Romance is in the air. Perhaps you’re with someone special and you’ve got big plans, or if you’re a fan of The Office, perhaps you’re hoping Cupids Sparrow will hit you and you’ll be in love by the end of Valentines Day. If you’d like a less obscure reference, perhaps you’re just happy to curl up with a good book on V-Day and ignore all the hearts and flowers and googly-eyes in favor of the old faithful: romance novels.
Any way you wanna celebrate (or not) Valentine’s Day is totally valid.
But you just know us writers are thinking about romance in our writing, and sometimes romance leads to…..
And in particular, tropes (in romance novels) are:
“Commonly used story devices that we all recognize on some level.”Evie Alexander, 150 Romance Novel Tropes
Some people may dismiss them as cliché or formulaic, but when written well and with endearing characters they can be very engaging aspects to lean in to.
I happen to love romance tropes. And writing tropes in general, really. I know my fellow Guild member and collaboration partner, A.D. Moseley, also loves tropes, because we’ve had plenty of talks about them. And based on our many discussions when collaborating on our novel, Pearlessence (available on Kindle Vella, the first 3 chapters are always FREE!), I’ve compiled some popular romance tropes for you to flirt with today – AND examples!
Now before we discuss tropes and what they mean in the romance genre, we should probably go over the genre itself…. Thankfully, fellow Motley Writers Guild member, Julie Lynn Lorewood, wrote an excellent blog post delving into romance books, and why they are often disregarded as ‘bodice rippers’, when they are actually so, so much more. If you haven’t read it yet I encourage you to head on over there and do that because she dissects the genre (and some misconceptions about it) thoroughly, and will open your mind to the spectrum of what romance books can offer (to loosely quote Julie herself).
Read the blog post here: Why Do We Disregard Romance Books? By Julie Lynn Lorewood.
Go ahead. I’ll wait 🙂
Okay, you’re back!
Nice to see you again 🙂
And now that we’re all caught up on what romance books are (and aren’t), we can discuss popular tropes within them.
They are supposed to be in no particular order, but I’ve listed them from my most to least favorite:
1. Love Triangle:
Three characters are stuck in a will they/won’t they, where you wonder who the protagonist will end up with. Love triangles have long been a favored trope of the romance genre, whether it’s the multiple love triangles in the classics Sense and Sensibility (by Jane Austen), and Wuthering Heights (by Charlotte Bronte) or perhaps something more current, such as Katniss, Peeta, and Gale in the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; or the SciFi love triangle between a dragon, human, and elf (Tahllah, Ravien and Asher, respectively) in Pearlessence, by Em Van Moore and A.D. Moseley (why not head over to Kindle Vella and check it out yourself?).
There’s just something so enticing about a love triangle. Everyone has their favorite combination, but it usually follows this formula:
- 1 lady/man
- 1 “bad” suitor (with a heart of gold)
- 1 “good” suitor (who is wrong for the protag somehow)
Note: Swap “bad” with “forbidden” and “good” with “betrothed” and you have an entire sub-genre of romance.
In Pearlessence, Tahl has gotten back together with her ex-boyfriend, Ravien, and steaminess ensues. Perhaps he’s actually changed this time? He’s possessive of her, as always. But then it turns out the handsome detective Asher isn’t the enemy she thought he was, and sparks fly between them too… (Cue the love triangle!).
2. Soul Mates/Destiny:
These people are meant to be together. Nothing in the ‘verse can keep them apart, and the machinations of the cosmos continually pushes them towards each other like high-powered romantic magnets.
Some notable examples are Princess Buttercup and Wesely in the Princess Bride by William Goldman, Jess and River in The Soul Mate Equation by Christina Lauren, Clare and Henry in The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and in researching this blog post I read N J Simmonds article about the same topic, and she referenced her own book The Path Keeper which is also an excellent example of soul mates/destiny.
3. Second Chances:
This one is particularly relatable because almost everyone in the world has loved and lost. We wish we could just have one more chance with that person because we just know in our hearts it would actually work out if we got another chance. Well, this trope is for you!
The Second Chance trope is all about couples who didn’t work out that first time (or second, or third…) time, but all they needed was the right timing, the right setting, or perhaps even just enough years to have passed, like in Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren or Been There Done That by Hope Ellis.
4. Enemies to Lovers:
Two unlikely and seemingly incompatible enemies. These characters can’t stand each other, or they might even be destined in opposition like the Montagues and Capuletes in Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet, but by the end of the story the tables have turned and they fall in love. Whereas in real life oil and vinegar don’t actually mix (but with enough spices it could make a great salad dressing), in romance novels they go together like a delicious vinaigrette of love (I might just be hungry…).
