Eight Favorite Romantic Tropes to Make Readers Swoon

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February is the month for love, and if you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been talking a lot about romance – the language of love. Romance novels are more popular than ever these days. Who doesn’t want to read about a happily ever after? Most people, I think, still believe in true love, or that love conquers all.

Sure, the romance genre has its critics who say these stories are predictable, they can’t be taken seriously, or that they don’t reflect real world relationships. It’s true that romance stories can be predictable. You sort of know what is going to happen from page one. But it’s that expectation of predictability that appeals to many readers. Readers expect a happy ending, and they expect the couple in question to struggle through their attraction.

What make romances even more interesting are the tropes that help set up the romantic plot. You may find everything from a fake engagement to enemies-to-lovers story lines, May-December romances and second chance relationships. There are dozens of tropes used in romance novels, and some are more intriguing than others.

Below are some of my favorite romantic tropes and why I think they work.

  1. Secret identity – My personal favorite is the secret identity in which one person hides some aspect of themselves. Perhaps they’re ashamed of who they really are, or they’re trying to gain a professional advantage or they feel that they won’t be taken seriously if the other person knows who they really are. For example, a wealthy person might pretend to be an average blue-collar worker to blend in with the community, or a member of royalty decides to live among the commoners. This trope is my favorite because it creates the most intrigue and mystery within the romance. When and how will the protagonist reveal their true self? How will the love interest react when they find out who the other person really is? Will they still love each other in the end? There’s usually of fear of being found out, or wanting to find the right moment to reveal themselves. Except while hiding out, they learn to care for the other person.
  2. Road trip – There’s nothing like a long-distance road trip that can force two people to come together—against their better judgement. They usually disagree about something or have opposing points of view that creates the tension in their relationship. At some point, something or someone has to give in. Either they come to an understanding and learn to respect, if not love, each other, or they are ready to tear the other person apart. This doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship either. Think of films such as Driving Miss Daisy or Green Book.

  3. Girl/Guy next door – I think this is one of the simplest and most overlooked tropes because I think it happens in real life more often than we think. Sometimes our best love connections live right across the hall in our apartment building or in the house next door. These characters already have something in common – they live in the same building or neighborhood. The closeness forces the neighbors to keep running into each other, so they’re bound to start up conversations, which can lead to coffee dates, movies, and so on.

  4. Fish out of water – This trope can be the most creative and humorous because you see a character who it totally out of their element. Think of the movie Enchanted when Amy Adams’ princess character complete with her pink gown is clearly out of place in downtown Manhattan. The humor comes from seeing the missteps and assumptions the character makes to try to fit into her new environment. Enter the unwitting partner who helps the out-of-place character become more acclimated and falls in love with them in the process.

  5. Stuck together/stranded together – Whether it’s an elevator, a raft a long way from shore or inside a locked bank vault, when two people are stuck together for a short period of time, it’s bound to create a sudden kinship that wasn’t there before. They have no choice but to work together to get themselves out of their enclosed quarters, but once they do and they are free, what happens after their brief encounter? Do they decide to see each other again, or do they move on as if they had never met?

  6. Ghost/angel – Who doesn’t like a little bit of divine intervention to help a romance blossom? In this scenario, when a character struggles to find true love, a ghost/angel intervenes on the character’s behalf, usually dispensing sage if cryptic advice, and it’s usually up to the character to figure out what that means. Perhaps the angel is someone from the character’s past, or it’s an angel who is working toward earning their wings. Sometimes it’s the angel/ghost character who wins the person’s love, while other times they simply act as a guide to help the two lovebirds find each other.
    Examples: City of Angels with Meg Ryan or Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in Angel Falls.

  7. Belated love epiphany – This is another underused trope, yet I think it’s more reflective of the real world. In this scenario, two people have known each other for years as mere acquaintances, colleagues or friends. They spend so much time together in a neutral setting yet neither sees the other as a potential love interest. But as soon as one person leaves or threatens to disappear from  everyday life or marry someone else, the other person suddenly realizes how much they love them and fights to win them back.

  8. Forced proximity – Two characters fall in love after being forced to live or work in close proximity to one another. Maybe they have to work together on a project but come with opposing viewpoints and agendas, like writing a book or training to compete in a sporting event. Or they’re stuck in the same country cottage on vacation because the company doubled booked the accommodations. Now they have to figure out how to live together or find other living arrangements. After a few hours stuck together, they manage to enjoy each other’s company.

