On Tropes

Anne here, and today I'm thinking about tropes. "What's a trope?" you wonder? In popular fiction, it's a frequently revisited, generally beloved theme or set-up for a story. In romance it might be "friends to lovers" or "convenient marriage", "the ugly duckling", "a Cinderella story", "the Innocent and the Playboy," — you get the idea. There are dozens of tropes and new ones (or variations on old ones) are popping up all the time. (Fifty shades of trope, anyone?) Waif

Publishers like writers to explore tropes as it makes the job of categorizing (and therefore selling) books easier, so much so that some publishers (for instance Harlequin) have titles that are not so much a book title as a phrase containing words that signal to the reader what tropes the story will explore. "The Sheikh's Convenient Bride", "The Rancher's Secret Baby". And readers who like those tropes will pick up those books.

A trope carries a promise to the reader. Readers love certain tropes and will return to them again and again. (Me, I'm a sucker for a mail-order bride story.)  But the thing about tropes is that they are also clichés to some extent, so a good writer needs to twist the trope in some way to make it fresh.

When I first started writing romance, I didn't know about tropes — not consciously anyway.  My first book, Gallant Waif, was, I suppose a bit of a Cinderella story. My heroine, Kate, was newly orphaned, home from the war, and in dire straits. The hero's grandmother effectively acts as the fairy godmother, throwing Kate together with the grandmother's wounded, reclusive grandson. Two people recovering from very different war wounds . . .  But when it was reviewed I was startled to see that some people were calling it a "Beauty and the Beast" story. I didn't see it that way at all.

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