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Author Topic: Keeping old love burning in background?
Member # 5952

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The female MC of my YA fantasy has a love interest whom the reader doesn't really meet, or perhaps encounters only in the first chapter or so. Then she's off on her adventure, leaving him behind, and encountering another potential love interest. She's torn between the two--her old love and this new character.

The way I'm planning the structure I would need to build her relationship with her old love interest through her memories or her feelings of how they used to be without letting the reader witness how they interact. Would this too severely limit how sympathetic the readers would be to her struggle? Could readers really grasp the power of her old attraction if they weren't able to "experience" it themselves? Thoughts?

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Member # 6494

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Yeah, I think it'll be tough. I can't think of a movie or book that favorably highlights the old love interest while the MC is on a grand adventure with a new love interest.

Some rambling thoughts...

One of the problems is that most books/movies want the old love interest to come off as wishy-washy, someone she should have dumped a long time ago. I think it would be important to really pronounce the favorable traits of the old love interest.

Also, it might be good to bring the very small differences of the two love interests to the forefront. Little things that only couples would find important.


The old love interest would doodle on napkins while they ate at restaurants while the new love interest has no artistic talent. Something small like that might help in fleshing out the missing character. In a scene, she could instinctively pick up the new love interests napkin to see the artwork and be disappointed at finding nothing.

Or, the new love interest might be a spectacular cook and the old love interest is a jazz musician.

Ehhh, dunno, hope it helps

[This message has been edited by halogen (edited February 24, 2008).]

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Member # 7299

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If I were to tackle such a thing, I would write my first chapter on their relationship. Bring the old love in and really highlight how your MC thinks about him. Get the reader to become engrossed with the guy. So when she begins to waver, the reader can react like how can she do that to him?
It wouldn't be easy but it sounds like it would be essential to your plot.

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Member # 7760

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You should read Forever in Blue, by Ann Brashares. She does the same thing with one of her characters, and it works because its all in Bridgets head.

Oh,and anyone trying to write in a teen girl voice should check out the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, because that's how young girls think. Period.

good luck!

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Member # 1646

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That sounds very similar to my current WIP -- not a YA and actually, the old attraction that is still burning is a relationship that ended a while back and she never got over...but the feelings are still there.

In a previous draft, I tried to make it unclear which one she would pick (the old flame comes back into the picture and there is an opportunity for them to get back together) but in the current draft I've dropped that element and made it more of a letting go of the old so you can appreciate the good thing in front of your face kind of thing.

Still, there is a need for the reader to feel the power and pull of that old relationship even as they see the need for her to let go.

Personally, I'm relying a bit on the idea that most people have some concept of what it's like to say good bye to an old relationship and how hard it can be to move on sometimes. If a reader doesn't have a clue, they may think, "What's wrong with her? Just get over it!" but hopefully there will be other exciting things in the book to keep them reading. Meanwhile, I've got memories, feelings, a string of bad relationships, and the way the MC tries to keep her heart guarded from the new relationship.


In your situation, it may be harder, because the old relationship wasn't over. It's not something she has to get over or probably plans to get over, even though there is a new love interest vying for her heart. Worse, a flesh and blood human has trouble competing with an idea -- and that's what the old flame is.

This may be a case where the best thing to do with an obstacle is to emphasize it. Play up the idea that the old BF is just a thought in her head right now. It's easy to forget the annoying little ticks a person has when we're away.

The biggest challenge is that the reader will probably expect the new relationship to win out. If you plan to go that route, then you're probably ok. If you plan to have her go back to the old boyfriend at the end, then you may have more trouble -- having the new flame do something really bad or having the old one come back into the picture in an heroic sort of way could help.

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Member # 5495

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Would this too severely limit how sympathetic the readers would be to her struggle? Could readers really grasp the power of her old attraction if they weren't able to "experience" it themselves? Thoughts?

If the old flame isn't physically present, he has to be mentally present almost every step of the way - most particularly when the new flame is around. In order for the old relationship to have the same emotional impact as if we had read through it, we need to see the emotional consequences - good and bad - weighing on the MC as she confronts the possibility that she might be falling for someone else.

If she does struggle, I'll be sympathetic. If the old flame is only brought up in reveries outside of action, it'll be hard to buy her attachment, and she'll come across as fickle. She should be thinking of her old flame while the new flame is leaning in for a kiss.

The power of the old attraction will speak for itself, if was indeed there in the relationship. Treat it like any other piece of action in a narrative: If the 'story' starts afterwards, but the preluding action is important, just make sure that the fallout from what just happened before the first page is deeply etched in the character thereafter, effecting her thoughts and decisions.

Good luck.

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Member # 7110

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I'd say keep the old flame alive; it'll make for a great source of internal conflict for your character, having to decide between remaining true to what's already been established or taking that step and moving on. The tricky part is advancing the emotions, because if every chapter she just internally whines about the same thing it'll get stale pretty quick. She has to be moving relative to resolution, be it towards or away (given your audience, you might want it to be towards).

If you need to have a definitive reason to have her choose one over the other, one has to slight her or otherwise depreciate himself in the view of the reader. Otherwise the reason will be more ethereal and there's a likelihood the readers will like your character less for it (though she'll seem a LOT more believable).

Then again, someone once gave me great writing advice: "If you try and make a character for readers to like, nobody will like him. Just make the character; people will decide for themselves if they want to like him or not."

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Member # 4968

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I think you can do it! I happen to enjoy that kind of thing in books.

With the thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. it should work out well.

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Member # 2442

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How you handle this is going to depend entirely on what outcome you want. Is the MC going to return to her old love? Or is the new love going to take his place?

I'm becoming an expert in this area, having recently started dating a man who was my fiance' about 35 years ago...

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