“However I don’t want to be put in a situation where the readers have long figured who he actually is or when it is revealed, it doesn’t have an effect on them at all. I guess what I’m asking is can something like this work? I know that there is secrecy and dishonesty between them, which would be a problem for the actual love story. How far is too far? Any thoughts?
I’m writing it because it’s part of this character’s journey to find true redemption: it challenges him, leads him to question the beliefs and allegiances he’s held for most of his life. Because it causes him to change for the better, he becomes more virtuous and noble.”
So, to answer your question more directly, yes, it can work. Romances are difficult to write but oh so rewarding when done well, and a worthwhile challenge to undertake. I have a lot of thoughts and they are connected somewhere between loosely and strongly, so bear with me if this gets a bit ramble-y XD Also forgive me if some of what I say is redundant because you are already aware of it… also because this is another long post of mine, lol, I really don’t do things halfway…
Romances are fantastic, and they speak most clearly of the unfallen world we were all intended to be a part of. Where many romances fall short is the depiction of our true human ugliness and mess, and that is before combining arcs (such as romance and redemption). The more I think about it, the more I feel that all romances, fictionalized or real, are all also tragedies and redemption arcs. Because it is in the nature of romance to bring to light our greatest flaws, and where there is the greatest hope there is the greatest struggles. In or efforts to love or be loved our most fundamental brokenness is exposed and gives us the choice to either succumb to that pain or heal from it. In this way, true Love has much more to do with choice than attraction, and every good love story is a battle – always internal and sometimes external – to achieve that prize that comes from the union of two that are greater than the two separate. I guess one of my points here is to remember that this romance (no matter how it goes) will first and foremost be a redemption arc for her first; if the struggle is one-sided, then so is the character growth, and she is your main character (we will get into more of this later).
The first question that comes to my mind is whether or not you want this romance to be true love or not. It sounds like his attraction to her is earnest and not a deception, but we will all experience many attractions throughout our lives while very few of them qualify for a lasting relationship. Even if it isn’t meant to be lead into a permanent relationship, there is still a lot of (mostly untapped) room for character growth in a romance that isn’t true love. I will get more into that later, but one benefit that a story of temporary romance can bring is a sense of raw realism, since we have all been there before and growing from that experience alone is worthwhile.
Next (and this isn’t meant to be patronizing), there is a pretty big difference between attraction and chemistry. Initial attraction is an easy thing, but true chemistry comes from the nature of our characters. Many books and big budget movies fall into this trap where because the pretty main characters are in proximity of one another they must fall in love, without ever giving a thought as to why they would in the first place. People often have chemistry with those that are complimentary with one another in ways that are both similar and challenging. In my own life, I have found that those I have had the most chemistry with are not only those who “click” with me, but also hold traits that I admire that I might not have myself and who challenge me in some way. If you first create two characters who are yin/yang in that way, then a romance between them will happen naturally.
One very important consideration with a redemption arc of this nature is to be very honest about how bad are the bad guys. The more evil they are, the less likely their redemption will be, the harder they will need to struggle, and the more difficult it will be to write. I am not sure if the romantic interest is one of the dark druids, but if he is, I would have a very hard time believing a fully fledged member trying to bring back literal Satan would have a change of heart outside of miraculous intervention. There are also serious practical limitations regarding someone in that state of emotional, mental, and spiritual health that can’t be ignored, even if they are making honest efforts to heal. If he is new, and the degree of ignorance is high for initiates, this can give some wiggle room. This does, however, bring up another point regarding the use of powers in this world. The difference between the two magic systems, as you have described, seems pretty black and white. If he is trying to help her then he will use the tool he has at his disposal, if that tool is evil he runs into a ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ problem where the use of evil, even in an attempt for good, will come at a cost. Costs of this nature will always infect and corrupt his good intentions until he is willing to give them up: to choose honest powerlessness over self-deceptive belief in his own empowerment. Those moments of course make fantastic scenes of real redemption; I just want to be honest about the pitfalls I see in the undertaking. But the greater the challenge the greater the reward.
Another thought that comes to mind is something that is so often overlooked in romantic redemption arcs, yet we see it fairly commonly in Christian circles: changing for someone else. The need for acceptance and love within humans is a terrible and strong force, and we are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get it. It is all too common for someone to try and change themselves for someone else; especially when what is on the line is romantic love. This need is a double-edged sword as it can be the catalyst for change, but any change we make for someone else and not ourselves is temporary at best. This means, practically speaking for your character, that there is going to have to be some point where he is going to have to make that decision for himself: that he wants to be a better man because he wants it, not because she will love him if he does. This sorting of different emotions and desires is predictably and wonderfully messy. If the relationship isn’t meant to be permanent, then this moment can be both more dramatic and clear: if he is never going to be with her, does he still want to change? If the relationship is supposed to be permanent, this moment still needs to happen, but sorting it out will be more nuanced and will still probably come after a fight and at the risk of losing the relationship. Further, even if he solidly decides to change for himself at the start, interconnection with someone else on a romantic level will still add some human mess to that equation, even if they are overall a very positive reinforcement.
But like I said earlier, she is your main character, not him, and her character arc is the most important one of the story. So what does this all mean for her? Simply to have her character flaws manifest during some of the stages of the unfolding story. When she initially meets this (masked?) man, does she resent his assistance past the point of worthy suspicion? Or does she trust him way to fast, through either naivety or budding attraction to his mysterious nature? Once his old (or current) allegiances come to light, does she turn on him with a hatred and vengeance that surpasses his actual betrayal? Does she isolate herself from others, either unwilling to trust anyone anymore or from his betrayal triggering an older and deeper wound she has yet to confront? How long does it take her to trust that his intentions are sincere, and what does it take to convince her? How is trust rebuilt? Does the question of him changing for her enter her mind, and if so, does that play into fantasy of hers or does she realize he needs to change for himself? If the relationship is temporary, do they manage to rebuild a friendship along the way or leave with hurt feelings remaining even if they are no longer enemies? These are all just a bunch of ideas to play with, and seeing what you (or other creators) do with them are the parts of stories that get me the most excited.
As for the mechanics, such as the plot twist element, I would honestly worry about it too much. The actual surprise/shock value is the easiest to rewrite or modify in the editing phase, and the least important aspect of it. The two big pointers regarding it is A) Do not lie to the reader: it is easy to get a surprise out of the audience if you pull the rug out from under them, but those surprises are cheap and break any expectation of honesty between you and them. It is ok to mislead the audience, so long as you are misleading them with either truth or the lack of a complete picture. B) Keep everything else around the plot twist authentic: the true impact of a plot twist doesn’t come with the surprise, but the impact on the story and the characters therein. I have enjoyed plot twists that were spoiled because they were so important to the story, and important plot twists are enjoyable even rereads.
Anyway, I know that was a lot, but those are my thoughts and I hope it at least inspires you with further ideas