Why do we love second chance romance? Because it’s darn American to root for the underdog. In a second chance romance, any tumultuous history between the hero and heroine only serves to intensify the emotional journey, because it elevates the heights to which the hero must climb. What makes for a lovable, sympathetic canine? Here are four must-haves in crafting the perfect comeback kid.
First of all, if your hero (or heroine) messed up royally, he better have suffered enormously for it—bad enough to tip the reader’s sentiment from, “he got what he deserved,” to, “awww, he deserves a second chance.” It’s a special bonus if you can get the reader to flip sides entirely, and feel anger towards the heroine for being so punitive. This is easier to do if you give him an even more tortured past, which basically explains how he blew it the first time. His suffering must also have taught him pride’s futility, as demonstrated through acts of humility.
A circumstance that renders the hero’s conduct less serious and thereby serves to reduce (emotional) damage to the heroine is considered “extenuating.” A tortured past could be an example of this. Or if the “bad behavior” that caused the initial rift was in someway protective towards a family member, friend, or otherwise redeemable character—perhaps unbeknownst to the heroine, at the time. Whatever they are, make the extenuating circumstances paint your blackened hero in a lighter shade of gray, intensifying his suffering while garnering the reader’s (and eventually the heroine’s) sympathy. Fear of commitment is a common flaw but won’t fire the embers in a same way because it is a self-centered, narcissistic fear. Make the original rift a shrouded act of self-sacrifice and the story will write itself.
Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t—an impossible choice arises when there is no obvious solution, or all solutions have an unpalatable outcome; a “Catch 22.” Usually, these are at the crux of the hero’s inner and outer conflicts. Keeping the heroine in the dark about an extenuating circumstance could be the result of an impossible choice, for example. Even better, if the hero’s apparent rejection was to keep the heroine out of harms way, to his great emotional detriment. (Remember, he must be left feeling remorseful, longing, and suffering.) The second time around, however, the hero must shrug off the illusion of impossibility and find a way for them to be together, despite all odds (this is romance, after all).
Sometimes good people do bad things. The hero of a second chance romance must convince us of this truth. Well, he must convince us of two truths: 1. The thing that he did in the first place wasn’t really so bad and 2. The hero still feels bad about the not-so-bad thing anyway, and will never do it again. His demonstration of Heart will make us believe him. Heart is taking pleasure in doing something meaningful for someone else’s benefit. Heroic Heart is summoning the courage—against great odds—to do so. Remorseful suffering, humble acts, and self-sacrificing choices are all examples of Heart. Another easy trick to achieving this is to throw in a rival that is superficially “perfect” but whom the readers well know is a snake in the grass. This sheds a favorable, comparative light on the hero, who wears his flaws on his sleeve. Suddenly, the second chance hero doesn’t seem flawed at all; he’s simply authentic. And authenticity = Heart.
So, there you have it. Now, go have fun re-writing history the American way. Gawd bless it.