Updated: Tropes in Romance I am TRASH for:
Bad boys and prolonged stares? Count me in! One bed? Is it just me or is it warm in here?
Part of the fun of romance are the tropes, because let’s face it, none of us read romance to be surprised. We all know how it’s gonna end and we have a pretty good idea of what kinds of shenanigans will occur along the way to HEA (or HFN). Most of us return to the romance genre over and over again, despite knowing exactly what we’re signing up for when we crack open a new Christina Lauren novel or Colleen Hoover’s latest tearjerker. Why? Because we know what we are getting, and that’s part of the fun. It’s comfortable, predictable, and we are always guaranteed a happy ending, unlike real life.
As of late tropes have in their own way become tropes, in which romance fans proudly swap deets of their admiration of “one bed” and “friends to lovers” like they’re trading cards. It’s become part of the fandom and a fun way to connect with other romance lovers. And I’m here for it.
And as writers I think it’s important to analyze what tropes we like, and why we like them so we can understand what works in storytelling and apply it to our own writing. Sure everyone loves “one bed,” but why? Why is this trope so appealing to such a wide audience? Being able to answer this question can help you improve your own writing, strenghten the romance in your story and check some of those commercial boxes publishers are looking for.
So here goes. Here are five tropes I would take a bullet for:
- “stuck in an elevator” aka when two people are forced/trapped in an unlikely/difficult situation (possibly forced proximity) and end up bonding over it. I adore this because it ties the romance to a predicament/conflict that must be solved. It is also an excellent ice breaker for two unlikely characters. Bonus points if they start out bickering only to find out the other person isn’t so bad. Cue heart palpitations.
examples: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, Shipped by Angie Hockman, The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon, I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne, Float Plan by Trish Dollar, The Layover by Lacie Waldon
2. “There’s only one bed” aka when two people who are not together are forced by circumstance to share a bed. This trope is magnificent because it oozes tension and can be an either hilarious misadventure, or a sizzling opportunity for sexual tension. Either way I love it. It’s agonizing and totally hot to watch two people naviagte the intimate experience of sharing a bed. What if they graze legs? Or have to see one another in varying states of undress? Bonus points if they accidentally wake up tangled in one another’s arms.
Examples: Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon, The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, The Flat Share by Beth O’leary, The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
3. “Fake relationship” (for legit reasons). This one, much like one bed, is super popular (Thank you Jenny Han). But it has to be done well. One of the primary pitfalls for this trope is if the reason for the fake relationship isn’t very convincing. I have read far too many books where this trope was employed only to fall flat because the reason for their fake relationship wasn’t entirely believable. I need to really truly believe that these two people have no other choice than to pretend to be together for me to find this enjoyable. Fickle logic and flimsy rationale will probably just make me roll my eyes.
The key to making this work is high stakes and conflict. If the conflict isn’t serious enough, or the stakes aren’t high enough, I’m not really going to believe that these two people must pretend to be together and therefore this brilliant trope loses all magic. I want to watch reluctance and necessity turn to confusion and worry and feelings and lust, but I can only buy into this if the reasons for the relationship feel authentic.
Where this trope runs into trouble are situations like, “I want to make him jealous” but we as the audience aren’t fully convinced why exactly she absolutely must make him (usually an ex) jealous. This trope often works best when both parties have something to gain from the fake relationship as well as something to risk by not participating.
When done well get ready for an emotional rollercoaster that will have you rooting for them to just kiss already, while also wondering, wait was that kiss for real? or part of the agreement??? oooh *shivers*
Examples: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, The Bride Test by Helen Hoang, Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert, The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon, To All the Boys I Ever Loved by Jenny Han. The Dating Plan by Sara Desai, The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
4.“The nurse” aka where one person has to care for the other due to injury, illness or some kind of extenuating circumstance. This one is great because it plucks at our heart strings to watch one character nurture and care for the other. Who doesn’t love watching the MC tend to hot guy’s battle wounds? It’s also a great opportunity for a changing of the “status quo” between two characters. Bonus points if this is the moment where someone realizes they have feelings for the other person.
Examples: The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Okay I confess, this one is my all time favorite. And yet, it’s often not included as a trope, or is at least underrepresented as a category. The reason why this may be is likely because it is often a plot twist and recognizing it as a trope would then give away the twist.
This trope is defined as when one of the characters has been previously married. This could mean that they are divorced, getting divorced, separated, or a widow/widower. A sub category of this one would be when the previous spouse is kept a secret from the main character (hence the twist).
This one can work both ways, as in the POV character could be the one who was previously married, or it could be the love interest. I personally prefer it when it is the love interest. The reason being that there is something so scintillating about the idea of competing with the ghost of a bygone relaitonship. That could be a literal ghost or a figurative ghost, or hey just a creepy old house where everywhere you look are remnants of the first Mrs. De Winters whose untimely death stills haunts your new husband…
Part of why this trope works so well for me is that it is creates instant conflict within the relationship, or at least has the potential for conflict. It often creates rich, deep, emotionally charged backstories. And not gonna lie, there’s something sexy about a divorced hottie just trying to find love again after his failed married. Is that weird? Maybe. But what can I say, the heart wants what it wants.
Examples: Beach Read by Emily Henry, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, Float Plan by Trish Dollar, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver, It Happened One Summer by Tess Bailey
6. *Bonus round* “Enemies to Lovers”
Because duh. Everyone loves this one. But in many ways it’s often a misnomer. They might not be literal enemies, they may just be rivals, adversaries, or merely push one another’s buttons. But either way this trope rocks. This trope is sexy because it usually includes great banter, witty dialogue, push and pull….and….the holy grail….romantic tension. There’s also an element of “unreliable narrator” in which we as the audience know they are perfect for one another, but the MC doesn’t and it takes them a while to catch on.
I personally love when the reason for their feud is rooted in a fundamental conflict of visions, not just “I don’t like you.” I like to see conflicting attitudes/worldviews/goals that pit them against one another and build real, palatable tension because great romance means great stakes and conflict. The secret sauce to making this trope work is that kernel of doubt that things will actually work out between them. Are their issues strong enough to keep them apart…? Keep reading to find out!
examples: Beach Read by Emily Henry, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, Shipped by Angie Hockman, The Layover by Lacie Waldon, I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella, The Marriage Game by Sarah Desai, The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
So there you have it folks. All the tropes I am trash for. I think the true secret to good romance is making your audience root for two people to be together while putting as many obstacles as possible in their way. Make me work for it!