Romance Tropes

The Kiss – Francesco Hayez

Christina here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it seems to be a trend on social media for authors to describe their books with a list of tropes instead of a blurb, like this for example:-

  • **Forced proximity
  • **Only one bed
  • **Brother’s best friend
  • **Opposites attract

It gives a sort of “snapshot” of the plot and what to expect, and I suppose it’s a good way for readers to see if the story appeals to them as we all have our likes and dislikes. Some authors even ask their readers to vote on which tropes they’d like to see included in the next book before it’s written! I find that a slightly cynical approach. Sure, it supposedly guarantees that people will enjoy the story as they’ve asked for it, but IMO it goes against the way a novel should be written – from the heart. If we’re going to let others decide what we’re writing about, will it be as genuine as if we came up with the idea unaided? There are probably pros and cons, and everyone should be free to do things their way, but personally I would struggle to write to order like that.

Cinderella

I don’t define my own stories by trope and for the most part I don’t think I could, to be honest. But thinking about tropes I decided to write down my five favourite and five least favourite ones in books I read and share them with you. Obviously this is my personal taste, but let me know if you agree/disagree!

 

Favourites:

Cinderella (rags-to-riches) – Yes, ever since I first read the original fairy tale, I’ve loved this trope. Isn’t it immensely satisfying to see a girl who has been mistreated or overlooked in some way getting the good fortune (and the hero) she deserves? Usually, it also involves those who have been mean to her getting their come-uppance – even better. I love this!

Romeo and Juliet – Frank Dicksee

Enemies to Lovers – This gives scope for some wonderfully sparkling and/or spirited conversations in the beginning as the hero and heroine clash. Often this is because one or other of them has seriously underestimated the other, or there’s some external (possibly ancient feud) type conflict that puts them at odds with each other. When they finally figure out a solution and fall in love – sometimes against all reason – it’s great to see.

Forbidden Romance – There’s nothing more delicious than a romance you know is not allowed, but where you’re rooting for the characters to get together against all the odds. I used this myself in my recent book SHADOWS IN THE ASHES, one of the few times I’ve recognised a trope in my stories.

Second Chance – This is a trope I like if it’s well done. The hero and heroine have been a couple in the past, but something separated them or made them break up. Usually it’s a misunderstanding of some sort, or circumstances forced them apart, but they get a chance to right old wrongs and rekindle the love they never quite let go of. Again, very satisfying!

Arnolfini portrait – Jan van Eyck

Secret Baby/Unexpected Pregnancy – This trope often follows on from the previous one and I have to admit I love it when a hero finds out years later that he’s a dad. Realising that you have a child you knew nothing about must be rather traumatic – as well as wonderful – and gives rise to lots of conflict between the hero and heroine. Why didn’t she tell him? Was it his callous actions that made her decide to keep it a secret or just circumstances? Whatever it is, seeing this ready-made family finally come together is lovely.

 

 

 

Least favourite:-

A Romance – Santiago Rusinol

Best Friends to Lovers – I’m not keen on this trope for some reason. It just never seems plausible to me that you can spend that much time with someone, know all their secrets, worst/best traits, and not feel any sparks until suddenly you do. It’s much more likely that one of the two has always been secretly in love with the other for years, whereas the second person is oblivious and doesn’t feel the same way. There would have to be some major change in Person A if I’m going to believe that Person B will wake up and fall in love with them.

Brother’s Best Friend – This one is believable as there must be many a little sister who has fallen for one of their older brother’s friends. What I don’t like about it, though, is that in this type of story the romance usually has to be kept secret so the brother doesn’t find out. Why? If he was any kind of nice sibling, he’d want his sister to be happy. And if the guy she’s fallen in love with is his best friend, surely he’ll know he’s great?

Love Triangle – I’m a romantic and when it comes to love triangles, someone is always going to get hurt – I don’t like that. If two people are genuinely in love with the same person, there can’t be a happy ending for all of them (if we’re not talking Reverse Harem, which is a whole different thing) and I’m all about the HEAs. So unless one of the two people is a nasty character who doesn’t deserve the love interest, this one doesn’t work for me.

