I didn’t even know Hurt/Comfort was a trope until I started writing romance. Actually, I was writing my fifth book before I discovered that two of my previous titles included hurt/comfort situations. In retrospect, it should have been obvious. I had one character in hospital and the other character comforting them. I had not realized this was a situation readers might look for. But now that I do know, I totally get it!
There’s little that accelerates a relationship faster than one party holding the other’s hair back while they vomit. I mean… it’s a ‘zero to a hundred in sixty seconds’ situation. With the added danger of getting one’s shoes dirty.
Sickness isn’t sexy. But caring for someone while they’re under the weather can bring a new closeness to any relationship. A part of falling in love is sharing your vulnerabilities with someone. Opening up and inviting another person inside. Being at your worst, physically, can make this so much harder, but also easier. Being laid up makes it all the more difficult to run away and hide.
With all the action in the Chaos Station series, it’s probably fair to say that Felix and Zed actually spend quite a bit of time caring for each other, but there are two books that stand out.
I’m not sure if it’d be a spoiler at this point (you’ve all read the series by now, haven’t you?) to say that the hurt level in Lonely Shore is pretty dire. Writing Felix’s part of that story was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve written some sad and messed-up characters. Heck, most of my guys are old enough to have loved and lost at least once, and usually in an epic fashion. But I’ve never had to write them going through that sort of loss before. The anticipation of it, the moment of it, and what comes after.
In Inversion Point, it’s Zed’s turn. Felix is injured in the line of duty and Zed gets to be the one looking out for a hurt lover. I hadn’t considered it before this post, but I really like the symmetry of books two and four of this series, the brackets to the middle, being mirrored in this way.
To See the Sun has a lot less action, but I seem unable to write science fiction that’s all sweetness and light – though there are some incredibly sweet and light moments in this book. There is also a smattering of the hurt/comfort trope toward the end where one of these guys gets to show the other just how deeply their love extends.
You know, when I really think about it, almost all of my books have a situation like that somewhere. I’m really not very nice to my characters, am I?
The hurt/comfort trope also pops up in another of my sci-fi series, Aliens in New York. There’s a whole different vibe to it, though. Lang appears in most ways to be a superior being. He has literally been engineered for his job, his purpose. He’s also a not-so-secret billionaire.
I don’t spend a lot of time in the book exploring the balance of power between Dillon and Lang. It’s not really something they spend a lot of time considering themselves. But giving Dillon the opportunity to care for Lang when he’s hurt not only brings them closer but serves as a great way to balance their roles so that both characters have equal input into the story climax.
Again, it’s not something I planned at the time? Not in those terms, anyway. I did plan to show Lang had vulnerabilities, though, so that Dillon could move into a more solid partnership role.
Chasing Forever follows a different course. Being a contemporary romance, there are far fewer situations of do-or-die peril. Also, this book starts out with one character quite seriously injured, so from the very beginning of Brian and Mal’s relationship, there’s an element of care.
Obviously, I wrote the book this way on purpose. Not only as a shortcut to showing Brian’s more nurturing side but because of the plan I had for Mal’s character. I wanted to show a turning point, and for Brian, as unlikely a candidate as he might have seemed, to be the key in that lock. To this day, Chasing Forever remains a book I’m extremely proud of. The story covers a lot of character growth that wouldn’t have been as easy to show without the hurt/comfort dynamic introduced right at the start.
Finally, we have Block and Strike. From the very beginning of the novel, Jake cares for Max – from finding him slumped in the doorway of their apartment building, the apparent victim of a mugging, to Max’s refusal to take his vulnerabilities seriously.
The dynamic between the two is far from one-sided, however. Caring for Max allows Jake to nurture something within himself. And even before he’s truly found his feet, Max gives back in ways I hadn’t even anticipated.
I have previously credited Max’s character with teaching me how to listen, how to write a stronger arc, and I’ll reiterate it here. Not every book writes to plan. In fact, none of them do and that’s because I’ve not only learned to listen to my characters but to push them harder than sometimes feels comfortable. Not all hurt is physical. But it’s so often the bridging of that gap, of taking another person’s health and well-being into account that brings out the best in us and allows us to truly heal ourselves.