Before I wrote Just Another Love Song, my rom-com about former high school sweethearts who find their way back to each other, I’d written pairings that fell under many beloved romance tropes. Enemies-to-lovers. Celebrity and regular person. Epistolary romance.
And I love all those tropes! The snappy banter of enemies-to-lovers is incredibly fun to write. The classic “celebrity falls in love with a totally normal person” is delightful, escapist fantasy. Epistolary romance feels charmingly old-fashioned.
But I hadn’t dared attempt second chance romance until writing Just Another Love Song. As a trope, it tends to inspire polarizing feelings among romance readers, and I didn’t really understand why … until I started writing. Because the thing about second chance romance? You’re starting with characters who’ve already broken up once.
Think about it. In order for there to be a second chance, your characters had to blow their first chance. They fell in love, or had a memorable meet-cute, and then something happened that put up a big old roadblock on the highway to their happily ever after. It’s hard to come back from that, and it’s your job as the author to convince your readers that these characters can and will ride off into that metaphorical sunset, never to break up again (a third-chance romance might try everyone’s patience).
But how do you do that? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes the trope work or not work, and here’s what I learned:
Think about why they broke up.
Perhaps the most important part of your second chance romance is figuring out why your characters’ first chance at love imploded. One or both of them likely made a mistake. If the reasoning behind their breakup is too flimsy, readers won’t buy it. But if it’s too horrible, it’s hard to imagine how they’d be able to get over it. In real life, people move away, miscommunicate, or sabotage their own relationships all the time. Think about what’s believable, but not unforgiveable.
Dig into why your character made a mistake, and show that they’ve changed.
Simply put, you need your reader to be on your character’s side, even if they made a mistake. And, as previously stated, they probably did! Why did they make this mistake, and were there selfless reasons behind their decision? Were they sacrificing their own happiness for another character? Were they simply making a decision out of immaturity? That ties into the second half of this tip: You need to show that your character has changed or grown and that the reason behind their first breakup won’t cause a second one. If your reader can’t see that your character has become a better, more fully realized person who’s finally ready to commit to their relationship, then they won’t believe in the happy ending.
Remember why second chance romances matter.
Lots of readers seek out romance because of the guaranteed happily ever after. No matter how many struggles the characters go through or how many obstacles they face, you know they’ll work it out in the end. That hope is sorely needed, perhaps especially now, when the world often feels scary, unpredictable, and unfair. I’d argue that second chance romances are one of the clearest expressions of the romance HEA promise. Even though the characters aren’t perfect, even though they’ve screwed up before, even though they’ve lost love and worried they’d never find it again … they got another chance. And isn’t that a truly beautiful thing to believe in, that any of us might get a second chance at happiness?