What do the opening and closing chapters of a story have in common?
Many things I’m sure, but one of the most important factors—and most riveting—is conflict.
I can imagine your protest, but hear me out.
Our opening chapters serve many purposes. They hook the reader. They introduce setting and plot and characters. And last, but by no means least, they introduce conflict. Here, in the beginning of our character’s journey, we see them in their old form, warts and all, ready—or not so ready—to embark on their adventure.
Throughout the entirety of our story, we put our characters through hoops. We challenge them, making them reevaluate themselves and their lives. We challenge their insecurities—their internal conflict—by plonking them right in the middle of plot challenges—their external conflict.
So, in romance, how do we ensure our characters reach their HEA or HFN?
You got it! Through the resolution of all conflicts, both internal and external.
And how and when do we demonstrate this to the reader?
Well, the “how” is through our major turning points, through the challenges we throw at our characters and through their growth throughout the story.
The “when” is again revealed throughout the story, but the most critical stage is our resolution and conclusion. And where do we find these? In the last (or almost last) chapters of our story.
So, now I’ve established the link of first and last chapters through conflict, let’s explore through a couple of my favourite romance tropes examples how this can be done.
Trope: Second chance romance
There are several ways this trope can play out. Perhaps a couple breaks up only to reunite many years later. Maybe they have been deeply hurt in the past, and have spent years avoiding any kind of interaction or relationship.
Opening chapters: Some external force/event will force the couple into the same setting. Their animosity is apparent and old hurts and resentments are still very fresh and front row centre in their relationship.
There are many possibilities as to why this couple have not already moved from animosity to amour. Let’s take one example: there is some perceived betrayal on one or both sides, perhaps due to one party acting stupid or immature back in the past when they were together.
When they meet again, they have somewhat grown and matured, but there is still further growth to be achieved. It is in the intervening chapters that the couple will need to learn to give each other another chance.
Ending chapters: By this stage the couple have grown, both as individuals, and as a couple. They have reached a maturity that allows them to let go of the past and look to the future. The perceived betrayal has been addressed, it has been explained and the relevant parties have not only apologized, but they have more than made up for their past mistakes. They have demonstrated through actions and reactions that they are no longer that person and that going forward they will not make the same mistake again.
Take On Me by Sarah Mayberry
She’s getting even her way!
On prom night, Dylan Anderson caused the biggest humiliation of Sadie Post’s life. Getting over her crush on him took a while but now she’s grown up and moved on that is until Dylan moves in to her workplace.
But she’s his boss and finally has the upper hand she won’t let her sexy fantasies change that. Too bad the tension between them is so high; it’s inevitable they hit the sheets. She promised herself to leave him begging for more… but does she really want to?
I don’t want to give any spoilers here. I totally loved this book—actually I love Sarah’s entire Secret Lives of Daytime Divas series—so I’ll be very brief. In this story, both Dylan and Sadie have a disastrous experience at their high school prom. It seems only fitting that the two return to the setting of those memories by attending their high school reunion, finally putting their skeletons to rest.
Trope: Fake Relationship
For one reason or another, two people must pretend to be in a relationship. This situation throws them in close proximity over the course of the story and provides fabulous opportunities for the couple to get to know one another, to develop real feelings and finally fall in love.
Typically, once there is no further need for their “arrangement”, they will part ways, believing there is no hope for a real relationship … until one or both declare their true feelings.
Opening chapters: At the onset of their story, the couple will either decide of their own volition or be forced into a fake relationship for mutually beneficial reasons. They will seem at odds, the most unlikely of couples. And there will be conflict galore between them, leaving the reader to question how on earth they will ever overcome them to fall in love.
