Speaking of trust—
Yes, we were talking about trust just last month (It’s about Control). I’ve noticed a weird trust trend. Romance, fantasy, and sci-fi novels share a level of trust that I find impossible to believe. It’s not that the protagonist trusts the villain, although that happens fairly regularly.
In Chanda Hahn’s Reign (book 4 of An Unfortunate Fairy Tale series), Mina Grime knows the man facing her has captured her brother and risked her life by sending fairy tales after her. He watched with indifference as she fought a grim reaper. Yet, when her friend/love interest is at the brink of death, the villain says trust me I can help. Mina hesitates for mere moments. She doesn’t question why he would help. She doesn’t contemplate what he might gain. The main character does consider how he’ll help or if he’s lying. These speculations are worth reflection.
Both Evies in Jessica Shirvington’s Embrace series and Amy A. Bartol’s Premonition series regularly trust the villains despite frequent lies, deceptions, and kidnapping. However, these characters trust the bad guys repeatedly until the final book, when the characters learn from their mistakes—well, some of the characters learn from their mistakes, not Premonition’s Evie, who trusts villains in every book.
I realize trusting the villain is not that simple. Often, the protagonist trusts the antagonist because the situation is dire: the heroine’s best friend is near death, or the villain is the only character that can help save the day. I accept the villains are sometimes believable. Lying and deception is the bad guy’s thing. They need to be good at it, so the protagonist’s trust is completely unreasonable.
However, I see two problems with their trust.
These main characters trusted a stranger, sinister or angelic, before they know the person well enough to trust them. True trust earned through familiarity, time, loyalty, experience, something that indicates the person is worthy of such faith. For example, Carnage‘s Carolena runs through a dark bayou to escape a man determined to make her his bride. Fortunately, a gargoyle—fangs, grey skin, horns, and all—swoops in, grabs her, and takes her into the trees to hide. The creature’s actions save her from an unwanted marriage, but the woman didn’t know gargoyles exist. She doesn’t know where he’s taking her. She doesn’t know if he’s dangerous, yet Carolena clings to the creature as if he is a long-lost bodyguard.
How unrealistic, and this immediate trust isn’t unrealistic because I am a suspicious person—although I am. Instead, the trust is unreasonably swift and feminine.
Yes, swift, instinctual trust is a feminine trait I never honed. Yet, countless novels’ women say there was something about another character that makes her think, “There’s just something about him that made me trust, that made me want to share my secrets.” Men believe this in any of the aforementioned genres.
Nope, this sudden belly tingling trust is a female thing since, of course, the trustworthy guy is hot. Whether the woman recently met the handsome man she’s trying to kill (Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost) or she drools over the handsome man who wants to help her (The Veil Diaries series by B. L. Brunnemer), her gut—a.k.a. her attraction to the man—tells the female character she can trust the man with her secrets. And the unrealistic trust works out by the novel’s end. In Ink, Leora receives help from a boy a few years older than her. Because of that initial meeting, she shares her fears and asks him to break the law with her. Before that request, they spoke twice.
Oddly, the ill-conceived trust seems to be the only way the story can move forward. If the protagonist needs to learn the truth, then she must trust the villain so that she can stumble into enemy territory and discover the truth. If the heroine needs to fall in love, the female must instinctively trust the love interest without reason. If her best friend or parent might die, the main character must trust the enemy to gain a cure or stop an attack. The character can grow up only if she trusts the wrong man. Leora remains uncertain of her beliefs and actions throughout Ink, but her betrayed trust helps find herself.
Why must readers abandon realistic behavior to ensure the plot moves forward? Why must women blindly trust while men in similar situations are slow to trust? Why are male characters allowed to be suspicious, analytical thinkers?
Can’t we all just be skeptical?