Secrets and Deception

I attended a fabulous writing seminar on Saturday given by Michael Hague who is a Hollywood script doctor. One of the things I learned in the class was the majority of successful Hollywood romantic comedies contain some sort of deception or big bad secret in the plot. I never really thought about it before. So I began flipping through my memory to analyze the plots of all of the romantic comedies I love and watch over and over, and was shocked to discover Mr. Hague wasn’t yanking my chain. Here are a few examples of my favorites:

Sabrina—Harrison Ford begins dating Julia Ormond to keep his brother’s engagement from breaking up.

You’ve Got Mail—Tom Hanks is secretly corresponding with the woman whose business he’s destroyed.

While You Were Sleeping—Sandra Bullock masquerades as a comatose man’s fiancée.

The American President—Michael Douglas makes a deal with Annette Benning and then goes behind her back  to advance his own political agenda.

Never Been Kissed—Drew Barrymore poses as a high school student to write an article for the newspaper she works for.

Sweet Home Alabama—Reese Witherspoon hides her lower class background and parents from her wealthy fiancé.

Failure to Launch—Sara Jessica Parker pretends to date Matthew  McConaughey to get him to move out of his parents home.

Now I can probably come up with a list just as long of titles that don’t use deception as a plot device.  But for some reason, the majority of the ones I repeatedly watch have deception as an integral part of the story. This made me realize that the most of the books I’ve written contain deception or a secret and that must be what I found appealing in the story. Does that mean I’m a liar at heart or that I value honesty? It’s probably why I laughed so hard when I received a 1-star review on The Memory of You because the hero was deceitful. DUH…It’s a secret identity romance. Big surprise—someone’s keeping a secret!

My next release, Hypnotic Seduction, was a Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® finalist, and is due to release the middle of May under my L.L. Kellogg persona. It’s a red-hot romantic comedy with a deceptive heroine this time.

She has a problem relaxing with men  

Frumpy wallflower Hannah Oliver is nearly thirty and has a serious self-image problem. Growing up in her centerfold mother’s shadow and being raised by her pious grandparents has left her so self-conscious about her matronly, D-cup figure she gets tongue-tied around good-looking guys. So when Hannah discovers her fiancé/employer boinking her roommate, she’s not only devastated—she’s unemployed.

He’s got a problem fending off women

Pharmaceutical CEO Jordan Calder has a huge image problem too—his professional image. Most guys would kill to be publicly proclaimed a world-class lover, but other men don’t share his dark, shameful past. The only thing women have ever wanted Jordan for is what he can give them in and out of bed. So when his grandfather drags dowdy Hannah into his office as an executive assistant candidate, Jordan hires the mousey woman on the spot.

Could hypnosis be a solution? 

After miraculously landing her plum new position, sexually frustrated Hannah resorts to hypnosis to boost her self-confidence with men, hoping to attract another mate. Unfortunately, a post-hypnotic suggestion compels her to kiss her sexy playboy boss, who she then stupidly falls for in and out of bed. Despair induces her to use similar hypnotic principles on him—in the form of subliminal messages—to convince the man she loves that he wants a happy-ever-after with her. But as everyone knows, desperate measures and deception usually spell disaster.

How about you? What plot element are you especially drawn to, and what other romances can you think of that are based on deception or ones that aren’t?

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Secrets and Deception

  1. lizbethselvig

    Hey Laurie,
    What a fun post! I’m working right now on a story where omission of the truth is the main conflict. I’ve always “known” you can’t base a whole story on something that could easily be solved with a simple conversation. But, when there’s deception and the motivation for it is deep and sometimes dark (or unwitting as in the case of amnesia) then it’s the unraveling of those motivations and what happens when the secret is unwittingly revealed that keeps me reading. When a deception story is handled with a delicate hand — they create some of the most satisfying story endings to me.
    Congrats on all your success — here’s to it continuing!

  2. Franceis

    I actually love those films you listed. Except for Sabrina, The American President and Failure to Launch. ‘Coz I haven’t watched them yet. LOL I would most probably love them too if I do.
    There is a difference between deception and secrets. But both create conflict in a story. Without it, there would be no story at all. However, I’ll read a story based on secrets but not deception.
    As for romantic comedies? Tough question coz I have a lot. Hmmm… Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride. I’m pretty sure I have more but those are the first movies that popped in my mind, I love tearjearkers too. And I cried with Abby in TMOY.

    • Failure to Launch was funny, but not a great love story. You HAVE to watch Sabrina and The American President. I think they’re my two favorite romance movies of all time. Sabrina was such a classic with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, they remade it with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond (which is the version I prefer) The earlier version wasn’t really a romantic comedy, but more of a light drama. Of course, I love anything Harrison Ford stars in.

  3. Hi Laurie,
    Glad you enjoyed the seminar – I know I did! I had never thought about it either, but I do believe Michael Hauge is correct – most romantic comedies do have some type of deception or lie at play within the plot. As for me, I’m drawn to stories that explore a deep philosophical question or question about life and/or death. Don’t know why really, perhaps because no one can say for sure that they have all the answers to the great mystery of life.

  4. Franceis

    Hmmm… Do I prefer romances based on deception? My answer is no. I understand that heroes do have something in them that they can’t immediately tell their partners out of the fear of losing them. However, omission of truth is tolerable rather than threading sets of lies. As for the other question of what type of plot element I am drawn to, (Wheww!!! That’s a tough one coz I have tons. Hahaha) I could name some right now like couples who started as best friends, couples who are opposites that they are almost incompatible, rekindled love, young love to one & only love, enemies turned lovers, romantic comedy and paranormal romance (but not ghost or sci-fi). I certainly have more but I can’t think right now. Hahaha 😉

    • I don’t care for a plot based purely on lies, either, Franceis. But I think the addition of a few secrets and the suspense of how the characters find out makes for a good story.

      For example, The Memory of You is first and foremost an amnesia story, A Little Bit of Deja Vu is a second-chance at love plot, and Hypnotic Seduction is an ugly ducking story. But all of them have some secret or deception as a subplot.

      As a writer, I think I like the challenge of finding the right motivations to make the character’s deception understandable and sympathetic to the reader.

      I’m guessing the movies I listed aren’t your favorite, Which romantic comedies do you like to watch again and again?

  5. gillian

    You’ve listed some of my favorite movies there (American President, Sabrina…) and made a great point.

    You have knocked it out of the park with your new cover and title. I predict a best-seller! 🙂

  6. I just watched 27 Dresses last night, and it’s loaded with deception. And I love it! Viewers want to know something that the hero or heroine doesn’t yet know. It makes us feel ‘in the know.” As I’m generally a very nosy person, I love those kind of movies.
    Your book sounds awesome. It has all kinds of deception. LOL

  7. dianalayne

    good post, valid points!

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