Age Gap – The age gap trope can work well in historical romance as we sort of expect the hero to be a little more mature and experienced, whereas the heroines are usually fairly young and naïve. (I’m generalising a bit here, but often it seems to me this is the case). In modern stories, however, I’m not as comfortable reading about huge age gaps. The problem for me is that I’ve seen a rather bad example of this in real life and it didn’t end well, so I prefer not to read this type of story.

Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca – Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres

Single Mother/Rich Hero – I know this trope is supposed to tug at our heartstrings when the hero starts to treat the heroine’s child as his own. They bond and he wins the woman’s heart at the same time – this aspect of the story is lovely to see. But being a single mother is exhausting. I always keep picturing some poor sleep-deprived woman who barely has time to wash her hair, let alone date … but, of course, it does get easier when the child is no longer a baby.

There are lots of other tropes – Beauty and the Beast, Best Friend’s Older Brother, Forced Proximity/Trapped/Stranded together, Fake Dating/Relationship/Marriage of Convenience, Opposites Attract, Amnesia, Grumpy vs Sunshine, Single Dad/Nanny, Holiday Romance, Office Romance, Secret Billionaire, Starcrossed Lovers, Revenge, Vegas Marriage, Return to Hometown etc. Most of them are great if done well, but we all have our own preferences and favourites, the tropes that make us buy a book instantly.

What are your likes and dislikes and why? And did you agree/disagree with any of my choices?

(All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

37 thoughts on “Romance Tropes”

  1. It isn’t that i like or dislike any particular plot like those you mentioned. What I do like is a well told story with a but of humor in it and what turn out to be funny situations that need to be sorted out. Almost any of the plot lines you mentioned could fit into this
    scenario. But as the old saying goes, drama is easy….comedy is hard. I think many writers have gotten too serious and psychological with their fiction. It is fiction after sll, not a true life story. Yes, it has to be believable on some level(unless one is writing a fantasy) but it doesn’tneed to be dreary or depressing. It doesn’t have to be pollyannaish either, people can struggle and have their differences and problems, but it doesn’t have to be so dark and gloomy. I have recently read some lighter regency romances that are fun,laugh out loud and are described as “swoon without the steam”. You get to knkw the characters through fhe situations they get involved in…very much like a screwball comedy. Now i am not saying all stories should be like this, but these days, i found them more relaxing and take me away from all fhe craziness i the world. There is also fun banter between the characters. I guess what j am saying in a roundabout way, is i like getting to know the characters from the situations that they get involved in and pursue. It gives them and the reader a chance to get to know each other and what they are really like.

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    • Yes, I know what you mean Jane! I love banter between the characters and it has to come naturally. Writing comedy is extremely difficult! But light-hearted stories with humour are always good.

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  2. I don’t really look for tropes in a novel. As long as there is M/F romance (and preferably a mystery),then for me it all boils down to a writer’s style.
    I like audio books and find that complicated plots with many characters stretch the memory and can send me to sleep. On the other hand a very simple plot can bore me and also send me to sleep. Some authors just seem to have the Goldilocks touch, not too complicated and not too simple but just right for listening. For example, Wench Anne can write almost anything and the audio is perfect for me! I noticed that Western romance wasn’t included in your list and the Wenches don’t go for it. Maybe someone like Janet Dailey (one of my favourites) could be recruted when there a vacancy arises.

    Fscinating post …. thanks!

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    • Thank you, Quantum! I don’t normally look for tropes either but if someone tells me they’ve written a Cinderella type story, it might make me pick it up more readily. I hadn’t thought about Western romance but I do like reading them from time to time. Good suggestion!

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      • Thanks for that info Mary Jo. New audio books by her keep appearing (3 this year) but there is no indication that ghost writers are involved. To find this info I had to use the Windows AI (copilot). I wonder about the morality and indeed legality of this practice. I guess its buyer beware! Checking back through my audio book ratings I find for the ‘Champions’ trilogy I rated the first two 5 star and the third (ghost writer involved) droped to 4 star… Humph!

