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What Is a Trope?
A trope in literary terms is a plot device or character attribute that is used so commonly in the genre that it’s seen as commonplace or conventional. For example, a trope in superhero stories is a villain who wants to take over the world.
The romance genre, in particular, is full of tropes—from Shakespeare plays to modern-day bestsellers, it’s easy to see patterns when you start to look.
2 Ways Tropes Are Helpful to Writers
- Help offer readers things that are familiar. Tropes are popular for a reason—if something has been written about over and over again, there’s a good chance that it’s something romance readers enjoy reading! Popular romance tropes are a great place to start when coming up with your love story idea, because they’re guaranteed to be familiar territory to readers that they’ll enjoy.
- Give you a jumping-off-place to innovate. Tropes can be helpful, but a novel made up only of tropes will quickly start to feel stale and predictable to readers. That’s why you need to read up on romance tropes—and then innovate. Deliberately taking a favorite trope and turning it on its head is a great way to put your own unique spin on the genre and keep your readers interested.
9 Common Romance Tropes With Examples
If you want to write a romantic short story or novel, it’s vital that you learn the basic love tropes that are a part of the genre, so that you can work with them (or against them) to form a love story your readers will identify with.
1. Love Triangle. One of the most common tropes of romance literature: three characters are competing for each other’s love, and only two will pair off. This is a favorite romance trope for creating tension, since the reader wonders who will pair off and who will be left alone with their painfully unrequited love. Will she choose the bad boy or the geek? Will he choose the cheerleader or the ugly duckling? Love triangles are the ultimate trope to appeal to “shippers”—readers who like to pick a side and play matchmaker. Example: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008.)
2. Secret Billionaire. A billionaire or member of a royal family is tired of their lavish lifestyle, and they sneak out of the spotlight—and, in disguise, run into someone who treats them as if they’re an ordinary person. Whether or not this leaves them frustrated or entranced, it has a little more pizzazz than the standard “boy meets girl” story—and the end result is often true love. Example: Naked in Death by Nora Roberts (1995).
3. Friends to Lovers. They’ve known each other since they were childhood friends or they recently met each other, and now things are heating up—even though they used to see each other as just friends, they now see each other as a potential love interest. This trope is popular because we get to see two characters bond with each other as friends first, which allows them to be more open with each other without a physical relationship getting in the way. As their feelings for one another—and the sexual tension—build, we can’t help but want them to get together so we can watch them go from “best friends since high school” to “happily ever after.” Example: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2012).
4. Stuck Together. There are plenty of variations of the “stuck together” trope, which is often a staple of romantic comedies: two people trapped in a snowed-in cabin, forced to stay with each other overnight at the office, on a road trip, or even stuck in an arranged marriage. However it happens, this trope will trap two characters—whether they’re sworn enemies or already attracted to one another—in the same place and let the drama ensue. Example: From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata (2018).
5. Enemies to Lovers. Enemies to lovers is a beloved trope, made popular by Jane Austen in the classic novel Pride & Prejudice: two people who hate each others’ guts (usually for ridiculous reasons) end up overcoming their differences and angst and ending the story with a (spoiler!) declaration of love. The “enemies to lovers” trope often goes hand-in-hand with the “stuck together” trope, since putting two enemies in a room together can lead to some very juicy results. Example: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (1594).
6. Forbidden Love. One of the most famous love stories of all time, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, is a classic example of forbidden love: two characters who aren’t allowed to have feelings for each other can’t help but become entangled in a romantic relationship. The things that separate them could range from the family politics in Romeo and Juliet to the bloodsucking problem in Stephenie Meyer’s paranormal romance Twilight. And of course, things will always get more complicated—whether the couple is discovered sneaking out together or with a secret baby after an accidental pregnancy. Example: The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (1996).
7. Second Chance. Two lovers break up and then long for each other. Someone is looking for love again after a bad divorce. Or the hero/heroine’s fairytale turned out to be a nightmare, and now a new romance will give them hope again. The “second chance” trope is where our character missed their chance during their first love and are about to encounter a second. Their next blind date or one-night stand might be the experience that helps them believe in love again. Example: Once in a Lifetime by Harper Bliss (2015).
8. Soul Mates. The “soul mates” trope is a story about two characters who are meant to be together as each others’ “one true love.” But any story would be boring if everything were going just fine for the couple—that’s why many romance writers that use the “soul mates” trope need to also drive them apart somehow. Whether there’s a horrible misunderstanding or a natural disaster that separates them, soul mates in love stories always find a way to get back together. Example: The Princess Bride by William Golding (1973).
9. Fake Relationship. They didn’t ask for this. Maybe they’re tired of telling everyone they’re single, or they have to pretend like they’re in love to get out of an awkward social situation. Maybe two characters agree to a marriage of convenience in order to subvert the law or get a better tax break, or a friends with benefits situation to stave off their loneliness. But of course, in many “fake relationship” stories, what began as a fake relationship quickly turns into true love. Example: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014).
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