Is complete honesty in an in-book relationship beneficial?
Here’s something most authors are tired of hearing: conflict drives the plot. What causes conflict? A difference of values, processes, rights, power, and interests. Information or lack thereof creates conflict. I’ll provide some examples from my romances.
In Jaded Hearts, Ruthanna travels to meet someone she’s met through a mail order bride agency. Her intentions are honest. She will marry Bertram if they get along. However, she’s not fully honest with him (withholds information) as to why she chose to move to Prosper, Alberta. Bertram and Ruthanna get to know one another and more information comes to light about their respective pasts. Sometimes more information leads to a resolution, other times more information leads to conflict. Both romantic and non-romance plots are resolved when all information comes to light.
In The Ninth Star, the characters are honest with one another from the start. Each has a sense of the other’s family background, work history, and place in the village. However, information on the driver of historical events is slowly uncovered (discovered) throughout the book. Only when information on different supernatural phenomena is combined, can the characters resolve the main non-romance plot.
In The Game Warden’s Match, Mirabelle has some secrets she keeps to herself about her previous relationships. Those secrets are extremely humiliating to her and by withholding them, she is jeopardizing her relationship with James. Only after she shares her secrets with James does her romance with him flourish. For the mystery plot, there are many secrets James and Mirabelle must first detect then unravel to solve the crime.
Whether you’re writing a romance or a non-romance, honesty is required on the part of the main character. Change and character growth are dependent on honesty. Without honesty, the character is cheated from making an independent decision. Conflict drives the plot, but the plot is dependent on active and engaged characters that lead to some form of transformation (particularly in romance). If there is dishonesty (or intentional withholding of information), then the other characters are robbing the main character of agency. Without agency, the main character lacks the independence to drive the plot.
In a romance, the goal is to have complete honesty between the characters. Honesty is the foundation for the relationship (eventually) and the basis of the transformation that ensures the characters will both have their happily ever afters.
Honesty is dependent on information (more information or new information). There’s a tipping point where the main character decides to do things differently. More information comes in different forms. The main character may witness the tragic death of a friend, they may overheard a conversation about what really happened that fateful day, or they may finally get the truth from a parent. Whatever the source of new information, it will lead to a change of decisions.
There’s an idiom: people relive / encounter the same problems over and over again until they learn and act differently. It’s the same with your characters. They will face the same problems over and over again until they make a decision to act differently. Don’t have some other character make that decision for your characters. Give your characters agency by increasing their self-honesty and the honesty of those around them. With more information, with more accurate information, your main character will be able to grow.
Honesty is the best policy, and it applies to characters as well. Honesty can be a source of conflict as much as it can be source of growth. Don’t deprive your characters of making hard choices by lying to themselves and others. It’s easy to hide, keep quiet, and stay in the same miserable place. It takes courage and grit and growth to deal with past wrongs, address sticky points in a relationship, and stand up for one’s self.
Honesty sometimes hurts, but it is needed for growth.
Thank you @DNemmly for the topic suggestion. The graphic is from geralt on Pixabay