It seems to me that the second-chance-at-love trope, by its very nature, calls for more backstory than fresh-out-of-the-box romance. (Even Jenny Crusie, who dislikes backstory more than any other writer I’ve ever known, wound up including a dash of it in Maybe This Time, her second-chance-at-love romance.)
Possibly because I had a bias against backstory drilled into me during the McDaniel program, I tend to minimize it in my books. But if you have characters who were once together and broke up for some reason and you’re now attempting to join them back together, I think the reader needs to know what caused problems the first time around.
And if they’re going to achieve a happy-ever-after ending, readers need to know what caused their problems the first time around so they can watch for the character arcs that will address those problems.
Right now, the main characters in The Demon Wore Stilettos (cover reveal coming soon!) broke up because she got him to help her negotiate a contract to sell her soul to Satan by telling him it was a literary exercise for her MFA program. Underneath, though, the bigger issue is that she tends to conceal information and he has a driving need to expose the truth.
This shows up as a problem from the first time they meet, in the scene below:
He remembered the first time he set eyes on her, behind the counter at the Nous Espresso bar on campus. Under the overhead lights, her hair looked like sunshine made solid. He returned to the café a dozen times over the next week, looking for her, but she remained elusive. When he finally saw her again, he wasted no time asking her if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee after her shift. She stared at him without answering.
“I can come back with friends who will vouch that I’m not a serial killer,” he said.
She didn’t crack a smile. “People know less about their friends than they think they do. You could be a serial killer and they’d never know it.” She looked at him for another long moment before pointing to some tables along the far wall of the cafe, “I’ll meet you over there at nine.”
Their date went nothing like other first dates he’d experienced. Most girls chattered away about themselves, but she volunteered nothing. It was only after what felt like a cross examination of a hostile witness that he learned she was from the Twin Cities.
“Me, too,” he said, assuming that would create a connection and advance his cause.
Instead, her face had gone expressionless. She gathered up her things. “I have to go.”
He stared at her, confused. “Did I say something wrong?”
She shook her head. “I have an early class tomorrow.”
It took months of hanging around the café to get her to go out with him again. He would have given up, but each time she waited on him, it felt like she thawed a little. Each smile he drew from her felt like a major accomplishment. He put almost as much effort into wooing her as he did into his studies. Since he was a third-year law student, that was saying something.
The reason she walked away when she learned he was from Minneapolis-St. Paul was because she is so ashamed of her family history that she has built a false identity to cover up who she really is. And she figures someone from the Twin Cities is far more likely to discover her lie than someone who’s not from there.
They were living together when he finally realized the contract was real and dumped her for lying. (Not to mention being Hellbound.)
So, somehow, he convinced her to go out with him again.
This is where the “help a writer out” part comes into play.
What can my hero (he’s a third-year law student) do or say to convince this very closed-off girl (she’s an MFA student in creative writing) to risk trusting him?