason behind it and makes sense I can appreciate one a lot more rather than basic miscommunication and lies. I am glad this post was helpful 🙂

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