In writing, the word trope is used to describe frequently recurring elements like themes or relationships between characters. Every genre has tropes specific to it, and some might be found in more than one genre.
Keeping with this month's theme of writing love and romance, and this post coming out on Valentine's Day, I figured this would be the perfect occasion to dive into some of the tropes that delight my heart and things I love to see in romance.
Bear in mind that these are my opinions and there are always exceptions. A beloved trope may fall flat just as easily as one I typically like less can blow me away.
Let's get to it!
Slow-Burn, Baby, Burn
When asked to describe my writing style, one thing I'll sometimes say is that they are "slow-burn romances until they're NOT."
I love watching romances build gradually.
There have been plenty of times where the development of a relationship in a novel has felt rushed to me as a reader. It wasn't so much a lack of chemistry, though that dynamic was indeed impacted, but the progression felt rushed rather than happening organically.
While some relationships move faster than others, going too quickly can make things feel less authentic to me as a reader.
A couple who only just met getting engaged in the blink of an eye just doesn't do it for me (unless you're like Dharma and Greg because I absolutely adore them).
Meanwhile, watching a pair of strangers eventually become a couple after getting to know each other makes me feel more involved rather than just sitting on the sidelines and going along for the ride.
There are a few ways I've seen this popping up. The first example is an instant inkling of attraction but something is preventing them from taking the plunge. Second, the love interests might be burying their feelings in denial until they boil over. Or, thirdly, they don't even realize they're falling in love.
I favor slow-burn romances because they tend to be character-centric. At least in those I write and have read, they take their sweet, sweet time to develop because each love interest has their own individual struggles or conflicts to sort out alongside their budding romances. Maybe they've got some family drama needing to be sorted out before they can willingly give their heart away, a past romance going south has made it hard for them to take a chance on a new one even though they are growing fond of their new admirer, they are a parent who has to put PTA bake sales and carpooling ahead of their love life, or they're simply married to their job.
Whatever the case may be, seeing the eventual lovebirds overcoming these challenges makes their triumph all the more rewarding for the reader because of how much we've invested in their budding relationship.
It's more of a journey, and that makes for a more compelling narrative.
But that about the last bit of my writing style being, "slow-burn romances until they're NOT?"
What is that NOT, exactly?
Essentially, that's the tipping point. Some event happens or someone says something that makes the protagonists realize they're not just falling in love, but that they have already fallen in love. From that moment on, caution is thrown to the wind, and ensuring their future together becomes a priority of its own regardless of everything else around them. They just want to make it work no matter what.
That scene is often among my favorites to write. I'm usually internally screaming with joy because of how about damn time it is that *somebody* finally got out of their own way and made a move, and that's often how it is for me when I'm reading them, too.
Friends to Lovers
As I'll be going into in more depth next week, I wouldn't call myself a fan of love at first sight, where both characters find themselves instantly smitten from the first time they see each other and are already set on marrying them before they've even said hello or learned each other's names.
I am, however, very much a fan of the friends-to-lovers trope.
This one is fairly straightforward, revolving around a friendship evolving into a romantic relationship.
As with slow-burn romances, friends-to-lovers has plenty of room for growth before and while the romance starts to kick in even though the characters might go way, way, waaay back.
To me, it's not a matter of how long these people have known each other. You might see instances where the protagonists have been glued at the hip since they were caught eating glue in preschool or don't meet until after the story opens, maybe one character moving somewhere on the other side of the country to get a fresh start after a tragedy and becoming friends with the guy they met at the dog park.
There's also a section of friends-to-lovers stories often called the second-chance romance. Think of this like your quintessential Hallmark Christmas movie where one character returns to their hometown and reconnects with an old friend or former flame. Second-chance romances don't limit themselves to Friends-to-Lovers and can be inspired by other tropes just as easily. As such, I'm not going to be getting into the specifics of it here (I will, however, be touching on it more in next's week's post). Truth be told, I have mixed feelings towards this one because of the other forms it can take or vibes I sometimes get from it depending on the story employing it.
Friends-to-Lovers romances also bring a particularly high stake to the table, in that characters are often faced with the dilemma of wondering if taking a chance on romance is worth the risk of potentially ruining a well-rooted, longstanding bond. Knowing you have this closeness with someone who may know your most intimate secrets but feeling like you have to keep something this massive from them? That's rough.