Ending chapters: By this stage, the couple have overcome their conflicts. What you’ll need to demonstrate in those last, vital chapters, is what has changed to make the once fake relationship real. This must be more than feelings and physical attraction. What growth has each character undergone to ensure this now real relationship will be a success? Demonstrate this for the reader through your characters’ actions and dialogue. In some cases, actions could go so far as revealing the fake relationship to the world to prove that what was important previously has taken a back seat to the way they feel for their counterpart. Think of grand gestures and what specific action would mean something to your characters.
For example, if a character initially strove to keep something secret from their family, by coming clean with the family yet still declaring their love for their partner, they are showing that the reason they had to pretend to be together is now gone and that they genuinely want to be with them.
Some Girls Do by Amy Andrews
Fashion student Lacey Weston is desperate to leave the city and go home to Jumbuck Springs. Her three older brothers are adamant she’s not. They made a death bed promise to their mother that Lacey would stay the distance at design school and Ethan, the oldest, takes this responsibility very seriously. But Lacey is deeply homesick and determined not to be dissuaded again. She’s also impulsive enough to try anything – even faking a pregnancy.
Ex-cop turned mechanic, Cooper Grainger – one of Ethan’s oldest friends – agrees to watch out for Lacey in the city even though he has a history with her he’d rather forget. How hard could it be, right? But a couple of years later, Coop is over pulling Lacey out of scrapes and cleaning up her messes as she tries to outrun her grief and sense of dislocation. He takes her back to Jumbuck Springs so she can persuade her brothers to let her come home. But things don’t go according to plan. Before Coop knows it Lacey’s pregnant and he’s putting his hand up as the fake baby daddy, filling in for the town mechanic and moving in with her at the local pub.
Lacey is thrilled to have won a reprieve but nothing about the situation sits well with Coop. Least of all having sweet little Lacey Weston as his new roomie…
Amy Andrews has an incredible knack for fun and flirty dialogue, and this book is no exception. In the first chapters we see Lacey acting young and wild, rebelling against her brothers, doing exactly what she wants. In the last chapters we need to see a shift. Coop needs to stop believing Lacey needs saving and is too young and sweet for a guy like him. Lacey needs to stand up for what she wants and show Coop, and her brothers, that she’s old enough to take control of her life and make the right decisions, for her. She’s no longer the flighty young girl who needs guidance and reining back.
Trope: Hate to love
With this ‘hate at first sight’ trope, two characters immediately dislike each other on sight, perhaps due to opposing views or because of a misunderstanding.
Some sort of external event will force them to view one another in a different light. As the couple’s dislike turns to like, they will more than likely try to deny their softening feelings until they become impossible to deny.
Opening chapters: At the onset of the story, the characters will act in a way which causes their counterpart to dislike them immensely. Ensure these dislikes have foundation and relate to each of their conflicts. This will make their differences seem more insurmountable and will invest the reader more thoroughly in their developing romance.
Through the course of the story their dislike will strengthen. Events will unfold which allow each character to act in a way which reinforces their counterpart’s negative impression of them.
Ending chapters: By the time we reach the final chapters, the characters have seen each other in a different light. They’ve worked through their differences, reviewed their less than savory opinions of each other, eventually turning hate to love. It is important at this stage to demonstrate that whatever reasons for their initial animosity no longer exist or no longer have the power to influence their emotions. The characters have grown and shown that these are no longer a factor in their relationship.
Pride and Prejudice is a great example of this trope. Here’s another . . .
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman sit across from each other every day . . . and they hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. HATE. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight approach to his job and refusal to smile. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and desire to be liked.
Now they’re up for the same promotion and Lucy, usually a determined people-pleaser, has had enough: it’s time to take him down. But as the tension between Lucy and Joshua reaches its boiling point, it’s clear that the real battle has only just begun . . .
The Hating Game is a fabulous example of hate to love romance.
Let’s visit the first lines of this book:
“I have a theory. Hating someone feels disturbingly similar to being in love with them.”
Wow, what a fabulous beginning which sets the scene for the entire story. And it’s obvious as we read on that these words were front and centre of Sally Thorne’s mind as she crafted her final chapter.
