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.