Keeping Secrets in Romance

I’ve written more than one blog article on the dangers of withholding information from the reader. If the point of view character knows something that the reader does not, the story keeps the reader at a distance and they can’t properly connect to the characters or events.

(Please note, the reader doesn’t need to know a thing that the point of view character does not know. In fact, the reader and main character can enjoy learning secrets together — that’s called a mystery.)

Yet time and time again the romance genre, I see withheld information being the principle “conflict” in the story. The theory seems to be that the reader finds out when the romantic partner discovers the truth, but this is a failing strategy. Let me explain why:

Romantic conflict is a simple formula: That which draws them together vs that which keeps them apart.

When “that which keeps them apart” is a secret, the whole thing falls apart. Why does she keep pulling back? Why does he? The worst part is if they do get intimate before the secret is revealed because there they are, connecting to one another on the page, when I have yet to connect to them.

Here’s the bottom line: Romance writers, you don’t get an exception to this writing rule. It has failed for bestselling authors such as Julia Quinn and Lorraine Heath. It will fail for you, too. Let us get to know your characters, inside and out, and let us feel the true pain of their inability to have a relationship. That’s what romance is all about — that feeling of perfect pain.

Posted in Tips for Writers.


  1. Completely agree! It drives me crazy when the heroine or hero refuses to commit to the relationship because of some deep dark secret that the author refuses to reveal to the reader. Worse yet when we are finally told what it is and it seems like a ridiculous reason, that was drawn out for know purpose. I want to know straight away so I can make my own judgement as to the validity of the character not confiding in their partner. I am also less irritated if it is an actual lame excuse when I am let in on it early.

    • Yes! I think I ranted about the “lame reveal” at some point myself (not sure if it was on my blog or not). But I had just read a string of books where the secret turned out to be so mind-numbingly STUPID that I wanted to throttle …. someone! Often, I can even guess the reason but it doesn’t help. I feel like the point of reading is to connect with the characters in a way I can’t in, say, a movie. But if they’re not working on their issues with me, I can’t do that. And a lame reason at the end isn’t necessarily a lame reason if we know about it because it might be important to *them* and if we see those thought processes, it makes all the difference!

      I’m not a big fan of keeping secrets in general. I mean, there are times, but I prefer relationships that have a real solid obstacle between them that couldn’t be worked out with a nice long talk.

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