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SHOW ME THE LOVE: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Breaking up is hard to do - how to use romantic conflict for greater drama in comedies or tragedies. Pamela Jaye Smith and Monty Hayes McMillan gives tips on bringing romantic tragedy to the screen.

From the book SHOW ME THE LOVE! All Kinds of Love for All Kinds of Stories by Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan

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Got Love? Got enough Love? Got the right kind of Love?

No matter your genre or style, a good story needs some kind of Love to engage us emotionally.

Too often people think Love is just the romantic or sexual kind. But wait – there’s more.

Love of adventure, land, community, family, friends, warrior bonding, love of pets, love of learning, love of death and destruction, interspecies love, transformative chivalric love….

This series explores the Mythical and Psychological aspects of different types of love, plus suggestions for the Shining Moment, Cinematic Techniques, and Symbols.

Join us for a journey through many different kinds of love that can enrich your characters, compel your plots, and move your audience. Our first five articles addressed Love of Adventure, Chivalric Love, Love for Animals, Interspecies Love, and Best Friends Forever.

Now let’s look at Breaking Up.


At the end of the 20th century the most-played, most-purchased, most-requested song was the 1964 Righteous Brothers’ romantic lament -- “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling”.

SHOW ME THE LOVE: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan

In your stories breaking up should be very hard to do for at least one of the characters and should have difficult reverberations for both of them and often others around them.

The Psychology

Falling in love has been likened to a chemical addiction. The release of dopamine, serotonin, and the bonding chemical oxytocin is a real rush. The lover is a delivery mechanism for ecstasy and easily becomes a “drug of choice.” Depending on how dependent one is on those chemicals, a break-up can throw the switch into painful withdrawal mode.

People who keep breaking up and then forming new relationships with a version of the same person have not yet resolved some inner personality issues. Once that is realized and dealt with they can move on to healthier, longer-lasting relationships. Watching a character keep making the same mistakes can be funny or tragic or poignant.

Breakup - silhouette wall

Some people are so reluctant to break up they try to drive the other person away by treating them badly and getting them to initiate the breakup.

Example in Myth

XIR182676 Jason and Medea, 1759 (oil on canvas) by Loo, Carle van (1705-65); 63x79 cm; Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France; ( murdered her own children when Jason left her;); Giraudon; French, out of copyright

When Greek hero Jason and his pals the Argonauts went to get the Golden Fleece, Jason brought back the local princess and sorceress Medea as his bride. They were hot for each other and all went well for a number of years, including the birth of two sons. Then politics intervened and ambitious Jason was easily talked into marrying a local princess since the people didn’t really like that “foreign witch” Medea. Jason announced the impending marriage and told her he’d have to put her aside. Medea said she understood politics and would even throw an engagement party for the new bride. She did, but she also killed the girl at the party with an acid-laced dress. To further hurt the faithless Jason and complete the devastation of her heart, she even killed their two little boys and then fled in a chariot pulled by dragons.

Examples in History and Current Events

England’s King Henry VIII was notorious for breaking up with his six wives...usually in rather deadly ways.

Ask your friends and no doubt search your own life for examples of good or bad break-ups. How many have managed to stay friends with their exes? Or for some is it like the George Strait song, “All my exes live in Texas, that’s why I live in Tennessee”?

Examples in Media

"Men cheat, women cry, people die – it's opera." So says the poster. Bizet’s opera Carmen is a great example of a series of breakups that go really bad.

(500) Days of Summer is a movie almost entirely about the breakup.

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days is a series of intentional breakups that don’t take.

Fatal Attraction is an example of a really bad break-up that ends with a boiled bunny, attempted murder, and an accidental death.

Breakup - Fatal Attraction

The Crying Game is a story of reluctant love, uncomfortable discovery, breaking up, then coming back together.


shattered glass

frayed rope ends

the empty chair, the empty side of the bed

Key Element - The Shining Moment

Walking away, shutting the door, closing the diary, tearing up the letter, bursting into tears, etc.

In Casablanca it's the good-bye at the airport with Rick accepting duty and convincing Ilsa that she needs to go with Lazlo and stay with the cause.

On the darker side of the breaking up equation is Madame Butterfly stabbing herself and Anna Karenina throwing herself under a train.

Cinematic Techniques

The relationship between up and down angles reveals a dynamic. The person getting screwed is usually looking up. The dumper has the power, as shown by their downward angle towards the dumpee.

SHOW ME THE LOVE: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan

During the giddy days of being in love, the camera could circle around them, implying the dizzy spin of emotions. When love dies, the camera becomes more static, particularly for the person who has lost that loving feeling.


The dynamics of breaking up offer you worlds of nuanced situations in which to build character arcs and story arcs. Giving us some of the psychology of how it all works can add interesting complexity to your stories without detracting from the main event – the love relationship or the impending lack thereof.


Exercise #1 – Awareness

What is the most dramatic break-up you have seen in books, media, or real life?


Exercise #2 – Writing

Write a break-up scene where your character is still madly, passionately in love with someone but they are driven to break up with them. Reasons might be they have done something horrible to your character (or mistakenly think they have), for the sake of the children, to restore integrity and self-respect, to save the free world as in Casablanca, to save the kingdom, to save the cosmos.


© 2015 Pamela Jaye Smith & Monty Hayes McMillan

Pamela Jaye’s BOOKS & SEMINARS can be found at the Writers Store and on MYTHWORKS, where you can also learn more about her consulting, writing, and pitching services. Mythic ChallengesAlpha Babe Academy

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