This top ten list is off the desk of Megan Broderick, Assistant Editor for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and Special Edition.
Fake Relationship is one of my favorite tropes of all time. It probably started with all those procedurals I watched as a kid where they would have to go undercover as a married couple and once I discovered romance novels, the love just kept Growing. So, what makes it so great?
1. The angst! No matter how they ended up in this fake relationship (blackmail, helping out a friend, an accidental engagement being printed in the paper…) there has to be a juicy story behind it. What makes someone lie to everyone they know about their relationship?
2. Friends-to-lovers has never been more fun. The great thing about fake relationships is that you can layer in a bunch of other tropes and ideas to take the conflict up even higher. Maybe your heroine just can’t stand one more relative asking her when SHE’LL be the one walking down the aisle, or maybe the hero needs to convince a lawyer he’s married to gain an inheritance—either way, they’re suddenly asking that old friend to become something more. Just for appearances, of course. 😉
3. And enemies-to-lovers is even better. There’s plenty of conflict in asking an old friend for a little fake engagement. But if they start out as enemies? That’s a whole new level of drama. The reasons to fake that relationship have to be even bigger to force these two people who normally wouldn’t spend any time together to suddenly need to convince everyone they’re in love.
4. Shenanigans. At some point during the fake relationship, something hilarious (to the reader at least) will happen. It’s inevitable! My personal favorite is not keeping their stories straight and having to make stuff up on the fly, together. Whatever it is, it forces the hero and heroine to work together and begin to see themselves as a team who might be good at more than just convincing their family that they’re totally dating.
5. “We must practice kissing so it looks natural!” Once your hero and heroine decide to fake it, all of a sudden they just HAVE to keep touching each other, first to “get comfortable” with it so no one suspects the deception, and then in front of an audience. The tension in these kinds of scenes—both sexual and emotional—is so delicious!
6. Awkwardness. Nothing is more awkward than realizing that telling people you two are dating means you have to share a hotel room…with one bed!
7. Jealousy. When the relationship is fake, no one is going to be all that confident in it. And what better way to have someone start to recognize their emotions than by having the other half harmlessly flirt (or appear to flirt) with someone else.
8. The uncertainty. This is often (always?) the driving force of the conflict: no one is sure if the other person’s words and actions are real or just an act for their audience. Sometimes they’re convinced this is purely situational and once the inheritance is gained or ex made jealous things will go back to the way they were before. Other times, one side is SO CONVINCED the other can’t love them, they refuse to believe what they see. Either way, watching them both come to realize that not only are they developing feelings for the other person, but that person is developing honest feelings back is priceless.
9. Big gesture. I’m a sucker for these and fake relationship romance seems to be rife with them. The couple will (unwillingly) decide to go their separate ways, thinking they don’t have a future together for whatever reason, but one side eventually comes to their senses and takes matters into their own hands. However they fix it has to work for the couple, but I love when that moment happens and the lightbulb goes off for everyone involved that these two people are perfect together.
10. Unique spin. Fake relationships might be a time honored trope, but the best thing about each one is that special something that only that author can put into it. Maybe it’s a setting or a character or a scene, but there’s always something that makes it stand out as a fantastic story of its own.