Romantic tropes I love

Tropes are basically clichés or devices that recur in different genres. Even if they lead to predictable stories or developments—or because of them—they can be exactly what readers want.

While mysteries and thrillers may try to avoid tropes (after all, predictability is the exact opposite of what’s looked for in such genres), romance novels are often picked because of them. And these tropes may change a bit depending on the subgenre (historical, contemporary, gothic, fantasy, etc.), but in their essence, they’re pretty similar.

One of the most famous tropes is “from rivals to lovers”. Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing), Austen’s Lizzie and Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), Christina Lauren’s Oli and Ethan (The Unhoneymooners), and I Will Survive are just a few of the many examples.

Why is it so popular? Usually, there’s a battle of wits that shows that the couple, in spite of their differences, are a good match and are equals. There’s also the chemistry and irresistible draw that the characters have towards each other. The writing is key, though. The animosity between them needs to be genuine and have a realistic reason, and the evolution, the change of direction in the relationship, has to be coherent and flow. And if there’s a third character that’s meant to add tension, readers still have to want the main couple to be together.

“Second chances” are another beloved trope, and Austen’s Persuasion, Beth O’Leary’s The Road Trip, and All Too Well are based on them. Heartbreak, some kind of betrayal, or a misunderstanding, lead to a separation, and the stories usually start with the reunion—or the anticipation of it. This trope is pretty great because it allows for some wishful thinking: What if I get a second chance at something that I messed up years ago? And with growth, this time it won’t be ruined.

Fake relationships can be fun, too. From Daphne and the Duke in the first Bridgerton novel by Julia Quinn to Mhairi McFarlane’s If I Never Met You, there are too many books to name. This trope can be specially fun if it’s a couple that has a rivalry going on and they’re forced to spend time together and, well, there’s a happily-ever-after involved.

On a somewhat similar note, there’s the convention of marriages of convenience: two people who agree to marry because there’s a benefit to the union. Sometimes there’s a deadline (a divorce is agreed upon after X years) that will predictably become moot as the couple will fall in love before reaching it.

Especially in historical novels, the rags-to-riches Cinderella story is also quite popular. I’m not saying that An Offer from a Gentleman is my favorite Julia Quinn novel, but it’s tied in first place with The Viscount Who Loved Me. While this trope may have been more prevalent in times when women had little (or nothing) to aspire to career-wise, it can still be given a contemporary spin.

And speeches or letters. Wentworth’s letter to Anne or Darcy’s letter to Lizzie? Yes, please. The Priest’s speech in Fleabag? Of course. (A show, I know, but there’s a script, so, I’ll include it here.)

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. From cases of mistaken identity to friends to lovers, including secret royals or millionaires (nowadays billionaires), forbidden love, and unexpected pregnancies, romantic tropes are popular and for good reason. Do you have any you love? Or that you love to hate?

Moira Daly

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