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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.