This week I had a message from a lost family friend. You know how it is—people come and go from your life. He’s a good 20 years older than me and I was practically a kid when we last met. Our conversation had me thinking about just how much people change yet stay the same. We hadn’t talked in 20 years, but we fell back into the easy conversation we had all those years ago—with a slight tweaking of the relationship on account of me no longer being practically a kid.
Therein lies the fun for our characters. Not all of their past relationships will smoothly integrate into the present day—in fact, they shouldn’t if you want an interesting story!
In my genre—romantic suspense—the relationship usually develops very quickly, usually days or weeks. Sometimes within 24 hours. Yet there are situations, for example the second chance romance or enemies to lovers tropes, where years can elapse “between drinks”. This is especially true if you have a character who left town as soon as they came of age.
It presents an interesting challenge for the writer. We almost need to write two different back stories for the sake authenticity. Firstly, the backstory of the protagonist as the younger version of themselves—with a particular view of the world and life experience (the protagonist your love interest or antagonist remembers). Secondly, the protagonist as their current self. Naturally many of the mannerisms, the turns of phrase, the quirks of personality remain the same.
The twist comes when these two characters, meeting after all these years, remember and act the way they did “back then”. I recommend you go to your school reunion—the 10 or 20 year one—to experience this surreality for yourself. It creates massive internal conflict, especially if there is a romantic or antagonistic history. A fantastic treatment of this kind of relationship is in Linda Howard’s romantic suspense novel Ice.