Let’s Talk: Third Act Break Ups

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how dissatisfying too many romance novels endings have been in the past couple of years and I decided I actually wanted to talk about it. Or, write about it, I suppose. So that is what’s happening today! I am not a person who hates third act break ups always. I mean, I am the type of person who likes a moderate amount of angst in her books and will lean all the way in sometimes for a lot of angst. But there are a couple of things that have really had me struggling with how author’s are using the “third act breakup” lately. So, let’s talk about it.

**Arguable spoilers for The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa and definite spoilers for The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren ahead.**

Let’s Talk About It || Third Act Break Ups
  1. Why, no really, WHY do third act breakups keep happening with like 10% of the book left?

I don’t know if you’ve also experienced this, but sometimes it isn’t about WHAT the conflict is. Sometimes it’s about when it happens. If there is not enough time for me to believe that people are able to work through the conflict to live happily ever after, I have a hard time buying into the romance in general. It can work, of course, but usually for it to work it can’t be that bleak of a moment. And it cannot be a contrived moment either. I need to believe the characters are staying true to themselves the whole way through. But in general, I feel like I keep seeing this with books that already had a compressed timeline and the thing that flares up is something that makes sense in the context for the book BUT there’s not enough time to fully bring it back around.

I feel like this often happens in fast paced categories, but it also feels as though it has bled over into non-category length titles. I need this trend to stop. I would really prefer for the final conflict to happen somewhere closer to 75% so that we still have the last quarter of the book to see the character’s work through their issues separately and then come back together and to see a little bit about how they handle something the next time a similar thing comes up. Pacing seems like the hardest part about writing and so I definitely can see why I’m dissatisfied too often, but also, I desperately want people to stick the landing.

2. Why do they keep getting back together with like four pages left and then there’s no epilogue?

This one is definitely a companion to the first point. I hate when the book ends essentially in the same conversation as the reconciliation. I hate it. I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to be confident in the couple’s success! Of course, some books, some authors make me okay with it, but it is so far from being my preferred way for a book to end. And then thing is, I feel like I’ve seen people talking about how epilogues are stupid or suggesting that the only epilogue people want are weddings or babies. I’m here to tell you that is also not a thing that I want! I mean, I’m not opposed to it. But ultimately, I just want to see these people at least a month or two after they have gotten back together so I can see for myself that they’re doing well and they’re happy.

Let me give you an example, with a book I liked despite my quibble about the ending. I don’t actually want to be negative even though this post is full of complaints! So disclaimer: I really liked The Worst Best Man, but the reconciliation literally starts at 98%. That’s when Lina and Max are back in the same place and then they have to have a conversation that brings it around. If you’re like, “Yes, Jenica, that’s a happily for now ending,” then like, I hear you, but even an HFN should have a little more space for breathing!! I suppose you could also argue with me that Lina and Max have done work separately that we saw during their separation and that made it work better for you, and again, I hear you, I just don’t always think that works for me. It certainly can and I do think Mia Sosa did a great job showing that work, but ultimately, I am still left feeling that the ending is just not quite enough for me because there literally isn’t enough.

3. The conflict tearing them apart cannot be unforgivable.

A few things. One, I do think people are redeemable and if that’s the purpose of your book, that conflict should happen early or before the book so you can spend the entire time throughout the book showing me that the person who messed up has done the work to be better. See Ewan from Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean. Two, unforgivable is likely to differ from person to person and I get that, but in general, I don’t feel like the final conflict between the couple should be so awful that if your best friend was in that situation, you would tell them to bounce. It should not be a gigantic red flag waving wildly about making sure there’s no way you can miss that.

For me, in the context of 2021, I am not here for a conflict that involves a woman not being believed about her own experience with sexual harassment/assault. Someone on instagram was reading The Unhoneymooners for the first time and was talking about the conflict in that book. If you’ve not read it, essentially Olive’s brother in law hits on her in a super uncomfortable way and Olive, because she’s in a relationship with Ethan and thinks she can trusts him, tells him about how it made her really uncomfortable. Instead of being even remotely sympathetic or supportive, Ethan says some nasty things to Olive and that’s how their relationship ends. Then BIL does something else that is bad and in the same way that Ethan sees and he’s like, “Oh, Olive wasn’t lying!” And then they get back together. I really loved The Unhoneymooners right up until that last conflict. And then I was seething in anger. Overall, when I think about it, I go back and forth on whether or not I really liked it or not and it really just seems to depend on the day.

Please let me know about your thoughts on third act breakups. I mean, technically, I only focused on the ones that don’t work for me in this post. If you think I should talk about the ones that have worked for me, let me know.


7 responses to “Let’s Talk: Third Act Break Ups”

  1. You know, I had never given much thought to the third-act breakup until that viral tweet last year. I’m not super annoyed by it. I think at this point I’ve come to expect it? I do agree though that if they aren’t getting back well before the book ends, it’s harder for me to be satisfied with the book overall. Like you mentioned the books that have them getting back together on the last page and the book just ENDS. That’s the worst. I went back and read my review for The Unhoneymooners and I rated it 4 stars but I literally remember nothing of the book?? LOL. That probably says it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I maybe shouldn’t have only talked about when I hate them in this post because I think sometimes they work just fine or are even good, but I’m just so tired of the ending being SO abrupt!

      I still remember being so angry at Ethan, but until that instagram story, I didn’t remember many of the details. Lol


  2. I think it depends. I don’t like it when the characters truly breakup if there’s not enough time left to show the work just as you’ve said. I don’t want to simply told they did, I want to see it.

    But if the third act conflict is more a big argument and not an actual breakup I am more okay with a conversation to solve it. Of course it depends on the why and if the characters have truly been shown as compatible during the rest of the story.

    I also dislike it when only one character is doing all of the compromising.

    And for the record it does not count as a grovel if the hero thinks about how his behavior was wrong and he needs to do better in his internal monologue and never actually apologizes out loud. I would also accept a written grovel in the form of a letter or text. But him thinking he was wrong and never mentioning it is not the way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I don’t really notice third-act breakups unless they’re badly done, which I think we’re seeing a lot more of lately. Like you said, there seem to be a lot that are really contrived and happen really late in the book, and there’s just not enough time for the couple to reasonably resolve the issue!

    That said, seeing this discussed more has made me notice when there ISN’T a third-act breakup, and I really love that! I’m totally fine having them just slowly fall in love and let their guard down and become a couple together, or have the conflict be more externally focused. I will happily take all of those books!!

    Liked by 1 person

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