Happy Valentine’s Day! or: Ten Lies to Twist a Love Story

With the arrival of Valentine’s Day, it seems only appropriate to turn to the topic of love in fiction—where love always, always, always faces some sort of obstacle.


Just like love in the real world, I suppose.

And just like in the real world, a lie can send a relationship into a rapid downward spiral.

Communication and honesty are critical to our characters’ ability to find their way toward some sort of resolution, hopefully of the happily-ever-after variety for characters, readers, and writers alike—but along the way, a lie or three can create the plot twists and turns that bring a story to life. So read on, and please add your own literary lies in the comments!

Ten Lies Characters Tell

HarshLight 1. The lie of identity. A lie brings two characters together who might not have met otherwise—but that same lie threatens to keep them apart. Think Cinderella or Never Been Kissed: Your character takes on a false identity and makes an unexpected connection. How will she pursue a relationship when she can’t be herself? What happens if the lie is revealed? In Cinderella, Prince Charming happily doesn’t care that Cinderella is a scullery maid; in Never Been Kissed, the protagonist’s actions not only deceived her love, but hurt him as well. (Photo: HarshLight, Flickr Creative Commons)

2. The lie of convenience. Two characters pretend love toward one another for an external purpose—for instance, to make an ex-boyfriend jealous. Their pseudo-relationship can make it a real relationship difficult or impossible, as in the film easy A. Or, if their feelings toward one another change, neither may be willing to make the first move.

3. The lie of obligation. Characters pretend love toward one another because they feel obligated for some reason, neither willing to reveal their true feelings for fear or hurting the other.

Now You See HerFol-larger4. The overheard lie. This one is particularly damaging if one character lies about the other, perhaps to save face. In Fact of Life #31 (SPOILER ALERT!) Kat’s budding romance is nearly destroyed because she overhears her beau lie about their relationship.

5. The lie that isn’t. When one character thinks the other is lying—and plays along in order to reveal their deception—it can make for a fantastic comedy of errors. Jennifer Crusie, romance author extraordinaire, uses this technique to keep her main characters at odds with one another. Since she’s hopping between the male and female protagonists’ point of view, the reader gets to giggle at the increasingly absurd misunderstandings.

Colombiana Poster6. The lie that drags the other character down. Sometimes, a love story is complicated by the baggage—or lies—one character brings to the relationship. In Columbiana, the main character falls in love with an artist and the relationship nearly destroys her. Why? Because she happens to be engaged in a vendetta against the drug cartel that murdered her parents, and getting to close to anyone might lead her enemies to her doorstep. Or, worse, to her artist boyfriend.

7. The sociopath’s lie. The sociopath is an intriguing and disturbing character: someone who has no conscience will lie to manipulate another into a relationship. How will your protagonist discover the true nature of their “true love”? How will she free herself from the sociopath’s control? In James Patterson’s Now You See Her, the main character discovers that her seemingly-perfect husband isn’t the person she thinks he is, sparking a novel’s worth of unfolding drama.’

8. The unspoken lie. When one side makes an assumption and the other doesn’t correct it, as in While You Were Sleeping, it creates the sort of unspoken lie that can easily balloon out of control. I’ve seen this used in conjunction with amnesia: when the amnesiac awakens, not remembering who she is, everyone assumes that the man with her is her boyfriend—and he goes along with the assumption.

9. The self-directed lie. When a character lies to herself about love–tells herself that she doesn’t love someone when she does, or that she does love someone when she doesn’t—it can create a complex and engaging conflict. What hurt prompts a character to deceive herself? What does she fear? And what will get her to realize the truth?

10. The lie to please someone else. In Say Anything, Diane Court breaks off her relationship with Lloyd Dobler because he doesn’t meet her father’s approval—she lets him think she doesn’t love him in order to please her father. Who might stand in the way of your character’s relationship? Would she give up the chance at love for that person?

Say Anything... Poster

Easy A PosterNever Been Kissed PosterWhile You Were Sleeping Poster

PS: If you enjoyed this post, you might appreciate last year’s Valentine’s Day post, Ten Ways to Embarrass Your Characters. It was inspired by my V-day birthday and the embarrassment of being called a “Valentine Baby” approximately 5032 times.

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  1. says

    An excellent Valentine’s post. Cheers.


  2. says

    Really interesting analysis/breakdown, Cheryl! I’d never thought of it this way before. I think it helps writers across the genres – not just romance. What great possibilities for obstacles!

    Thanks so much for a thought-provoking post.

    • says

      Thanks :) –it’s always fun to think of ways to thwart our characters, isn’t it? I write primarily for children and young adults, and romance always seems to rear its head in one way or another.

  3. says

    Ooh, the things we put our characters through! Heaven forbid we make it easy on them. How would that be any fun?

  4. Chirayu Tailor says

    Hi Cheryl,

    i intend to write a romantic love story. Believe me your article has indeed helped me to expand the horizons of my thought process.

    Would like your help in carving this story.

    If I may request your email address…i would like to share my story.

  5. ann says

    great post, thank you!