Confessions of a Romance Writer: I hate the fake identity trope

i would be done with him too bc that castle is swingin

I don’t want to speak for future Lily here, but the Lily of today can pretty definitively say at least one romance trope exists that she will not use: the false identity.

I can’t stand stories where the major conflict revolves around someone pretending to be someone or something they are not. On the one hand: yes, good job other writers for showing how destructive and counterproductive that behavior is. On the other hand: it is a scenario that makes me extremely uncomfortable, so I don’t find those stories entertaining, and since I don’t suffer from any need to hide my personality or try to be what someone else wants me to be, I don’t need the lessons they contain.

I cannot imagine writing a story that revolved around that.

Let me clarify: if a pretense is used by a character as a quick means to an end, and comes back to bite them, but is then moved past and an actual conflict follows it, I can let them go as both a reader and a writer. Even I have been known to just nod and smile rather than expound upon my actual thoughts in order to avoid a fight, only to get accused of hypocrisy when I disagree later because the person I didn’t disagree with took my silence for assent–social pretense IS part of human nature. What I am talking about as intolerable is when the only conflict in a story is the collision of pretense and reality.

This revelation came to me recently via my Amazon recommendations. I do try to look at those, partly as research (what kind of title and cover catch my eye and make me look at the premise) and partly because, hey, I am as much a romance reader as I am a romance writer, and maybe some of those “also bought” recommendations will be from people with similar tastes and turn me on to a new writer I will love. So I flipped through them and looked at probably five or six of the books. And in at least three cases, the main premise was hero/heroine pretends to be someone else and gets caught up in a romance/marriage with their true love, which is then threatened by the truth about their identity/station/past. In every single case I got that shudder of distaste up my back and flipped right on past.

That was the only premise, at least of the ones I encountered that day, that I rejected out of hand. I just found it notable that I was reacting so strongly to one story element.

What’s funny is that I’ve actually written this premise–What You Will–but I think the difference is in timeline. WYW takes place over the course of one evening. Even though a deception is the main conflict, it is resolved quickly. One of my favorite plays is The Misakes of a Night, or, She Stoops to Conquer, which also takes place over the course of one night. And now that I think on it, I can find at least a few examples of books I like that use this plot (Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss, An Arranged Marriage and An Unwilling Bride both by Jo Beverley). But in all cases the hero/heroine was something better than what they were pretending to be, so maybe the problem I have is just with deceptions to make you appear better than you are. If you can be worse and still make someone love you, hey, you know that’s legit. But when you’re hiding something that diminishes you, then it really might be a dealbreaker, and that is…immoral.

I don’t think immoral is too strong a word, not for how I feel about it. I believe quite passionately in the idea of only surrounding yourself with people who like and accept you for who you are. I have been repudiated by enough people over the years to know that I am better off just being myself and knowing those who choose me really choose me, not some fiction of who I am, and giving everyone else fair warning and no judgment for passing on me. Aside, though, from the ease of relationships (if not life) lived by that rule, is the actual moral context. One of the most nuanced definitions I have ever heard of what rape is comes from The Honest Courtesan blog, essentially that rape is taking sex by force or deception when it would not have been given otherwise. So a man who doesn’t pay a prostitute his promised fee or a man who says “I’ll marry you after” but doesn’t is as much a rapist as someone who jumps a woman in a park–even if the act is not violent, the violation of her consent is. By that contextualization, a man who pretends to be virtuous and respectable but is in fact a degenerate rake (one of the book premises I rejected) is on some pretty perilous moral ground if he convinces a lady to fall in love with him and marry him without revealing his past. This isn’t to say that people can’t change, but…you should acknowledge where you have been. If the conflict had been a battle to get him accepted back into society now that he’s reformed, it would have been okay–since the conflict was, she wants to leave him when she learns the truth, it wasn’t.

I am really not sure why this one particular type of conflict is so problematic for me, except that it represents for me one of those intolerably “foreign” points of view and decision-making processes that happen when my little INTJ brain is asked to understand someone…else. Probably and ESFP or something. And “intolerable” is, I believe, the correct word. I literally cannot tolerate being in the mind of someone like that.

What about y’all? Are there any plot types or character types or other romance tropes you just can’t stand to read? And not just that you’re tired of, but that you feel this visceral, (meta?)physical rejection of?


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Filed under Confessions, Reflections on Romance

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