The Intricacies of Marriages of Convenience

I may have mentioned once or twice (ahem) how much I love the “marriage of convenience” plot. I recently finished reading one of Mary Balogh’s recent novels, First Comes Marriage, which I really enjoyed, and which also got me thinking again about why I find that plot so rewarding, particularly in historical romance.

Obviously, you can generate a lot of plot tension simply from two strangers having to work together to accomplish a goal. In the Marriage of Convenience, those goals can vary. For instance, the goal might be simply to create a child who will be heir to a title; or for the hero to provide financially for a woman for whom he feels responsible; or for the heroine and hero to extricate themselves from a social disaster.

You can separate those three situations into two general types that are subtly different. In one version, the simple act of marriage solves a problem (averting social scandal); the resulting marriage then becomes the problem to be solved, in any one of a variety of ways. In another version, the marriage itself begins as a problem that must be solved – the couple is married, but how to do they go about life in order to achieve their goals? What must they give and give up to their partner? What process do they follow, what series of problems and their solutions? Also, occasionally an outside conflict is introduced, that must be solved along with the marriage conflict.

I’m not sure yet if these distinctions are useful ones to make when reading a Marriage of Convenience novel, but they might be useful when thinking about how to plot one. At base, any Marriage of Convenience plot is more about the period after the wedding than the wedding itself. But the period before the wedding might also be useful to create thematic or character issues that can then be strengthened, deepened, once the tension is increased (once the two characters are bound by law).

Another issue I’m considering is the previous relationship. Did the hero and heroine know each other before the wedding? Even if they’ve known each other for years as, say, friends or neighbors, there must be essential elements that are not known, and I think those elements would need to be dramatically significant (hence the popularity of Secret Angst). Without some mystery, there can be no discovery. If the couple are new to one another, for instance the aristocrat who marries the country mouse vicar’s daughter, revelations of character might need to proceed at a different pace.

I’ve rambled on long enough for now, but I’m going to continue to think about the subtleties of this type of plot.

Related post: Why I Love the Marriage of Convenience Plot.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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14 Responses to The Intricacies of Marriages of Convenience

  1. Jeannie Lin says:

    Forced intimacy at it's best! I do love a good contemporary that can work in a marriage of convenience plot too, but it's a lot harder.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    I think a lot of the time for contemporaries, pregnancy gets used as the reason for the marriage, often with an outside threat added to make sure we accept it's necessary, such as Dangerous Stalker Ex-Boyfriend or similar. I've also seen it work in categories when one of the characters is modern royalty and there's some looming scandal.

  3. Mahlee Ashwynne says:

    My favorite 'marriage of convenience' novel is Georgette Heyer's FRIDAY'S CHILD where the Viscount Sherringham marries his neighbor's impoverished relation, Hero, because he had threatened to marry the first woman he saw (who, she reminded him, was her). Very engaging plot device, the convenient marriage. The reasons for marriage from genre to genre vary, but ultimately the couple have to sort things out or spend their lives in limbo emotionally.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    Yay FRIDAY'S CHILD! Though my favorite Heyer MoC is THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE. (Great title, huh?)

  5. Crystal Jordan says:

    I love this kind of plot, too! Especially in a historical setting.

  6. Victoria Janssen says:

    And also in the paranormal, correct? Mating bonds!

  7. Crystal Jordan says:

    Yep, I've done that sort of thing even more overtly than just the mate-bonding in my paranormal books. It's a fun plot to play with!

  8. Victoria Janssen says:

    It's such a versatile McGuffin. I've been thinking of the different directions one can take the story after the marriage.

  9. oyceter says:

    I have a great fondness for this plot device too! I think some of it stems from my like of the "OMG! I have fallen in love with MY SPOUSE!" plot device.

  10. Victoria Janssen says:

    "I have fallen in with MY SPOUSE! And our love is FORBIDDEN!" *pause* "No, wait…."

  11. Marie says:

    Great post, Victoria. I love marriage of convenience plots, and have written a couple of books with it. Also reunion or past love stories, usually the bad boy comes back home after being run out of town, only now he own the town.

    Marie Tuhart

  12. Victoria Janssen says:

    Hmmm, the Reunion could lead to a Marriage of Convenience….

  13. Jeanette Murray says:

    I do love me a marriage of convenience. And great book by Mary Balogh, recently read it myself. Great blog!

  14. Victoria Janssen says:

    I finished the third in that new Balogh series this weekend. Every one is a different version of the MoC plot…she is a master of it.

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