Secrets and Fairytales

I’ve been thinking about a wonderful post Mary Ann Rivers wrote on her blog about Secret Tropes.

Secret tropes are something you love in a book, something you seek out. And even though other people can enjoy this aspect, it speaks to you maybe more strongly, more deeply. It can be a type of setting or a type of POV or a theme or a profession or anything that pings a certain place inside and says this is for you.

Once you’ve been reading romance for any period of time, you come to recognize the regular tropes—the public ones. Secret baby and marriage of convenience and amnesia and so on. I had a book release this week, and in the case of Chance of Rain, there is a reunion and a stranded/cabin romance setup. And I’ve been thinking, too, about what secret tropes are inside.

Natalie is a girl who owns a diner, but that’s not really how I think of her. I think of her wearing a stained apron and her hair is falling down by this time of day. There is a ribbon in those messy strands, pale blue with scalloped white trim, and it makes me think the hope with which she started her day.

She dreams in black and white and lace, and in her dreams, she’s not cleaning the diner and feeding the town, she is making a home for her family and feeding them instead. But she still smiles whenever the bell above the door to the diner rings. She wants to take care of the people around her and she wants to be taken care of and she wants and wants and wants so hard—but you can’t see it in her eyes unless you know it’s there. Her smile is pretty and bright, but it’s still a lie.

These are the secret tropes.

What she really wants is to be claimed by a man, but that’s such a loaded word in the context of billionaire bdsm or paranormal creatures. She wants the claiming to be quiet when it happens. Beneath the surface. She wants it to happen when he replaces a light bulb that needs it or when he eats the food she serves. She wants the promise-love words to fill the dusky space between them, and that’s a secret trope too.

Sawyer is a Navy SEAL with a body like a god, but that’s not really how I think of him either. I see him frustrated and grieving. I see him wishing he was good enough, and going out to achieve the great things, only to realize he will never be good enough, that’s not a tangible thing he can hold in his hands. I see him wondering what it is he’s been searching for all this time, and I see him opening his eyes to it, to her.

That’s what the story is about. It’s strange that we write blurbs and guest posts and other things that don’t have this information in it. It almost never does.

At RWA this year, I heard an editor say that every writer has a fairy tale they tell. We tell it in a hundred different ways, but it’s there. Underneath the neatly lined up words and plot and the tropes, that is the fairy tale.

I think maybe the fairy tale is written with the secret tropes. That’s why a hundred authors can write a reunion story or a stranded story and it comes out different. And that’s why these small things call to us, flecks of gold glinting in the pan. We dig and dig and dig, not because these stories are wrong or bad, but because these are the stories we needed to hear.

About Amber Lin

Amber Lin writes sexy romance about messed up people, because everyone deserves a happy ending. Find her books or sign up for the newsletter at her website
This entry was posted in Shameless Self-Promotion, Talking Wonkomance, Writing Wonkomance. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Secrets and Fairytales

  1. I’ve been thinking of this a lot the last few weeks. Why do some books that are problematic or deeply flawed still really resonate with some readers and not others? The conclusion I reached is that these secret tropes. They capture our imagination and hearts and carry us over a book’s flaws or a type of character or subgenre or POV we don’t usually like.

  2. Yes, this: “At RWA this year, I heard an editor say that every writer has a fairy tale they tell. We tell it in a hundred different ways, but it’s there. Underneath the neatly lined up words and plot and the tropes, that is the fairy tale.”

    I think this is why we write. We have that tale we need to sift through–some of us have more than one or it changes–and sometimes it has different outcomes, but ultimately it’s the micro-narrative of our own blood rather than the meta-narrative of our culture, that keeps us coming back to art, to writing.

    I’m just beginning this writing journey in terms of fictional storytelling. (I’ve been writing nonfiction and poetry for years, though, which feels different to me.) And these stories that are now swimming my murky synapses are parts of my theory of the world, they are parts of my Cherri-lens through which I understand pain and love and rebirth.

    On Mary Ann’s blog I said I thought humor and word play was a secret trope of mine, but I have another one that makes sense in the context of the fairy tale: the mini-reinvention of one’s self. It’s not the moving across the world and starting a new life, but the small ways in which we look inside of our selves and decide to change, decide to make something new from all of the old hurts clanking around in our hearts.
    That out of those old patterns and false narratives there can be love and hope. This is my religion as much as it’s my secret trope.

  3. This is just completely gorgeous. I’ve read a few times this morning, already.

    As a writer, I think how I know I am telling one of my own secret fairytales is that when I am writing it, I am not afraid. This is not the same as if I am taking risks in the telling, but something else, something that feels like I am accessing something warm and true and living and familiar inside of me that is never afraid, that contains a story that is at once familiar and never, ever tiresome. The story that I would ask to be told, over and over, at bedtime.

    When I am not accessing that fairytale is when I feel afraid, as a writer, and it doesn’t mean I won’t write something I am glad to have written, or won’t, somehow, develop and grow that ember inside, but the process was fearful and unsafe, even if I grew to accommodate that fear and subvert it.

    I think I seek out writers I suspect are writing their fairytales, made of their secret tropes. It’s why I love CHANCE OF RAIN. It’s why, like Julia says, I can love books that tell me things I don’t love — not just because they contain my fairytale or secret tropes, but maybe also because I can tell this is the writer’s fairtytale or secret trope. I love knowing what it is people love, or watching people engage with their passions or nerdery. It’s so beautiful and appealing, even if it also disturbs.

    It’s so hard to articulate, too. Your post today is like a tone poem of your secret fairytale, the lace dreams and the atmosphere between your couple. There is something very Francesca Lia Block about CHANCE OF RAIN, in that sense, it has its own secret language.

    Which means we should write and read fearlessly, I think. Expose ourselves to ourselves and to the secret worlds of others.

  4. Shari Slade says:

    I’ve been trying to pinpoint my own secret tropes, my buttons, and it is so hard. Maybe because I have so many. But that isn’t really true. Mostly they all boil down to this ineffable rawness I am constantly searching for, a story like a salty paper-cut kiss, or a heart-shaped bruise. An achy yearning. An old hurt, not healed with love, but exposed and loved-over. If that makes sense.

    Chance of Rain has it, this post has it.

    My own fairy tale has it too, the one I’m always trying to write (and the one I want to hear over and over). Beauty and the Beast, except they’ve both cursed themselves and nobody turns pretty at the end. Rapunzel in a tower of her own making, dismantled as she throws bricks at the prince instead of letting down her hair.

    Or, you know, giving him her pie.


  5. sofia says:

    Thanks for this post, it did touch some of my buttons. It is the hidden triggers that attract us be they in books, in people, in situations. They touch us and we resonate and we feel connected.

  6. Fiona McGier says:

    My not-so-hidden trope involves females who are not afraid to be sexual beings, finally being appreciated by males who realize that what they need is a real woman, who knows her own wants and needs, and can share with him how to satisfy them. I don’t want to read or write about virtuous creatures who need to be shown how to enjoy the body they were born in–what took you so long? Nor do I want to read about men who want to hurt/abuse the woman they profess to love. I guess I’m old-fashioned. I like my erotica hot, but without pain. And only 2 players, please. My 3 sons couldn’t even share toys without fighting about them, let alone sharing a woman they want. Pul-leeze!

    • Beth Berry says:

      I am just now reading these posts, and had to respond to what Fiona McGier said about women who are not afraid to be sexual beings. Yes! A thousand times over. I have no interest in, or connection with female characters that have to be led to the bed, or taught what to do once they get there. In books, just like in life, I seek out strong women who already know what they want. In fact, I don’t know that I know any other type.