There are many more tropes, and many overlap. You’ll likely find several tropes used within one story. While they may not be the most imaginative of scenarios, readers and audiences still crave them. They bring a sort of comfort because they’re familiar. To make them interesting, however, try mixing and matching the tropes or turning them upside down in some way.

When used well, tropes can help you create a romance that readers will swoon over.

12 Ways to Show Chemistry between Characters

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 As Valentine’s Day creeps closer, it seems only fitting to talk about romantic chemistry. When you read or write romance, how do you know that two characters are truly attracted to one another? The signs are usually obvious to most of us, but could you list them all?

During a recent virtual romance conference sponsored by ProWriting Aid, writer and book coach Mary Adkins discussed ways to create chemistry between characters. She was on point when she offered her list of how to show signs of attraction. Her tips were too juicy to keep to myself.

Whether you’re writing a romance or want to create a romantic subplot for another genre, these simple, tried-and-true scenarios can help you create chemistry between characters.

  1. Acting clumsy. When you first meet someone you’re attracted to, the last thing you want to do is look silly or awkward. Yet you can’t help yourself. The girl or guy is just so darn amazing! The same is true for fiction. One of the first signs a character might show that they’re attracted to someone is clumsy behavior. Maybe they spill their glass of wine on them, forget their own name when they’re introduced to the other person, accidentally walk into a glass wall or trip over their own feet. Nothing like clumsy behavior to give a memorable first impression.

  2. Not noticing what happening around them. With their head in the clouds and stars in their eyes, the character may not notice events around them, even though they may be obvious to everyone else. They’re simply too preoccupied to notice that the sink is overflowing or the baby is crying in the next room. They may not realize their sleeve caught on fire from the open flame on the stove, or that someone is saying hello to them. It can make for a humorous moment in your story.

  3. Saying something stupid. Note that this is not the same as witty banter between two people. This is one person speaking out of turn in one way or another. For example, they might ramble nonsensically or gush over the other person who happens to be a celebrity. Or they might be tongue tied or forget their own name, or worse, say someone else’s name as an introduction. For example: Character one says, “Hi, my name is Jack. I’m new in town.” Character 2, mesmerized by the new person, responds, “Nice to meet you. I’m Jack” even though their name isn’t Jack. You get the idea. Another example is asking an awkward question. (“Is that a birthmark on your neck?”

  4. Having other characters notice the attraction. I see this often in Hallmark movies. One character always has to point out that the protagonist likes the new guy in town. Maybe the protagonist is smiling way too much lately or has a bounce in their step. Maybe someone points out that the protagonist has put on a sweater backwards or is wearing two different shoes of the same color. Best of all, two people may be dining out and the waitress mistakes them for a real couple, even before the couple has noticed their own attraction.

  5. Being attracted to a small detail about the other person. This could be something few other people notice, such as a scar, a tattoo, dimples or a cleft chin. Maybe there is another detail that the protagonist can’t stop thinking about, like their long eyelashes, slim fingers, or soft lips. Then again, it may be the person’s laugh that they notice or the scent of their perfume or cologne.

  6. Being surprisingly earnest and sincere. As the couple gets to know one another better, there might come a point when one of them speaks from the heart. Giving a compliment, for example. Such as “You look stunning tonight.” “You make me happy being with you.” Or “I’m really glad I met you.” Such honest moments bring the relationship to a new level of intimacy.

  7. Sharing something meaningful about themselves. You recognize that moment in the story when one character say, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” That’s usually a sign that there some degree of trust that they’re willing to expose more of themselves. They might share a hidden talent, such as playing the piano or writing poetry. Maybe they reveal a childhood experience, show off their family photo album or take them to their favorite private place that few people know about.

  8. Doing something impulsive together. These scenes are always fun to read or watch. Just when you think the couple is having one of their intimate conversations, one person breaks the tension.  It might be having an impromptu snowball fight, hurling seeds at one another while eating watermelon or splashing each other with water while washing a car. The unexpected fun brings them closer together with laughter.

  9. Giving someone a backhanded compliment. On the surface, their comment might seem meaningless, but underneath there is a sincere compliment. For example, a character might say, “This might sound crazy, but I don’t get tired of being around you all the time.”

