At the time of publishing this post, it’s almost Valentine’s Day! But regardless of when you’re reading this, romance in literature is still fun for both the author and the reader.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me talking about tropes before. Some romance tropes are very popular among readers, and what’s a better way to get started on romance than choosing a trope or two to play with?
What is a trope?
Put simply, a trope is some kind of literary device or element that’s frequently used in a given genre. There’s nothing wrong with using tropes even if they are common.
Readers like tropes–for the most part. Tropes are familiar frameworks that readers can recognize in stories even if the details and plots have changed, and readers do like some familiarity in what they consume.
Tropes are also helpful to you as the author because they give you a framework that you can play with. If you know you want the protagonist’s love life to be complicated, you might start by thinking of a love triangle–a very common trope. But because you know how love triangles tend to play out, you can use your imagination to think of different endings or outcomes for that trope. Borrow the elements of the trope you like, then look for ways to put your own spin on it.
Popular Romance Tropes
In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s go over some reader-favorite romance tropes. These can be used in a romance novel or in your romance subplot if you’re writing in a different genre.
Please note this is by no means an exhaustive list of romance tropes. It’s just some of the more popular ones.
1. Enemies to lovers
This is a classic trope in romance. Two characters usually start off hating each other, but at some point, they find themselves growing closer, overcoming their differences, and falling in love. These pairings can be very exciting thanks to the amount of tension and drama involved.
Some examples include Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, Nina and Matthias in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and Aeduan and Iseult in the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard.
2. Friends to lovers
The nicer cousin of the enemies to lovers trope, friends to lovers is about two people who have been friends for a long time but find themselves falling in love.
It’s usually important to see these characters bond as friends first, though. Even if their relationship started well before your book, the sexual tension needs to build slowly as their relationship progresses.
3. Fake relationship turns real
The ‘fake relationship’ trope can have a few different starting points. For example, it could be a marriage of convenience or someone hiring a fake boyfriend for a family gathering. However they get stuck together, the fake relationship turns into real love at some point.
4. Stuck together/there was only one bed
What’s one way to ramp up the tension in a romantic not-yet-relationship? Force the two characters to be stuck together somehow.
They may get stuck in a room together. Maybe they’re stuck in a maze that they have to solve to save their lives. Maybe they’re on a quest and the inn only has one bed for them to share for the night.
This is a very flexible trope as there are many ways to force your characters to spend awkward time together. This can also be a funny situation, which is why it’s popular in romantic comedies.
5. Love triangle
Love triangles were super popular back in the early 2010s YA scene (think Hunger Games or Twilight). Three characters are involved, usually with two competing for one’s love. In love triangles, we’re usually left with one couple at the end.
As you can imagine, that creates a lot of tension for readers. Who is going to be paired off? How will the failed relationship play out at the end? Love triangles receive a lot of hate, but readers also love to pick a side and choose their “ship” pairing.
If you need examples of love triangles in action, think of Hunger Games by Susan Collins (hello, Peeta and Gale) or even Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Remember those Team Edward and Team Jacob t-shirts back in the day? That’s the power of the love triangle trope.
6. Forbidden love
In a forbidden love trope, the characters involved aren’t allowed/supposed to have romantic feelings for each other. They probably shouldn’t even be friends! But somehow, they end up falling into a relationship. Often, circumstances separate them, and the couple’s relationship is complicated by outside forces as they try to be together.
When you think of forbidden love, think of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.
The concept of soulmates isn’t new–two people who belong together, who are each others’ one true love. But that would be too easy in a story, so with the soulmates trope, something also needs to force them apart during the story. And in the end, these two characters should be able to find their way back to each other.
There are many versions of soulmates, including things like reincarnation (these souls find each other in every lifetime), imprinting, unlocking powerful magic when the soulmates meet, and more. You can play with this trope a lot and have fun with it.
Examples include Feyre & Rhysand from Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series and Penelope and Casteel from Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash series.
How many tropes can you use?
There’s no rule on how many tropes you can put in one story, but I would caution you against using too many. Not only will that be hard to keep track of, but it could also become tiresome to readers.
If you want to use a couple of romance tropes, think of how you can combine them into something new. For example, you may want to use elements from a Forbidden Romance trope mixed in with a Love Triangle trope. What problems does this cause for your protagonist? Are both love interests forbidden? How does that play out?
Be creative with your tropes
Don’t be afraid to use tropes because they’re common. As I said before, the great thing about tropes is that you can twist them in a variety of ways. Combine them, borrow elements from another, or build up a trope only to have a twist come in toward the end.
Want to learn more about how to include tropes in your novel?
If you want more one-on-one guidance on including tropes in your manuscript, I can help! Fill out my contact form to email me and we can talk about how book coaching may be right for you. Consultations are free and there’s no obligation to book a project.
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