Some great examples are two sworn enemies on the same rescue mission in space like in The Darkness Outside Us (which is so much more complex than just an enemies to lovers trope, so give it a try!). In Pearlessence by Em Van Moore (yep, I’m referencing myself again) and A.D. Moseley, a fugitive dragoness, Tahl, is trying to evade capture by a handsome detective who’s hot on her tail. Other than the fact that she believes he’s secretly a dragon hunter, she also just simply finds him insufferable. He’s arrogant, calculated, and impossible to read. But then circumstances force them to work together against a common enemy, and she realizes he may be the only person in the world who actually sees her for who she is – and doesn’t want to kill her for it.
5. Friends to Lovers:
I adore this particular trope because I’m pretty sure everyone can relate to falling for their friend, and maybe that love isn’t requited. But in this trope it is! So we can enjoy reading along as two platonic buddies learn that the thing they were looking for was right in front of them the whole time…
Like when two friends go on vacations year after year, and that friendship blossoms into something more in People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry, or maybe it’s a geeky billionaire who helps his friend when she gets injured, like in Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen.
6. Stuck On You:
Much like the comedy film of the same name, this trope is all about people who are forced to be together because of their environment, hobbies, friends/family, or just very particular situations. (BTW it’s also called the “Stuck Together” trope, but I can’t waste a chance to reference a movie where Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon play conjoined twins and one of them dates CHER. The CHER. It’s absurd). These two (or more) characters would love to do things other than fall for each other, but circumstances keep pushing them together.
Maybe they’re trapped in a snowed-in cabin together, or maybe they are stuck doing wedding stuff for the bride who’s wedding they’re a part of. like in Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, or a booking mix-up has trapped two strangers on a remote Irish island together line in One Night On The Island by Josie Silver.
7. Forbidden Love:
I’m going to tell you a secret. I have never seen the movie nor read the book it’s based on, but from everything I’ve heard The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks is the quintessential Forbidden Love meets Soul Mates story. So of course it belongs on this list, even though my familiarity with it begins and ends with them kissing in the rain and a scene where Ryan Gosling climbs on a ferris wheel.
However, I have read the short story the film Brokeback Mountain was based on, and I have to say that in my humble opinion it’s an excellent example of Forbidden Love. Two cowboys wrangling animals all summer, knowing they can’t fall for each other but they do.
And for something more modern, there’s the story of a girl who falls in love with her boyfriends father (don’t worry, the age gap isn’t…too bad) in Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas.
8. Fake It Till You Make It (Love):
Two characters have to pretend to be into each other to seize an opportunity, or make someone jealous, or perhaps just because they’re bored, but then the pretending stops being pretend after all…
For example, two characters attend a wedding but all the other guests gets sick, and they don’t want to waste a chance to go on a non-refundable honeymoon the bride and groom are unable to take, like in The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren.
I’m a sucker for a period drama, so Daphne and Simon in the Duke and I by Julia Quinn hits all the right notes for me; and of course the very popular To All The Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han is an excellent example of the Fake Relationship trope.
9. Secret Millionaire/Billionaire:
This trope focuses on a love story between a protagonist and someone she/he falls for, but they don’t know their new paramour is actually… *gasp* a millionaire! (Or billionaire).
Which leads us to the last romance trope on the list….
10. Fake Identities:
These stories are all about someone pretending to be someone they’re not, and a character falling in love with them without knowing the truth. From princes masquerading as paupers, to waitresses dressing up like CEOS, this trope is popular for a lot of reasons but I think the most relatable is that everyone sometimes wishes they could pretend to be someone (or something) else, even if it’s just for a few hours or days.
In An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn, Sophie is a servant who sneaks into a masquerade ball and she just so happens to catch the eye of an eligible lord Bridgerton…
In The Switch by Linsay Sands, a woman dresses up as a man to escape her uncle, and inadvertantly falls for a Lord who tries to help her and her twin sister.
And for something a bit more modern, there’s the plus sized Fake Identity story A Merry Little Meet Cute by Sierra Simone, where the main character is actually an adult film actress who accidentally gets cast in a wholesome holiday movie and must hide her true profession.
There’s other tropes I haven’t included in this list, but these are the ones I think can be the most fun to read — and to write. So please check out the examples I’ve given, and hopefully you’ll find your new favorite book this Valentines Day week.
Are there other romance tropes (or writing tropes in general) you’d like to talk about? Leave a comment on this blog post. We love hearing from you!
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