Being friendzoned hurts. It's relatable. And the fear of two people you know are so well-suited for each other possibly not ending up together can make for a compelling conflict.
And as an added bonus, if the characters have known each other for a long time, that especially lends itself to an abundance of inside jokes because of the pre-existing history to be drawn from, and I love incorporating inside jokes in my work.
Last Name Basis
This is one particularly common in historical reads. Depending on the period, societal conventions limit the interactions characters can have, including how they refer to each other. In the Regency Era where my stories are set, only the closest of friends would use one another's Christian name; we see this in Northanger Abbey, in which Jane Austen notes the point at which Catherine and Isabella Thorpe begin using each other's first names.
The rules were a little more strict across sexes. Men and women were expected to refrain from first names and stick to Mr. or Miss in addressing each other, though it would sometimes be acceptable to use them if they were engaged or perhaps longtime friends. While some would choose to do this, some would maintain the surnames-only basis even after they married, as is seen with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
Playing around with last name vs first name addresses is something I enjoy implementing in my own works. Given the context of my stories' time period and the rules in place, that moment where the first names come out can be so much fun to write.
It might be in the confession of one's romantic feelings, a serious discussion where the gravity of the situation is emphasized by the first name slipping out, or in the middle of a heated argument. Instances where it is a complete accident are among my favorites because it signifies a step taken or a line crossed for better or for worse.
This one might be more of an overused cliche, but the forbidden romance trope is a cliche for a good reason as far as I'm concerned. Simply put, it works.
Even going as far back as Romeo and Juliet, in which the term was coined, having people in love who just * can't * be * together because of fate or some other reason beyond their control is a story that reels me in approximately nine times out of ten.
With Romeo and Juliet, you've got the two lovers coming from families locked in an unrelenting feud. Titanic has Jack and Rose defying their respective social statuses. Rhett and Scarlett have her naivety and immaturity, his reputation, a war, financial hardships, and countless other struggles to contend with.
Illness has become a particularly common take on Star-Crossed lovers in recent years, appearing in works such as A Walk to Remember, The Fault In Our Stars, and Five Feet Apart, and I'm expecting it to continue to become popular or at least hold its own in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic where social distancing practices and online dating have made for some interesting meet-cutes and first-date anecdotes.
Whether it's mere circumstances, being in the right place at the right time, just sheer luck or the lack thereof, having a conflict that is out of the protagonists' hands can make for a fascinating read.
Everything is against them. So many things should be keeping them apart. And yet they are determined to let nothing stand in their way.
A-Listers And Average Joes
I don't know how "official" this one is compared to others on this list, but one trope in romance I've found myself drawn to is when one character is famous for one reason or another but rather than fall in love with a costar or another celeb they met on a red carpet, they end up with your average Joe or Joan. The "Somebody" who ended up with a "Nobody."
The "Us" in "Celebs! They're just like us!"
Especially in the modern age where social media is all around us and we are seemingly unable to escape content, we develop a sort of distanced pseudo-relationship with people we've never met but feel like we know because they're in our lives daily (I'm sure there's an actual term for this but I'm not completely sure what it would be). We bond with them as we would if they were really sitting in our living rooms and not just on a screen.
One reason for that is its relatability. Who hasn't had a celebrity crush at one point or another?
It's like a new take on the classic Prince Charming/Cinderella love story trope, and I don't exactly hate it.
I cannot forget the little thrill of Damien Haas shouting me out in a Twitch livestream because my username happened to scroll by in chat at the right moment (and his pronouncing it mostly-correctly). That time I ran into the members of One OK Rock on the casino floor after seeing them open for 5 Seconds of Summer makes for a great story. I'm 95% sure Luke Hemmings waved back at me during a show.
And of course meeting Aaron Tveit after seeing him on stage was surreal since I had such a crush on him in my teen years and something I still cannot believe actually happened.
One of my favorite romance reads revolved around the bassist of a formerly-popular now-defunct rock band going to college in what I think was his early-to-mid-thirties to earn his degree and falling in love with the campus librarian.
I will admit I'm not generally as into stories where the love interest is very much directly based on a specific celeb, as was the case with the character of Hardin being a Harry Styles stand-in in After, but imagining someone in those ranks falling for you is something I've done more often than I want to admit.
Fan fiction is popular for many reasons, and this is one of them.
This is just a handful of my personal favorites and a fraction of the tropes out there for the taking and twisting. But there are also a few that don't work for me, and I'll be exploring them next week.