7 Colossal Worst Cases of the Miscommunication Trope

Tropes push a narrative along and often elevate the plot, but some just leave us with a headache. Read on to see our picks for the worst of miscommunication.

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Miscommunication happens often in our everyday lives, but when we encounter it in stories, it often comes across as lazy and poorly executed. It may be reasonable for a character or two to have a basic misunderstanding of something someone said, or perhaps they receive the wrong piece of information, but when the entire plot hinges on a simple misunderstanding, it takes the readers out of the book. While miscommunication is common in real life, characters in a book are controlled by an author, so it feels like unearned tension for the sake of driving the plot forward. When readers reach the end of the book, they find out that everything could have gone much more smoothly. If only for a little extra time to clarify things, then it might feel like a big waste of time. Here are some of the worst cases of the miscommunication trope in books.

The cover for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.
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The fifth installment of the Harry Potter series is ripe with miscommunication. Harry always deals with the abusive and obnoxious Umbridge, yet Harry does not report it out of fear of not being believed while also feeling isolated and powerless. Kids not being believed by adults is a trope in itself. Dumbledore also withholds crucial information from Harry about Voldemort because of Voldemort’s ability to manipulate Harry should he possess that knowledge. The rationale might sound legit since Voldemort is a formidable force, but when the miscommunication drives the plot to such a large extent these things seem more like a convenient copout to raise the stakes when everyone could simply clarify everything. 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

The cover for Normal People by Sally Rooney.
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Normal People sees two lovers, Marianne and Connell, navigate their love life in a coming-of-age story. Many people cherish this book, but much of the relationship hinges on the lack of communication between Marianne and Connell. They do not tell each other as much as they should and then assume the other knows what they are thinking. Sometimes miscommunication happens in relationships in real life, but books do not seem to warrant this because there are better ways to create conflict. The miscommunication in this book is a bit more realistic than other entries on this list, but if you are not a fan of the miscommunication trope, then you might find yourself taking up issues with this book.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

The cover for The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren.
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The miscommunication trope takes more of a backseat in The Unhoneymooners as this is more of a tale of forced proximity and faux relationships. Miscommunication is used more for humor, arguably the only acceptable use of this trope. When a simple misunderstanding is used to create a barrel of laughs, it is justified, and creating humor is a skill that takes talent and hard work. The book is a romantic comedy, so the trope makes it seem lighthearted. However, humor is not everyone’s cup of tea, so the book can still rub some people the wrong way if they are not crazy about the book’s usage of humor.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

The cover for Love on the Brain for Ali Hazelwood.
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This book focuses on women in STEM through the lens of Bee Königswasser and Levi Ward, who become lab partners but do not get along. This leads to mistrust and miscommunication. Similar to The Unhoneymooners, there is more of a humorous twist on the miscommunication trope to create tension, but to some readers, the tension will feel repetitive and contrived.

Happy Place by Emily Henry

The cover for Happy Place by Emily Henry.
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Happy Place uses the miscommunication trope quite effectively as it explores how miscommunication can lead to the downfalls of relationships, so Harriet and Wyn must overcome that while still pretending to be together. However, the main problem of the miscommunication trope in this book is not their own miscommunication with each other but that with their friends. Harriet and Wyn lie to their friends about being together when they are no longer dating, and this creates much conflict and tension, leaving readers to wonder why they can’t be upfront with their friends.

The Sweetest Oblivion by Danielle Lori

The cover for The Sweetest Oblivion by Danielle Lori.
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Much of the conflict in this book could be fixed with a conversation, but alas, the lack of miscommunication carries on for too long, which is unnecessary. The miscommunication trope should not be used as a switch to turn conflict on and off. Again, much of the conflict can be cleared up with some good old-fashioned communication. The relationship between Elena and Nico has a foundation of lust and physical attraction, and these relationships usually do not pan out well. 

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

The cover for The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez.
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The Friend Zone is about what it sounds like, as it delves into the infamous friend zone between Kristen and Josh. This time, however, Kristen uses the friend zone because she hides the fact that she cannot have kids while Josh wants to have a large family. Kristen genuinely feels for Josh but fears this will ruin the relationship, so she keeps the secret from him. The same criticisms of the miscommunication trope can be applied to The Friend Zone, as readers might find it goes on for too long, and all of the book’s conflict hinges on a big secret. Nevertheless, this is a realistic position for someone in Kristen’s position to be in. When things are going well, it is hard to bring ourselves to reveal something that could potentially ruin it, even if clarification could go a long way.

The miscommunication trope can be used to varying effects, and it is quite common in the romance genre since miscommunication happens in real-life relationships. Even if it is realistic, sometimes readers still see it as lazy writing because it feels like too simple of a conflict. Authors have full control over their stories, so there is no inherent reason for miscommunication to play such an impactful role in their stories. The fact that they chose the miscommunication trope as a driving force in their book’s central conflict may rub some readers the wrong way.


Want to read more recs based on romance tropes? Check out this article by Sierra Jackson!

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