The Challenge of Writing Exes that Don’t Hate Each Other

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I’m not sure if I’ll be writing tips or just a regular paragraph discussion post because I don’t know what to really say.  Writing Mab and Clyde was a challenge because they had such a long history.  They’d loved, broken up, and went back to each other, which means they already found a way to put the past behind them.  It’s almost like you missed out on another story, but it’s really one that isn’t as interesting to tell as War of Nytefall.  The two of them were actually your standard vampire thief couple, which is a reason why their new status as Dawn Fangs is played up as life-changing.  This really doesn’t help with the subject though.

Whenever we read about exes, it tends to be messy or played up for comedy.  One of the former pair is commonly some kind of a jerk and the other is played up to be the victim too.  You’re made to take a side in this broken relationship.  If anything, the writer makes it utterly clear why they broke up and whose fault it is.  You understand the past and are given enough info to be satisfied while getting the snark that is constantly thrown around when they interact.  This isn’t always the case since there are times when the exes work together and harbor feelings.  It’s made clear that they will reunite too.  Personally, I think this plays similar to the new relationship where both people are fairly dense about what is going on.  Still, these are the two common paths for writing exes who don’t despise each other.

Clyde and Mab were a challenge even though I would put them in that second category.  I needed to find the right balance of insult hurling and anger over past mistakes with the respect and trust of their partnership.  That really wasn’t easy because many people don’t think you should ever work with an ex or interact with them at all.  So, there’s already a slight uphill battle here.  I have been surprised by seeing people complain about movies, shows, and books that have exes acting friendly with each other.  It’s almost like people take offense at the idea that a split can happen amicably.  Can’t say that’s entirely far-fetched considering that’s usually the case, but it’s odd that this is an arena where suspense of disbelief is harder to achieve for many people.  It means there’s a bigger hurdle to get over and it depends a lot on the story and characters.

So, what are some tactics?

  1. Do not overplay the ‘we used to be together’ antics, which include comical arguments about past incidents and verbal jabs about the same.  After the 5th ‘he sucked in bed’ joke on the same page, it will feel like the speaker is harboring a really big grudge instead of having moved on.  Make these things happen from time to time, but also fit the scene.  Give the memories a trigger such as a failed attempt to be nice or seeing another couple.
  2. Focus more on the present than the past with these characters.  They are still working together and being friendly because they’ve mostly moved on.  You need to make sure the audience believes that things have been settled.  This means having them talk more about what they are doing and making a few conversations fairly simplistic because the characters might be trying to stay on topic.  It’s a common tactic to focus on the business side of a relationship to avoid thinking about how it used to be.
  3. If you really want to touch on the subject, use the other characters that are aware of the past.  They can comment on the exes’ interaction and connect it to the past.  It could be done to hint that they think a reunion will happen or that they are baffled about how the two can get along.  Considering how uncommon it is for exes to stay friends, it isn’t too shocking to see others wonder about how one former couple pulled it off.

That’s really all I can think of.  A lot of the Mab/Clyde stuff was created on the fly, so I just let them work it out on the page.  That might be why it gets a little messy between them since there’s some confusion on their part.  Hmmm, that’s probably a topic for another day.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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19 Responses to The Challenge of Writing Exes that Don’t Hate Each Other

  1. Reblogged this on A Writers Existence and commented:
    Very interesting advice.

    Like

  2. The subject of Ex’s is a rich landscape for characterizations. There’s the hate each other segment where the story possibilities are limited. Then the “we broke up but still love each other” type of ex where the possibilities are unlimited. Another is the “breakup but one still carries a torch for the other” is also an interesting situation for characters to be in. Many possibilities here, Charles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    This is a really thought-provoking post. I love the friendly ex dynamic because the characters know each other so well, but also know why they didn’t work together. It reminds us of what they appreciate about each other, rather than having us question why they were ever together in the first place.

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    • Very well said. Think I was going for that, but didn’t get it very well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        You explained it well. 😊 It’s a tough balance to maintain the tension just right, I’m sure.

        I guess it really comes down to whatever the author really wants. Some movies seem designed to get the split-up couple back together. I can’t help thinking of the movie The Philadelphia Story, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart. Grant and Hepburn were divorced, but had great banter. I saw that movie ages ago and loved it. I didn’t realize it was part of a genre, one Wikipedia calls “a comedy of remarriage, a genre popular in the 1930s and 1940s, in which a couple divorce, flirt with outsiders, and then remarry—a useful story-telling ploy at a time when the depiction of extramarital affairs was blocked by the Production Code.”

        I love the film. But I admire a story that explores a mature couple who still work well together even though they once were together but no longer are.

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      • That’s an oddly specific genre category. It really isn’t easy doing stories like this. The temptation for another chance is probably really strong, but it’s not always the way to go.

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  4. My mind is going a million directions at once. Part of me want’s to go watch an ancient movie called Ruthless People. (They really hated each other.) Part of me wonders if an author could rekindle some of that “will they or won’t they” tension that readers/viewers love so much. I’m thinking Booth and Bones who didn’t for about 10 years. You could cut the tension with a knife. I love it when your posts do this to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from the Legends of Windemere blog with The Challenge of Writing Exes that Don’t Hate Each Other

    Like

  6. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

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