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        • Quantum, I’m sure the legalities are solid. Whoever controls the rights to Dailey’s estate is probably happy to keep the name and income stream alive. But even a good ghost writer will have trouble capturing the real author’s voice.

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    • Thank you for that lovely compliment, Quantum. You made my day.
      As for western romance, I’ve been rereading some old western historicals by Patricia Potter. I remember meeting her at an author conference many years ago, and when she told me her name, I went all stuttering fan-girl and told her she’d written one of my all time favourite stories. Of course she asked me which one, and do you think I could recall the title (I’m hopeless with titles) so I blurted out “The one with Lobo.” And she smiled. It’s the one I’m rereading at the moment, and it’s called Lawless.

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      • LOL!

        There are only two Potter audios available and lots of e-books of course.

        I will add the audios to the TBR … Thanks (‘Notorious’ and ‘Twisted Shadows’)

        I have enjoyed some of Roseanne Bitner’s Westerns but no audios available unfortunately. On the whole I have liked Catherine Anderson’s Western audios best.

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  3. I have strained to figure out what trope I’ve written after the book is done but generally fail. Before I even start… not happening. The only time I can ever remember flying a trope flag was for a Beauty and the Beast story. I’ll fall for that trope and the Cinderella one every time. But I seldom think of them that way. Marketing and promo may be necessary these days, but my Muse doesn’t work that way. Great blog, thank you!

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    • Thank you, Pat, I’m glad it’s not just me! My muse doesn’t want to know about tropes either but hearing others talk about them in connection with their books can tempt me to buy something. I really struggle to see them in my own stories!

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  4. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Christina!
    I enjoyed reading your list of favorites and least favorite tropes.
    I have to admit that I’m not generally an analytical reader, so I rarely notice, consider, or identify tropes in what I read. Like Jane A above, I simply favor a well told story.

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    • Many thanks, Kareni – I think you’re right and it doesn’t really matter what the trope or story is as long as it’s done well!

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  5. I leave tropes by the wayside and only see if the characters and plot interest me. If the story is well written and engaging to me, that’s all that matters.

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  6. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool romance junkie. I love me a love story. I don’t have any favorite or least favorite tropes. To me it is what the author does with the story.

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    • Hello Christina,
      I am using this ‘window’ because I couldn’t make the correct one work… I love the Cinderella trope and the Second Chance at love, as well as the Forbidden Romance.
      But, I have a strong aversion to the ‘Enemies to Lovers’ trope. It doesn’t make sense to me to have the hero and heroine fighting each other for three quarters of the book and then suddenly fall passionately into each other’s arms. Really?
      Daniela Hewson

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      • I see what you mean, Daniela – maybe it depends on how it’s done and whether they are actually secretly attracted to each other right from the start but don’t want to acknowledge it? If it’s not all-out war between them, but snarky banter that turns into flirting perhaps it works better? As long as there is definite chemistry between them, I like this trope.

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    • That sounds good, Mary – we all know what we like and we find the stories we enjoy in different ways.

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  7. I have a lot of opinions about most favorite and least favorite tropes! But I think we need to distinguish tropes from plot, two totally different things. For instance, I could call Joanna Bourne’s amazing and complex spy novel “The Spymaster’s Lady” a road trip romance, but that tells me very little about it.
    That being said, I love all varieties of the Marriage of Convenience story, whether it’s an arranged marriage, forced marriage, accidental or due to some kind of deception, or whatever crazy scenario the author comes up with.
    I also love Cinderella stories, Beauty & the Beast, road trips(Mary Jo’s “Angel Rogue” is a light-hearted example, while “Veils of Silk” is a darker, more serious story) especially if it’s some sort of escape/fleeing from danger, heist stories, and rags-to-riches.
    Least favorite tropes include romances between a heroine and her ward, enemies to lovers, love triangle, second chance, and friends to lovers.

