This week’s installment in the list of classic romance tropes is one of my favorites: the fresh start, the new beginning. I hadn’t realized it until I really started thinking about my own books, but that’s the recurring theme in almost every one. Once I started hunting around for other books and movies in the same vein, I came up with an interesting list.
The first to pop up was Bridget Jones’ Diary. Bridget decides not to live her life out as a spinster, and so starts out by changing her career. Liberally laced with humor, this story follows a true heroine’s journey, and sees her triumph in nearly all of her initial goals—including finding love with a man who provides her with a brand-new diary to start her life over fresh, with him. Bridget not only changes her career, but vows to count not only calories, pounds, and inches lost, but also the number of cigarettes she smokes—she sets new goals, and she achieves them.
That’s one take on “fresh start,” where the heroine decides to change things about herself to spark this new beginning.
Along this same line is the 2010 novel and movie, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Here is a story of a modern fairytale princess who has everything to begin with: a great career, a devoted husband, and many close friends. One day she loses everything—at least, she discovers that all of these outward signs of happiness are not bringing her the happiness they should. Something—a big something—is still missing. Remembering a prophecy that a guru in Bali predicted for her life, she decides to take a one-year sabbatical to travel Europe. In Italy, she discovers pleasure; in India, she learns about devotion; in Bali, she finally learns how to navigate the fine line between earthly happiness and the divine connection. The man—the love she saw glimmers of in Italy yet wasn’t quite ready to embrace—eventually fills the only hole left in her heart.
There’s also the kind of reinvention that has to do with overcoming past trauma, which happens to be my favorite variety of this trope. Without even realizing it, I have woven this theme into almost every one of my novels. In “A Taming Season,” the heroine is a widow who was raped by her husband’s murderer. The hero, after trying all of his life to emulate a father he idolized, learned the man was living a double life, with another family in another country.
In “The Phoenix Syndrome,” the heroine discovers that her husband of twenty years is leaving her for a younger woman. She throws logic to the wind and heads off to chase the drummer of a rock band she’s been crushing on.
In “Spirits of the Heart,” the hero is an alcoholic whose younger sister was irreparably maimed in a car accident—with his alcoholic father at the wheel.
In “Civil Hearts,” the heroine lost her husband to a brief but horrific battle with brain cancer. She finds she no longer fits into their old circle of couples-only friends. The hero’s first wife left him because of his poorly controlled epileptic seizures.
Although I’ve been fortunate enough never to have suffered any of these egregious losses or conditions, I can empathize with each and every one of them. Creating fictional characters who have suffered these tribulations helps me tap into tortured, lonely minds. I do the research. I read the real-life stories. Then I create troubled, fictional people. Somehow, by creating these characters, telling their stories, and showing my readers how they overcome to find new lives, and new loves, completes me.
I guess that’s also why I love to include supernatural elements in my novels: ghosts. Spirits, still trapped between this life and the next, needing closure to move on. My characters are haunted by these spirits, and ultimately free them from their earth-bound purgatory. On their journey, they find true love for each other.
New beginnings. Fresh starts. They should be available not only to the living, but to those whose time on this earth has ended. Don’t you think?