But let’s start at the beginning . . . In the opening chapters we witness Lucy’s animosity towards Joshua. And her perception—what we finally discover are actually misconceptions—of every action and reaction he makes in relation to her.
For this story to end in a HEA or HFN, we need to ensure that these misconceptions are dealt with, completely. We also need a believable and tenable resolution to the external GMC—the fact that both Lucy and Joshua are gunning for the same promotion.
So, what do we see in the last chapter? We witness how much Joshua understands Lucy. He’s studied her so carefully throughout the story, he can read every nuance of her body, can identify her emotions and feelings even more clearly than she does herself. We see this through his actions, the way he cares for her during her freak out session. The way he plays her games to get to the heart of her doubts and insecurities. And we discover how much he noticed and ‘liked’ her from very early in their association.
As for Lucy, we discover her obsession with Joshua stems from her fascination for him. And the fact that he never seemed happy to meet her their very first meeting. From that moment onwards, she set herself the task of breaking him. Perhaps out of resentment that he never seemed to return this ‘fascination’? Something which could have been ‘like’ much earlier, if only he’d smiled.
For so long, misconceptions and misunderstandings have stood between these two, keeping them apart. For a believable HEA or HFN, we need to see all of these gone. This means Lucy and Joshua talking, sharing all their thoughts and feelings, coming clean about anything which could form a barrier between them. This means Lucy dredging up the courage to tell Joshua how she feels, not an easy feat for her.
If you’ve read this story, think about the things we slowly learn about each character as events unfold, and how these things become central to resolving the relationship between these two characters in the final chapter.
If you’ve written a ‘hate to love’ story, think about your final chapters. Have you done the same? If not, how can you link those last moments on the page to the first? How can you build the HEA to be wholly satisfying and believable? Is there some plot points or character actions you can use to demonstrate how far your characters have come and how ready they are for this new and wonderful relationship?
So, what would I like you to take away from this month’s post?
As you write the final chapters of your book, think about your first chapters. In what way can you show how much your characters have grown? How can you show their dedication and love for their counterpart?
How can we do this? In terms of growth, if your character was shy and undecided in the first chapters, have them stand up, stand out and decisive in the last chapters. If they were flighty and unreliable, make them stable and dependable. Allow them to show these characteristics through action and through dialogue. If they were once immature and hurt their counterpart in the past, show their maturity and their consideration in the present. Make the reader believe they have changed enough to ensure the old mistakes will never happen again.
In terms of their commitment and love, think about what has transpired in your story and what gesture your character can make to show how much they love their partner—this doesn’t have to be grand, it just needs to be meaningful. If there is some dream that the other character has had for years but never fulfilled, can their partner help bring this dream to fruition in the last chapters?
When your characters talk, make sure their counterpart listens. What action can they take to show this? If a character has talked about their love for something in the story, how wonderful for their partner to present them with this towards the end. This can be some physical thing, or it can be the way in which they treat or interact with their partner. If all a character has ever wanted was truth and honesty, give them this. If it’s support and belief, make sure these feature in the last pages of your story. Show how much the characters understand and ‘get’ each other now. Show how well they are set up to spend the rest of their lives satisfying and making each other happy.
Prove they are worthy and ready for their happy ever after ☺
And that’s all folks!
I hope I’ve given you food for thought on how to link your story’s beginning and end.
Firstly, thank you all for coming back this month. I really appreciate every one of you reading, commenting and sharing my posts.
Once again, I’m offering one lucky commenter a half hour skype session to discuss anything writing related. It could be your query, your synopsis or 300 words from your current work in progress. Yes, you heard right. We get to chat, face-to-face—or computer screen to computer screen—and chat about whatever it is about your writing you’d like to discuss.
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LYNDA . . .
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Thanks so much to you all for stopping by. Have a fabulous month, and I’ll see you all again in July.
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.
In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.