Thursday, February 18, 2021

Why the miscommunication trope in romance needs to die off by Jennifer Cody

Girl talking on phone

Please welcome Jennifer Cody to the bloggity today as she talks about the miscommunication trope. I can't tell you how happy I am to have this topic discussed because I hate the miscommunication trope with a passion. It's such a cheap trick in an author's bag of plot devices to use when trying to create conflict in my opinion. I know I always get frustrated when I see it being used and I want to shake the characters and tell them to just talk to each other, for goodness' sake!

Chess board

Hello! My name is Jennifer Cody, in December 2020 I published my first MM gay Paranormal Romance, Bishop to Knight One. I published the next in the series, Knight to Castle Two, January 1st, 2021 and the third, Queen to King Three, February 1st. Since I started publishing, I have heard from my readers time and again how surprised they are that my characters don’t have conflicts between them, but rather all of the conflict comes from outside stressors. And then they continue on in shock that my characters communicate clearly with each other and don’t let those outside stressors come between them.

This should not be shocking. This should be the standard. So, let’s talk about that.

Let’s define the miscommunication trope for the purpose of this post. Characteristics of the trope include:
  • MCs (MC: main character) deliberately withholding information from each other, and misunderstanding causing conflict between them. Example: MC1 plans a trip, doesn’t tell MC2 about it; MC2 finds evidence of the trip and assumes the worst case scenario.
  • MCs misinterpreting the information passed between them without clarifying it because of some emotion-driven reason like fear. Example: MC1 plans a trip and tells MC2 about it. MC2 doesn’t ask for any clarification and assumes the worst case scenario.
  • MCs relying on outside sources for information and getting the wrong info or interpreting the info incorrectly; not communicating with other MC about the information in question. Example: MC 1 plans a trip. MC2 hears about the trip from a friend or enemy; MC2 assumes the worst case scenario.
  • Outside sources deliberately interfere and spread misinformation to one or both MCs, causing misunderstanding between the MCs. Example: MC1 plans a trip; MC1’s enemy or jealous ex tells MC2 about the trip suggesting that cheating is happening. MC2 believes the lies and acts on it without talking to MC1.
Men talking

I’m certain there are a variety of ways I haven’t hit upon that this trope plays out in romance. Let’s just clarify that I think they all need to die off.

Effective communication is a skill that almost everyone can learn. It’s a skill that most people should learn as children. We teach our kids to use their words everyday. Schools have conflict resolution counselors and the idea that people can talk it out and come to reasonable conclusions permeates our workplaces, schools, homes (hopefully), and media. Just a quick google search for “effective communication” will give you a 4-step process in graphic form.

And yet despite all these opportunities, somehow romance is stuck in an endless loop of toxic he-said/she-said without actually participating in clear communication.


Why is this toxic? Let’s talk about that!

I discovered romance as a genre I love reading twelve years ago. I fell in love with it because what I was reading was so women-positive that it made me feel important and validated and hopeful. It gave me hope that darkness turns to light eventually. It’s a genre largely written for women by women, and it’s empowering and freeing. So many things were designed to subdue women, but romance is meant to alleviate our burdens and help us see our own value. I love romance.

Toxic communication does not uphold the standard that I expect from romance. It plays out by making one or both MCs immature, creates conflict that could have been resolved before it started by one or two questions and clarifying answers, and it often does not resolve itself through learning a sustainable model of conflict resolution and effective communication. If I expect romance to empower women, I expect that empowerment to come, in this case, from modeling sustainable, effective communication techniques. I also expect romance not to corner male MCs into the box of unemotional, ineffective communicators.

Biker in suit

We all have our favorite book boyfriends. The reasons those MCs burrow into our hearts and make us fall in love vary from reader to reader. Our life experience dictates a lot of what we fall in love with. But think about the MCs you love. Do they model the stoic, unemotional, bad communicators that you experience in everyday life? I would say probably not. Certainly not for me. Growing up, I saw the devastating effects of ineffective communication. So many of the women in my life married men boxed into toxic masculinity and no one was happy with that. Effective communication could have resolved so much conflict because it requires validation of differing opinions and experiences, modeling empathy, and treating your partner with respect and valuing their presence in your life. Who doesn’t love the idea of feeling validated and valued?

Romance should empower its readers to improve their life. One of the ways I choose to do this in my books is by modeling good, effective, loving communication techniques. The model I use is based on one I learned in college when I studied to become a certified marriage counselor. The conversations vary wildly, but the basics remain the same:
  1. Listen to your partner and mirror their words back to them so they know you’re listening.
  2. Validate their experiences and opinions whether you agree or not.
  3. Empathize with them, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they feel. Let them know you can empathize with them.
  4. Show your partner that you value them by giving them your support; ask how you can help and if you can’t, ask how you can support them. Sometimes a hug is all someone needs to feel better, sometimes they need something a little more concrete.
Couple talking on bench

The tricky part of this is both parties have to participate from the first to the last step. You can ask how you can support your partner, but if your partner refuses to tell you what they need, a breakdown in communication happens. It’s hard to ask, but the more you do, the easier it becomes. The reason it’s hard is because of internal insecurity, feeling like you have to do it all on your own. This is where trust comes in, and we learn trust through the process of validation and empathizing. If your partner knows how you feel, they will understand your needs, and that understanding will make it easier to ask for what you need from them.

And this is what romance should model for readers. This is the empowerment people need. The skills and tools to have the love they work for remain intact through hardships and challenges. I’m a big proponent for not “fixing” my characters, but one thing they won’t have to endure is the inability to use their words in a model of effective communication.

Communication is key and effective communication is beautiful.

A big thank Jennifer for such an enlightening post. I really appreciate it. Reading this post has made me want to check out her books. So, if you want to find out more about Jennifer and her books, you can do so here:

Bishop To Knight One by Jennifer Cody

Knight To Castle Two by Jennifer Cody

Queen To King Three by Jennifer Cody

About the author

Jennifer Cody

Jennifer Cody: Website - Facebook Page - Facebook Group - Instagram - Goodreads - Amazon

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  1. In a perfect world, all that you've said would be correct, but we don't live in a perfect world. With text messaging, overheard conversations, misinterpretations, and natural insecurities as well as the flaw of overthinking things, miscommunications will happen. If romance is written to reflect the real world then miscommunications are a real thing and can adversely affect any relationship. Perhaps it is different and can be portrayed differently when the relationship is between two men, but put a woman into the mix and it's going to happen. It's a truth we can't deny.

    1. I think that for me it's the difference between reality and fiction. With my fiction, because it's an idealised world in my mind, I like my characters to communicate. I know that's not always the case in real life.

  2. Oh, hear hear. I hate it when the whole book rests on a misunderstanding that could have been sorted in less than 5 minutes if the protagonists simply had a chat.

    1. The book that I just finished was like that. The heroine kept putting off coming clean with the hero on a really small thing and then it blew up in their faces through someone sabotaging them which would never have happened if she had told him what was going on in the first place.