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.