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The Difference Between Secret and Surprise Baby Romance Books

Tropes might fade in and out of style, but some persist no matter the trends, and the secret and surprise baby tropes fit that bill.

This is thanks in part to Mills and Boon and Harlequin, who regularly publish secret and surprise baby romance books. Just last month, my local library got the newest Mills and Boon surprise baby book in, and I'm eagerly waiting for my reserved copy.

But though the tropes are evergreen, they're often confused, and it makes sense. They sound pretty similar, and the first words even begin with the same letter!

The differences are nonetheless important, both to your plot and your readers.

So let's dive into what each trope means, and how they differ.

What is the secret baby trope?

The secret baby trope is when one main character has kept a child they've had, usually biologically, with the other/another main character (since some romances, including polyamorous romances, contain more than two love interests). Because the trope is built on the main characters having had a previous relationship, it's often paired with the second chance romance or one-night stand trope.

How long one main character keeps the baby a secret from the other/s varies; sometimes, it's just a few weeks, but in other books, the characters reunite after years apart, when the baby is a toddler or older.

What is the surprise baby trope?

The surprise baby trope, by contrast, is when one character accidentally gets pregnant during the book. It's easier to think of it as "surprise pregnancy," because often the baby isn't born until the very end of the book.

The important thing is the surprise element; this creates internal conflict, because the characters are still toiling with their internal conflicts and/or emotional wounds, which might have been caused by the type of relationship they previously had together, and they probably aren't ready to handle the change a baby brings. But navigating this surprise together brings them closer, helps them heal their wounds, and ultimately results in a happily ever after.

Can you use the secret baby trope at the end of a romance book?

I wouldn't recommend it. The secret baby trope provides structure to your romance novel; it's one of those tropes that must be carried throughout your book, with each beat (pivotal scene) relating back to it in some way.

And your characters need the whole book to work through the conflicts and feelings brought up by the trope and any others used with it, like second chance or one night stand.

We all know how hard it can be to forgive, and it's usually a long journey to get there that includes guilt, regret, anger, frustration, and forgiveness, before finally landing on acceptance. It's a hard process to simplify, a big emotional journey to pack into only a few chapters for the main character who's only just found out they're a parent. Not to mention that if the secret-keeping character reveals their baby toward the end of the romance, when they've already been vulnerable with the main character/s and made them feel safe and loved, forgiveness is going to be even harder to write into the other main character/s narrative because there aren't as many scenes where they can rebuild their trust.

Can you use the surprise baby trope at the end of a romance book?

You can incorporate the surprise baby trope later in your book, but as with the secret baby trope, you risk not having the time to fully weave the trope into the story, which might frustrate readers who picked up your book specifically for that trope. They want to see it affecting every aspect of the romance—from the connection between the characters to the conflict and character development.

If you include a surprise baby in the romance book's epilogue, can you mention the trope in your marketing copy?

Lots of romance novels end with epilogues that include pregnancy, and this is sometimes an unplanned pregnancy that is, nevertheless, celebrated by the main characters, because at this point, we're in happily-ever-after mode, where it's good vibes only.

However, even though an unplanned pregnancy in an epilogue is technically a surprise baby, and the epilogue is technically part of your romance novel, you can't use the trope tag in your marketing copy, because the trope doesn't occur in the meat of the book. That's where readers want to see it.

Are there particular sub-genres of romance where secret and surprise baby tropes are more popular?

You'll see these tropes in contemporary romance, including inspirational, romantic suspense, Western, mafia, and sports romance, but it does exist in paranormal and historical, though in the latter, it's rarer because of the way that children born out of wedlock were viewed in most popular historical eras represented in romance. That's not to say you shouldn't write a secret or surprise baby historical romance; more historical romance authors are playing with tropes and the way sex, history, and society are represented in romance, and readers (and editors!) are here for it.

Are there certain tropes that work well with secret and surprise baby romances?

I've already mentioned the one-night stand and second chance romance tropes, but opposites attract, enemies to lovers, and forbidden love tropes like brother's best friend or ex's brother are also fun to play with because of the angst ingrained in them. Your characters don't just have to adapt to life with a surprise or secret baby—they also have to deal with the fallout when their relationship with the other character/s comes to light. Prime fodder for internal and external conflict!

Though, as with every trope, there are ways of secret and surprise baby, and forbidden love tropes, so you don't need a third-act break-up or lots of angst before you get to the happily ever after. Getting over the secret/surprise might be the easy part for your characters; the hard part of their story could be their struggle against an external conflict, like a storm, a stalker, or the criminal they're both tracking.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion about these two romance tropes. Until next post, happy reading and writing!


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