Hooks and Tropes, a few years on

A big warm welcome to anyone visiting my blog for the first time! This is a little space where I write stuff I’m reflecting on about my characters and settings, the writing process and occasionally the publishing industry. If you’ve found me here, it’s nice to have you!

I still feel like a bit of a new author, partly because I still get so many reviews from readers who have never read any of my books before and also because my first title only hit physical shops this year in June, so I’m still picking up speed. The industry, as well, is a place where commitment, longevity and a long backlist make a lot of difference and I currently ‘only’ have four books out (only!! Each one was its own life!!)

While I feel like I’m definitely still learning and growing as a writer and definitely in the marketing side and growing followers etc, I’ve been here on this blog for quite a long time, as you’ll see if you dig into some of my older posts, including one entitled Hooks and Ideas. This book never saw the light of day, but it’s interesting to see how my thoughts on hooks and tropes have developed and it’s taken me this long to write and release another book using that tricky trope: the fake relationship.

As much as writers and readers of literary fiction might demonise the trope, it has an important role in fiction, communicating a long thread of ideas and often an entire societal discourse in a single plot element. Genre fiction in particular is increasingly punchy, fast-paced and blockbuster-y, so tropes are essential to a book that knocks a reader over (whether that’s a good thing is a topic for another article).

Readers love tropes in romance and there is a certain balance that writers need to strive for: turning readers on with tropes, but making it sound new in some way, because readers also don’t like exactly the same story over and over. For a new author, this is a difficult balance because an established name can sell a book based only on favourite tropes and familiar situations, but a new author has to have something a little extra to get people to sit up and listen, while also keeping things cosy according to the genre.

The popularity of particular tropes comes and goes, too, so it’s important to keep an eye on what other authors are bringing out, even though this is a part of the job it’s difficult to have time for. I have certainly noticed that the fake relationship trope is particularly popular at the moment. Of course, these are books that were written six-twelve months ago (or more), so the market is always moving before we can follow the progress with releases, but readers do seem to love fake relationships right now. I suppose that was in the back of my mind when I chose that as a story element in Twenty-One Nights in Paris, but I’ve always loved the trope myself, as evidenced by that old manuscript in my drawer from 2017-18 and the little moments in We’ll Always Have Venice that reminded me of everything I love about the trope.

Back then, I was given the feedback that I hadn’t set up the fake relationship convincingly enough. It was good feedback. I really thought deeply about what I’d written and I challenged myself to think about the old GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) more in my writing, rather than just a creative blurble of words and characters. And I realised that the fake relationship trope is actually really hard to get right. And I didn’t write another one until Twenty-One Nights in Paris.

This book was very much planned according to hooks and tropes, which is pretty much the reason why it has killer cover copy. I came up with the Aladdin story (or reverse Cinderella you could call it, where the man is the pauper) and the fake relationship and – bam! – I had an awesome book to write! And this time I knew I had to be very careful at the beginning to take the reader on the journey, to convince them of the necessity of the fake relationship, because even the biggest fans of the trope don’t want to be disappointed by a weak motivation.

So, writers starting out with a fake relationship trope, I challenge you to make that reasoning rock solid. What are the outside circumstances necessitating the relationship (which is pretty unrealistic in real life, so you’d better have good reasons!)? What is it that the characters want so much that they’ll take this drastic step? How do they feel about it?

All of these questions need to be answered convincingly, or the reader will not go along for the ride without some disappointment.

After setting up the fake relationship, I then stopped and asked myself what it was about that trope that I found so satisfying, to try to make sure I deliver to readers what they want to find in a fake relationship story. From there, so many scenes spun out immediately, full of awkward family meals, fake kisses, moments of blurred motivation where the characters don’t know if they’re still pretending and feelings that the reader sees developing before the characters do. It’s just delicious.

I hope you’ll all enjoy grumpy Sacha as Ren’s reluctant fake boyfriend and get a lot of satisfaction from the way their lives collide in Paris!

Twenty-One Nights in Paris, out 6 October 2022.

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