How much can you forgive?

Having characters that readers can relate to is important in a romance novel. We call them "sympathetic" characters. We want readers to feel what the characters are feeling and get inside their heads and their hearts.

A reader commented about my most recent release, Jilted, that she didn't like all the betrayals in the story. Part of the history for these characters is that Josh and Devon, my hero and heroine, had a past relationship that ended when they could not agree on something important to their future together. It was one of those situations that has no easy answer, but also no right or wrong. For them, at that time, things didn't work out and they went their separate ways.

The "betrayal" came when Josh, now living back in Promise Harbor, slipped into a relationship with long time family friend Allie, who is also Devon's best friend. Yeah — that would hurt, all right. There are rules about that kind of thing, right? You don’t EVER, EVER date your BFF’s ex. 

So what’s a girl to do if she cares about this guy and being with him is making both their families happy after a lot of unhappiness? Allie calls Devon to be up front with her and tell her about the relationship. And when Devon says, hey that’s fine, Josh and I broke up and we’re over...what’s a girl to do?

And what’s a guy to do in that same situation? Josh felt like he had no choice but to leave Boston and go home to Promise Harbor, and he had some pretty compelling reasons to do that. Unfortunately, he didn’t share all of them with Devon, and unfortunately Devon didn’t share some things with Josh, leaving him feeling as if he was the one being rejected.

We don’t know what kind of conversations Josh and Allie might have had about the situation they found themselves in when they started seeing each other. Maybe it was Josh who told Allie to call Devon. Maybe Josh was a clueless man and didn’t even imagine that Devon would care, since she dumped his ass. Maybe Josh and Allie made a HUGE, hurtful mistake by getting together...but stuff like that happens in life.

When characters make big, stupid mistakes, the challenge is to get readers to understand why they made those mistakes and then for the characters to gain some insight and realize what they’ve done and learn from their mistakes. It’s called a character arc and ultimately makes for a satisfying story if it’d done well. Not every reader will experience that character growth the same. Some may find themselves unable to forgive the characters for what they did, others will be able to.

Are there things you can’t forgive romance characters for doing?