Giveaway News and My Approach to Writing Third Act Conflict
Plus my favorite Black romance films for Valentine's Day and Black History Month
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Why Are There So Many Third-Act Breakups in Romance?
Predictability is a common criticism of romance plots, with the third-act breakup getting the most grief for feeling obligatory and sometimes unnecessary. So why do authors (me included) insist on including it in their stories? It has to do with a combination of the nature of a romance novel (the romance is the center of the plot), story structure, and traditional character arcs.
In a three-act story structure, the third act is often called the black moment or the “all hope is lost” moment. Throughout the story, the main character has likely been avoiding some big truth that will expose the flaw in the big lie they’ve been embracing up to this point. For example, A character who has had their heart broken in the past may believe that being vulnerable is hazardous and that the risk of finding love isn’t worth the possibility of losing it. In the third act, the main character is confronted with that lie in a way that exposes the truth they’ve been avoiding (e.g., the character refuses to open up to the love interest, loses love, and realizes that they were wrong about the cost of being vulnerable all along).
In romance, one common universal truth is that love is the key to happiness. Losing love is often the most effective way to give the main character that dark moment of realization. This is why more often than not, the third act of a romance will involve the loss of love or a major threat to the loss of love.
Plotting Third Act Conflict
Creating a strong third-act dark moment starts when I develop the initial premise of my book. A strong hook has a built-in external conflict that my characters will ultimately have to resolve. Also, if I’ve developed my character’s internal conflict, fatal flaws, and big misbelief, I’ve laid the groundwork for the character to confront those issues on their way to a happily ever after.
My Third Act Conflict Formula
So what’s my formula for a third-act breakup that feels earned and at times, inevitable? Make the external conflict collide with the internal conflict at the pivotal third act dark moment.
As I said before, the premise should incorporate an external obstacle that the couple will have to confront at some point during the story. Meanwhile, each character has a growth arc that will force them to confront the big lie that has prevented them from finding the love they need. In the third act, the external conflict manifests in a way that brings the character’s flaws, misbeliefs, or insecurities to the surface. The fallout forces the character to finally let go of what’s holding them back and embrace the universal “truth” that embracing love is the path to true happiness.
So, does the couple have to break up to achieve the above? Not always. But when love is the story's primary focus, losing it (or the threat of losing it) is often the plot's and character arc's most organic progression.
It’s also extremely satisfying when they find their way back together again.
6 Movie Recs: Black Romances for Black History Month and Valentine’s Day
The Best Man
I’ve mentioned this series before, so it’s probably no surprise that this is my first recommendation. The Best Man is about a novelist trying to hide that his new book is based on friends' lives while he serves as the best man at one of their weddings. Peak laughs, tears, drama and romance.
Love and Basketball
Love & Basketball is iconic for a reason. It’s a friends-to-lovers sports romance about two childhood friends who fall in love while pursuing their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s time for a rewatch.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back
I can’t have a Black romance list and not mention How Stella Got Her Groove Back. It’s about a successful middle-aged stockbroker who falls in love with a younger man during a vacation to Jamaica. Watch this to get in the mood for THE ART OF SCANDAL.
Poetic Justice is about a postal worker who is also a talented poet and falls in love with a hairstylist who is also a writer as they embark on a road trip to Oakland. The cast is iconic. If you haven’t seen it, remedy that immediately.
Another sports romance! Just Wright is about a physical therapist who falls in love with a professional basketball player while helping him recover from injury but has to deal with the drama that comes with dating a celebrity. Queen Latifah and Common are amazing together. This movie is a classic for a reason.
Love Jones is an underrated film that deserves so much more love and attention than it typically gets. (Plus, I’ll watch just about anything starring Nia Long). A struggling poet and photographer falls for a talented writer in Chicago's 90s Black bohemian community.
Let me know what you’d like me to write about in March!