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    • Interesting, Karin! I think it’s great that we all have our own likes and dislikes and that there is so much variety to choose from. I see what you mean about trope vs plot – good point!

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    • Karin, those books of mine you mention were written when I was clueless about tropes. Now I know about them, but I don’t consciously write them. A story is a story and it unfolds in its own way.

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    • Karin, Veils of Silk was, I think, the first MJP story I read, and I loved it. It also gave me “permission” to set a story, or at least the start of a story in Asia. My editor at the time was not keen on any stories set outside London, Bath or a country house in England. Not even Scotland! And certainly not Australia! But I started my third book in colonial Fiji, because of Mary Jo.

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  8. Great post. Christina! I agree with many of your pros and cons–but not all of them! I blinked when I saw an author who listed all her books with neat little trope labels. As always, it all comes down to how well the story is done.

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  9. I don’t pick up a book because of a trope but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are definitely favourites. I also like Second Chance romances. Persuasion is my favourite Austen. This was a really interesting post!!

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    • Thank you, Teresa! I never thought about Persuasion being a Second Chance romance but of course it’s perfect! (And very satisfying).

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  10. Excellent post, Christina. When I started out I had no clue about tropes — just set out to write the best story I could. I still don’t consciously choose a trope before starting to write a book. I just follow where the characters take me. Though I did write a whole series that was labelled as a “convenient marriage” series.
    But as you say, tropes are becoming increasingly important as a marketing tool, and I’m trying to become more aware of them. Generally my books involve several tropes — for instance my latest book is a bit “Cinderella”, part ” The Innocent and the Rake” with a bit of “Forbidden love” thrown in. But as others have said, it tells you nothing about the story. But I will always take a second look at a book described as a Convenient Marriage story or a Mail Order Bride.

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    • Thank you, Anne! It’s interesting isn’t it that we don’t consciously write tropes but afterwards we can see which ones our stories might be. And very often, as you say, it’s more than one mixed with a couple of others. It’s not something I’d ever considered before I started seeing all these “lists” describing other books.

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  11. Such an interesting post, thank you. I probably don’t have a favourite because I’m another who hasn’t thought in those terms in the past but will in the future :). In terms of what I don’t like, it would depend on the circumstances. I like Cinderella as long as she is not being saved by the Prince. There is nothing that kills romance faster than a permanent imbalance of power. It needs to be thoughtfully done to be successful now. Same issues with the older man and his ward, or the rake and the innocent. Of course, today’s heroines tend to be pretty strong minded and quite capable of turning tropes on their heads which is always particularly entertaining, especially with strong dialogue.

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    • So glad you enjoyed it – thank you! And yes, that is all very true. There can’t be too much of an imbalance of power but as you say heroines these days tend to be much stronger than they perhaps were in the past. All to the good!

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  12. Class difference is one of my favourite tropes,I guess I like to see what life was like for the lower classes throughout history at times other than the aristocraticy in HR’s.

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    • I hadn’t thought of that one, Ann, thank you! Yes that is quite fascinating and always satisfying when someone from a lower class manages to do well in their life and love.

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  13. I am a lazy reader, I guess. I don’t care about tropes very much. I am willing to go wherever the author wants to take me and I don’t like feeling that she is restricting herself only to favorite or approved elements. I like the ones who surprise me. I suppose it’s the difference between a fast food joint and a nice sitdown restaurant – both have their place and I go both places, but if there’s a choice I’ll pick the nice restaurant.

    I care much more about language that sounds regency than I do about the plotline. The regency I am reading right now would be better to me if its language was less simplified; it seems to be written at what I would think of as a junior high school level.

    That said, I am a sucker for stories in which the heroine is in a bad situation and works her way out of it.

    The elements I really despise in popular literature – cruelty for the sake of cruelty, explicit painful sex, sick madness, that sort of thing – are not found in romance, at least not very often.

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    • That all sounds right, Janice, and I wouldn’t like those things either. Interesting to hear your take on this – thank you!

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