  10. Mentioning some tiny physical detail. This is similar to number 5 above except this time the character mentions it in conversation. They may say something about that scar or birthmark. Or it might be the same hat or coat they were wearing when the two individuals met three months ago. For example, “How did you get that scar?” or “What kind of cologne are you wearing? It smells nice.”

  11. Still loving that sometimes annoying but endearing habit. In longer-term relationships or married couples, there might be one specific trait or habit that could be annoying to others but instead, they find endearing. It could be the way they laugh, their crooked smile or the way they whistle while they work. It could be their occasional habit of mispronouncing a word, their tendency to wearing socks that don’t match or the bad jokes they tell at parties.
  12. Showing someone that they’ve been paying close attention to what is happening in their life. Noticing that the other person is going through significant challenges or experiences shows they are invested in the other person’s life. For example, the character might buy an item that the other person had their eye on, like a scarf or pair of earrings. They might serve coffee to them the way they like it without being asked or serving it to them in their favorite mug. They might ask about what plans they’ve made for their birthday the following week or how their training is going for their next skiing competition.

Want to Improve Your Own Writing? Read Poorly Written Books

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In his book On Writing, (which I highly recommend), author Stephen King suggests that if you want to be a better writer, all you have to do is read. Read a lot. And read a variety of stories.

Of course, that might mean exposing yourself to less than stellar writing. But that’s okay.  Even the less-than-stellar samples can show writers a thing or two about crafting stories – the right way.

Perhaps I should begin by defining what I mean by ‘bad writing.’ It isn’t just about a lack of proper grammar and punctuation, although that’s part of it. It has more to do with the development of the story. Think stilted dialogue, implausible plot lines and poorly drawn characters. It isn’t the writing that’s poorly done as much as the storytelling.

As British author Toby Litt writes in The Guardian, bad writing is boring writing. Bad writing are stories you can’t wait to finish because they are dreadfully boring, or one that you don’t finish at all. On the other hand, a well-crafted, well-written book is one that keeps your attention all the way through. It makes you want to turn the page, and the next page and the next page, and so on.

In my opinion, a good book may not be the highest quality writing. It may not even be a best-seller. But what it does well is keep the reader involved in the story and with the characters, especially the protagonist. If you have a hard time putting a book down, it means the author has successfully designed the story to satisfy your interest. You want to read more to find out what’s going to happen next.

After you’ve read enough stories of different genres, your brain begins to notice differences in the way authors develop their plots and characters, or the way dialogue and narration are presented. When you’ve read enough books, you recognize contrived plot lines and inconsistent behavior from characters. You can decide, as the reader, what is believable and what isn’t. By reading bad writing, you are, hopefully, aware enough of your own skill not to commit the same mistakes.

I recently finished reading a romance novel by an author whose work I had read before and enjoyed. I looked forward to a light, easy read. It was anything but. The plot was not believable, the female protagonist behaved in ways that was not consistent with her character, and the overall experience of reading the book was unpleasant. I felt disappointed and cheated.

You don’t want to do that to your readers.

I doubt I will read anything else by this particular author ever again, although I will pick up another romance novel. They can be fun reads on their own — when they’re written well.

Lesson learned from that reading experience: Make sure the plot is plausible and believable and your protagonist behaves in ways that are true to their personality.

Bad writing can appear in any genre, and sometimes in best-sellers. If in doubt about what ‘bad writing’ is, check out Goodreads’ list of ‘poorly written’ books. Among the Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight collections is The Da Vinci Code. I once tried to read it many years ago and couldn’t get through it. The language was overly descriptive and heavy, moving the narrative along at a snail’s pace. I kept wanting the author to pick up the pace. Naturally, I never made it to the end.

Lesson from that reading experience: Don’t get so bogged down in details that the story slows to a crawl. Keep moving the story along and you will maintain your readers’ interest. Keep that in mind when you do your own writing.

On the upside, reading bad writing can put your own writing into perspective. You can say to yourself, “Hey, I can write better than this. If this trash is being published, maybe there’s hope for me yet in this business.”

The more you read, the more you can learn from the mistakes other writers have made. So even if you have to trudge through a few bad apples along the way, you can still gain from the experience and improve your writing at the same time.

Related Reading about ‘Bad Writing’: