Lessons From K-Drama: The Liars’ Arc

As some of you may know, I have a small (large) K-Drama addiction, but sometimes when talking to other K-Drama addicts I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I have favorite actors, but I don’t have a bias. I’ve never made a meme. Guys brooding in the shower make me sad that the actor had to starve for a week just so he could look pretty in the shower.

What I’m in love with is the storytelling. Especially the Rom-Coms. Typically 16 episodes filled with stories that are as comfortable as a warm blanket at this point. I’ve watched so many dramas, learned so many tropes that they can sucker me into a romance in–I kid you not–a single glance.

So, as is my wont, I don’t just watch the tropes, I analyze them and then figure out how to steal them. Because, if something can make me feel that quickly and that effectively then the least I can do is learn how to replicate it.

So, I’m going to start sharing some of my sekrit learning on my blog because talking about it helps me understand it even better!

The first is what I call The Liars’ Arc.

What It Is

This isn’t a formal trope that I’ve found in western storytelling, it may have a more appropriate name in Korea. If it does, I’d love to know it. (My understanding of Dramas impresses my sister-in-law’s mom and gets me more fruit and the good banchan when we visit Seoul.)

The Liars’ Arc describes a relationship arc. Two people, likely the lead romantic couple, meet and for various–usually legitimate–reasons, they lie to each other or encourage a misunderstanding. She says she’s foreign. He says he’s poor. She says she’s skilled at something she knows nothing about.

Little lies. The kind of lies we tell strangers out of convenience.

But there’s something about this lie that makes them useful to the other person. As the story progresses, these lies get compounded with other lies. Lies they tell to other people. Lies they tell about their relationship (they form a secret contract marriage, she’s his long-lost cousin) about her abilities (she’s not really a boy, she’s hired at his company but doesn’t know what she’s doing), etc.

The first half is telling lies. Lies that push them together when they don’t belong together, when their truths would keep them apart.

The second half is the unraveling of those lies. By the time their relationship is firm, someone else finds out and blackmails him. Another discovers her credentials aren’t real and uses it against her. The personal lies stress the couple and their relationship.

The lies they’ve told others now create real problems with their families, jobs, the world in general. So for the rest of the story they have to decide if their relationship is worth fighting for. The sacrifice may be their family’s business, their family relationships, or even their own lives.

Of course, this being K-Drama, in the end everything is resolved one way or the other and the two find a way to live happily ever after, because that’s what we demand that’s the comfort of the warm blanket. Plus, when they don’t give it to us we curse their names.

Where to Find It

As with most of my favorite tropes, this is a Hong Sisters’ staple. You can find versions of this in almost all their stories, but the ultimate version is “My Girl” with “You’re Beautiful” as a close second. My Girl is the cousin one. You’re Beautiful is about a nun who pretends she’s her own fraternal twin and takes his place in a boy band.

Another fabulous example is “My Lovely Sam Soon” that had a 50% viewership rating at the finale. That’s 50% of all TVs in Korea were watching that show during the live broadcast to see if they could unwind all their lies.

You’ll see aspects of this trope in most Rom-Coms, lies are an easy basis for misunderstanding and misunderstandings drive stories, but these three use the trope as its core. (My Girl so obviously they practically hang a lantern on it.)

How to Use It

The first and most obvious use is Romance. It’s a super effective trope in this context, but that’s not the only place it works. The relationship could be a lot of things: friends, business partners, criminals. I could see this as a very effective Heist technique, and likely the closest we get to it in western storytelling are tales like Ocean’s Eleven where we need to believe the team is undone in some way.

Likely you all will be more creative than I am. I’m currently applying this in my Elf book and using it for both the romance and the main political through line (since they’re tied together tightly). We’ll see how effective I am with it.


So there’s my first post about K-Drama tropes as I see them. As any good K-drama addict I’m very excited to discuss these tropes and recommend other versions or even other stories. Like all addicts, we feel better when we’re not the only ones.

Hope you enjoyed it!