I haven’t actually read a lot of romance novels, but most of the books I have read contained romantic subplots. Over the years I have developed Opinions (imagine that) of different tropes that recur in the genre/subgenre, and since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I am going to list my top ten! Let me know what yours are in the comments!
#10: Cinderella (From Pauper to Princess)
Growing up poor, I loved fantasizing about marrying someone with wealth. Not because I’m a gold-digger, but because when you are constantly shouldering the weight of paying for necessary things you can’t afford (rent, food, bills, etc.), then the “easy” way out (marrying into a higher status) sounds like the ultimate dream.
I also love the Cinderella trope because I love the idea of bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, the idea of rising from the depths of poverty, and the idea of a prince falling for a girl with some humility and empathy.
One thing that I have never been able to relate to in books (or movies) is when neither love interest is ever concerned about surviving financially. The man takes the woman to the fanciest restaurants, the woman is more concerned about WHICH expensive dress to wear than how she can mix-and-match the little she owns to look halfway decent, and they are able to get creative with their activities because they aren’t concerned about gas, ticket prices, or room service expenses. I understand that being poor isn’t the most romantic circumstance (duh), but it still makes it hard to relate to the characters. Hence why I love the Cinderella trope — at least one of the characters is experiencing financial stability/freedom for the first time, and it’s beautiful. :’) haha
The woman needs an escape from her horrible life, namely: a prince to sweep her off her feet. And thanks to his royal upbringing, he is quite the gentleman! *swoon*
Oooohh… I love stories where a man is assigned or hired to protect a certain woman from danger for three reasons: (1) because the man is strong and can fight, (2) because it means the woman is important for some reason, and (3) the trope opens the door to ample witty banter between the two characters! The woman does not like being followed/guarded/protected, while the man insists he is just doing his job. Until… the woman begins to appreciate his presence and the security that comes with it, and the man begins to see her as more than an assignment. :3 We need more of this in stories, people.
#8: Forbidden Love
One of the best conflicts in a romance is when they should not love each other because of circumstances outside their control, and they must battle the system or flee in order to be together. It compels the couple to literally fight for their relationship to blossom. What could be more romantic than that? The high stakes associated with this trope make this one of the best.
#7: From Different Worlds
This could be paranormal (vampires w/ werewolves), science-fiction (aliens w/ humans), or historical fiction, or even contemporary fiction, where the characters’ backgrounds are so different that it is like they hail from different worlds.
I love the alien/human or creature/human dynamic the most with this trope because I am huge fan a fantasy/sci-fi, and because I love examining the human condition through the eyes of a character unfamiliar with the human race. It is such a fascinating concept with unlimited possibility. Toying with the idea of meeting another race for the first time (from the human perspective) is also interesting. These ideas can be explored without romance, but the romantic element adds an extra flavor and can make the story more complicated, especially when it is combined with the forbidden romance trope.
#6: First Love (First Date/First Kiss/etc.)
Give me more romances where one of the love interests experiences love for the first time. They don’t have to be naive or possess childlike innocence, because I know not many people appreciate the child-in-a-hot-female’s-body trope, but as a woman who has never experienced love, I like reading books from the perspective of a person like me (man or woman). This can also apply to first kisses, first dates, first anything, because people experiencing something pleasant for the first time can also enable a reader to experience it with them as though for the first time. When you watch your favorite movie with a friend, for example, you may find more joy in watching it through them than actually watching the movie at that point, which is why I love the “firsts” trope so much.
This trope is usually combined with the one above, “from other worlds,” because one of the characters has the opportunity to experience or explore the culture or behavior of another for the first time, but it is also frequently used in contemporaries. Either way, it’s great.
#5: Enemies to Lovers
I know this is a very popular one, and for a good reason: this trope typically offers the readers deeper and lengthier development of the relationship, because we start from one side of the spectrum and must end up on the other side by the end of the book. It can be quite a ride!
Here are a few of the reasons I love this: (1) banter, can’t get enough of it, (2) the light bulb moments where a character realizes they don’t hate the person >> they can tolerate the person >> they sort of like the person >> oh gosh, they’re madly in love with the person! 💡💡💡, and (3) the things they once hated about the person might turn into things they adore about the person. They must overcome their prejudices and unfair judgments of one another, which is something we deal with on a daily basis in reality.
One thing I do not like in this trope is the heavy-handed meanness at the start. Enemies do not have to be outright cruel to one another. The cold shoulder will do just fine. I can’t see a man or woman falling for someone who was verbally abusive to them, even without knowing them at first, as romantic. Passive aggressiveness in the early stages would even be preferable to hurtful insults. I do love banter, though, as long as the scale is balanced and the game is fair.
#4: Damaged Lead Finds Happiness
A damaged person does not believe they can ever be happy, until BAM! Mr. or Miss Sunshine comes along and proves them wrong! Happiness is attainable for the broken-hearted. Aw.
You can spin this a couple of different ways: Mr. or Miss Sunshine’s optimistic attitude and shining example can rub off on our damaged lead, or two damaged leads must find a way to find happiness in each other. This works best for me when both characters are horrifically damaged, but one has managed to become Sunshine despite their past, while Negative Nancy/Ned learns by example that the world isn’t purely bad.
As much as I love this trope, I cannot stomach when one of the characters is so absorbed in their own suffering that they are blind to the suffering of their potential partner. No one should assume their life is worse than another’s, no matter how bad, until they get to know a person. Everyone has a dark past, depending on your perspective, and I would appreciate more lead characters recognizing that fact instead of wallowing in self-pity all the time. Self-pity is not an attractive quality, and I can’t root for a character who’s default emotion is “poor me.” It gets old extremely fast.
This trope comes at number 4 on my list because it is powerful. It is used quite frequently for that reason. You want to see characters triumph in the face of adversity, no matter the genre. In romance, it is most meaningful when two characters find support and encouragement in each other as they mend their damaged souls with the power of love. 😉
#3: Fake Relationship
What if you have to fake a relationship with someone and realize down the line that you love them for real? Should you tell them? Do they feel the same way? Or are they still acting? Ugh, the tension is almost unbearable. This works especially well paired with the “enemies to lovers” trope.
#2: Trapped Together
When you are forced to spend a lot of one-on-one time with someone, you are bound to get to know each other pretty well soon enough. Again, if they start out enemies, it makes this trope that much sweeter. They don’t like each other, but they are forced to interact, and maybe even work together to get out of their current predicament… in close proximity… on a cold, winter night… ❄️☕🔥 They may have to begrudgingly use each other for warmth. *sigh* How terrible.
#1: Slow Burn
As much as I hate this, I love it. I mentally deduct stars when romances happen too quickly in books. Let the tension build as long as possible. The longer the build-up, the bigger the explosion, and the more satisfied I am as the reader.
What are your favorite romance tropes? What would you like to see more of in this genre? Let me know in the comments!