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Breaking Up with Third Act Breakups

I am a drama queen.


Not really, and definitely not in my everyday life—I am actually quite non-confrontational (to a fault) and a habitual people pleaser. (Gross, I know. I’m a work in progress, okay?) But when it comes to my books, I’m drama all the way, baby.


I have a tendency to pen a lot of yelling and slamming doors, and I come from a fanfic background where I set goals based on how much I could make readers cry. And one of the best ways for an author to gulp down the sweet tears of readers? By breaking up a couple you made them fall in love with.


Third act breakups are nothing new in Romance. They’re so common, their presence is almost as set in stone as the HEA rule.


“Though shall have a meet cute, banter, physical tension,
and a breakup before the final page.”

Or so we thought.



A RIPPLE IN THE READERVERSE

You may have noticed an angst shift in Romancelandia where writers are skipping this climactic catch-all, and readers are happy to let them fall by the wayside. So why the ban on breakups? Well, from what I can gather, it’s because shit’s bad enough in the real world and we just can’t take it in books right now.



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Between contentious presidential elections, wars on human rights, actual war, climate change, and that whole pesky pandemic thing, readers aren’t looking for more pain to add to their tired hearts. Writers don’t have the energy to sob through drafts and revisions of angst either. Some people never wanted to write them or read them because that’s not their jam (seems weird but okay), and even as a high drama angsty writer, I’m swerving the breakup more often than not these days.


The call to quit them completely has become louder (from my viewpoint) on social media – some readers and authors happy to never see one again, and others in stark defense of this common plot point.


Personally, I’m all for challenging the rules and finding new routes to get to the same endgame. But I also believe that before you break down walls, you should know why they were erected in the first place.


(hehe, I said erected)



WHY DO WE EVEN HAVE THESE?

Like seriously, who decided we needed a third act breakup?


Well, from a plot and pacing and beat standpoint, it kinda just makes sense?


Let's take a quick gander at a very loose interpretation of a 4 Act pacing structure:


ACT I – The Love Interests Meet and Plot Inciting Incident Gets Us Going

ACT II - Falling in Sweet Love (up to middle)

ACT III – Plot Running Amok and Ruining the Romance up to the Bleak Moment

ACT IV – Fixing Your Shit and HEA


That third act breakup just fits sooooo perfectly at the end of ACT III, hitting that sweet spot of OH NO EVERYTHING IS RUINED!!! SADNESS, HEARTACHE!


(Katie laughs evilly and sips more tears.)


It also gives authors the ultimate reward of putting the two characters back together, resulting in those ooey gooey swoony feelings that are the REAL reason we read and write romance. Because it’s all about those THEY BELONG TOGETHER FOREVERRRRR feels, right?



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But aside from plot beat pacing law, and mean authors making readers cry, what’s the breakup really supposed to accomplish here? Is there a deeper reason other than “Because someone said so?”



WHAT PU