by Stephanie O’Brien
You’ve just spent an entire novel bringing an amazing couple together.
They’re passionate, fun and fascinating to watch, and their chemistry has fans raving about how wonderful they are.
They’re so great that you’ve decided to write a sequel starring them… but there’s just one challenge.
You went and let them get married.
After all, much of the conflict and suspense in the relationship came from the question of whether or not they’d overcome the barriers between them and become a couple, right? Now that they’re happily married, what is there left to do?
You DON’T have to split up the couple to keep the story interesting.
In others, one or both partners realize that being together isn’t actually that great, and they start fighting so much that the relationship your audience once loved becomes bitter and unrecognizable.
Whatever the case, instead of getting to see more of a relationship they enjoy, your audience ends up feeling let down because you took all that wonderful romance and character development, and either spent most of the story stomping on it, or completely tossed it in the trash.
Here are 4 ways to keep your married couple interesting, WITHOUT breaking it up:
Method 1: Identify the factors that made them interesting as a couple, and keep using them.
Did your readers sigh with longing at the way the pursuer chased their beloved? That doesn’t need to stop when they get married – they can still surprise their partner with unexpected and touching gestures of love. Did the characters have snappy, snarky, witty banter that kept your audience howling with laughter? Just because they’re lovingly married doesn’t mean they can’t keep teasing each other!
Was there a sense of magic and mystery in the way they kept discovering aspects of each other that they hadn’t known before? Now that they trust each other, they have even more reason to reveal those hidden depths, so keep them coming! Did you and your readers love watching them help each other to surmount their barriers to intimacy?
Simply getting married doesn’t instantly heal all of a character’s wounds, or turn everything into boringly perfect happiness.There will still be insecurities, fears, defenses and flaws that can hold the characters back from the full potential of their love, so they can continue to grow, hesitate and discover even after they say “I do”.
After all, there can – and should! – still be growth, conflict and character development after they get married. But while portraying these things, I strongly recommend that you DON’T turn them into a fight that comes out of nowhere, or that makes a once-good relationship nearly unrecognizable.
Remember, conflict that flows naturally from the characters’ pasts and personalities is good. Conflict that’s shoehorned in just for the sake of conflict is a cheap and often implausible plot device, and your readers will probably notice.
Method 2: Give them something to overcome together.
A new villain can rise up, and force them to rise to new heights of power together on order to overcome their new foe. A problem from one or both characters’ pasts can come back to haunt them, bringing both fresh danger and drama, and a reason for your character to discover new things about their beloved’s past.
A new revelation can make them question their partner’s character, and drive them to learn more about their spouse – preferably without resetting their relationship’s progress back to what it was before they got married. After all, this article is about how to keep them growing as a couple, not about restoring the status quo. ; )
They may have to change their lifestyle to adapt to married life – they can’t just go and do whatever they want without thinking about how it will affect their partner, and if they decide to draw the villain’s ire, now they have to think about the precious person their enemy might target as a result.
They might even have a baby together – which could be a source of heartwarming drama and comedy as an action hero learns how to change a diaper, or a source of excitement and badassery as the villains break into the house and the heroine fends them off with a sword in one hand and an infant in the other. All in all, there are plenty of ways to add danger, conflict, drama and tension to a story, without splitting up the duo your audience has fallen in love with.
Method 3: Have the marriage itself act as a catalyst for character development.
When people enter a new level of intimacy, especially if they’ve never felt anything like it before, it can be uncomfortable for them. This is new emotional territory, which can cause them to pull back, get anxious, or even subconsciously sabotage their newfound joy.
The safety of a loving, trusting relationship also creates a haven for inner demons to come to the surface and be healed. People are often drawn to partners who somehow trigger their emotional injuries and draw their buried wounds into the open, so this is a great opportunity to explore hidden hurts in a character who’s never shown those scars before.
Again, this isn’t a recommendation to make your couple spend the entire sequel fighting, or to tear their once-great relationship apart.While ruining an established relationship CAN be an effective plot thread, it’s also a heavily-overused way to keep things interesting after the “I do”s, and it creates a risk of disrespecting your previous plot and character development by reverting to the previous status quo.
Method 4: Keep the characters in-character.
This may sound obvious, but have you ever noticed that some characters become less “themselves” once they enter a relationship?Maybe the action heroine becomes less brave, snarky and badass, or the hero loses his edge and becomes meek and tame. Or maybe a new trait just suddenly sprang up – the hero turns overprotective in a way that doesn’t match his established past and personality, or the heroine morphs into a raging nag.
If the characters’ personalities suddenly mutate as soon as they’re in a relationship, you can’t be surprised when the audience starts wishing for the days when their beloved heroes were single and themselves.
Keeping married characters interesting doesn’t have to be hard.
You were already doing lots of things right, or else your audience wouldn’t love this couple so much. Now that they’re married, there’s a new set of nuances to include in your story, but the foundational rule of keeping things interesting is actually pretty simple:
Know what you’ve been doing right, keep doing it, and try to find ways to do it even better as you explore the full potential of this bountiful new terrain.
Stephanie O’Brien has been writing novels since she was twelve years old and has published three of them on Amazon’s Kindle. When she isn’t writing novels and running her marketing business, she’s usually creating comics, music videos, and fanfiction. If you’d like to get more writing tips, or to check out her books, art, and videos, you can visit her website. You can also connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter.
I think you addressed a question many authors may have.
Something to overcome together is my preferred method, since I applaud good relationships and want to show that they are possible. The other idea, the catalyst for character development, is interesting as well, since a stable relationship can allow other aspects to surface.
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Amazing post!! Thank you
There’s an excellent example of this in the Lord Peter/Harriet Vane books by Dorothy Sayers and Jill Patton Walsh. Peter pursues Harriet for the better part of three books before she says yes, and once she does, the next two books are even better. Of course it probably helps that the books are not romances, where the relationship itself is the goal, but character-driven murder mysteries in which the two learn about each other and learn how to cope with life together in the course of another pursuit. It gives the couple something other than themselves to focus on.
Hey, I got a question. What if you start out the story with them already married? These are great strategies for when audiences already know these characters (and I’m sure they still apply), but are there any other tactics for introducing a married couple for the first time ever (and keeping them interesting throughout the story)?
Reblogged this on When Angels Fly.
This is a brilliant read. I specially liked the first and fourth methods. I always dislike it when characters change after they enter into a new relationship. Such a thing should be banned! It’s good to keep vigilant about our characters – oftentimes they can run away without us noticing and do their own thing! 🙂
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I think the ‘Thin Man’ couple, Nick and Nora are a prime example.
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LOVE them so so much!!!
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Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
Here is a great post by Stephanie O’Brien on Ryan Lanz’s blog on the topic of keeping the interest up in fictional married couples
Reblogged this on Viv Drewa – The Owl Lady.
I think if you’ve ever been married you can find plenty of reasons to keep a couple together. Conflict is a part of marriage after all. I agree that keeping them in character is the main thing. I always thought it funny that in soap operas people would get married and suddenly one of them would turn evil. 😉