Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tropes in Romance

Image courtesy of Harlequin Junkie

I've signed up to do the Nano smackdown with Savvy Authors and Entangled Press and scared as I am that I've bitten off more than I can chew, I'm already glad I signed up.

Aside from meeting the lovely group of writers who'll be holding my hand through Nano, the Entangled editors are already helping us focus our conflicts and get our plots, characters and GMC sorted. If only we could have editorial feedback this early in the process on every book!

Entangled are very big on being clear up front what tropes your story contains. Since I've never really thought of my stories in terms of tropes, this has been a steep learning curve for me, and I spent the weekend researching them.

For those who, like me, were wondering what the hell a 'trope' is: it's a convention, or a familiar plot line or set-up, that is instantly recognisable to readers, a kind of 'shorthand' that helps both writer and reader identify what the story is about.

While I would hate to give any ammunition to those who say that romance is formulaic, every romance reader will recognise these tropes. And let's face it, we all have certain types of stories we love and some we hate. Done badly, they can become cliched, but haven't we all read a book that gives a new twist on an old trope and thought 'Wow! Wish I'd thought of that'?

Harlequin Junkies also has this fabulous post on romance tropes.

With some help from my fellow Indulgence Smackdowners (especially Amalie Berlin who has done a similar post, broken down beautifully into categories) here is the list of tropes I've compiled so far. Please feel free to leave a comment suggesting any I may have missed.

List of tropes:
  1. Accidental Pregnancy
  2. Across the Tracks / Lovers from different worlds
  3. All grown up
  4. Amnesia 
  5. Arranged marriage 
  6. Athlete / Sports romance
  7. Baby makes three (the classic epilogue scene where the happy couple add a baby to the family)
  8. Bait & Switch (hero or heroine thinks the other is someone else)
  9. Beauty & the Beast 
  10. Betrayal 
  11. Billionaire/Millionaire hero
  12. Blackmail 
  13. Celeb crush
  14. Childhood friends
  15. Cougar (older woman / younger man) 
  16. Cowboy / rancher hero
  17. Damsel in distress / Knight in Shining Armour
  18. Enemies to lovers (Kiss or kill) 
  19. Fake relationship
  20. Family feud
  21. First Love
  22. Fish out of water 
  23. Forbidden love / Off limits
  24. Forced proximity / trapped together (see Stranded below) 
  25. Friend’s big brother / little sister 
  26. Friends to lovers
  27. Friends with benefits
  28. Girl/ Boy Next Door / Love thy Neighbour
  29. Guardian / Ward 
  30. High school sweethearts
  31. Honey Trap
  32. Impersonation
  33. Jilted
  34. Love at first sight
  35. Love triangle 
  36. Make-over story / Ugly Duckling
  37. Marriage of convenience 
  38. Masquerade (one of the characters in disguise) / Becoming the Mask
  39. Matchmaker
  40. May / December romance (also known as Cougar Romance if a woman is the older partner)
  41. Military
  42. Mistaken identity / Hidden identity / Disguise
  43. Mysterious past 
  44. Nanny to wife 
  45. New in town
  46. New old flame
  47. Not blood siblings / Flirty step siblings
  48. Office romance / Working together
  49. One night stand 
  50. On the run / Flirting under fire
  51. Operation Jealousy
  52. Opposites Attract 
  53. Political Scandal
  54. Pretend marriage / fake engagement 
  55. Rags to riches / Cinderella
  56. Redemption
  57. Reformed rake / Bad boy reformed
  58. Reincarnation romance
  59. Returned to hometown
  60. Reunion / Reunited lovers 
  61. Revenge 
  62. Royalty
  63. Runaway bride / groom 
  64. Second chance at love
  65. Secret 
  66. Secret baby 
  67. Secret crushes 
  68. Secret romance / marriage
  69. Secret royal / Secret billionaire / Secret heir
  70. Slow burn
  71. Soul mates / Fate
  72. Stranded / snowbound 
  73. Sudden parenthood (eg. Doorstep baby, inherited baby) 
  74. The Bet 
  75. The one that got away
  76. Tortured hero(ine)
  77. Twins (secret twins / impersonation) 
  78. Undercover as lovers
  79. Unrequited Love
  80. Working with the ex


  1. Wow, I wish blog posts had a favorite button! This is a GREAT blog post, I'm going to tweet it. Thanks so much, Romy!

  2. Ooh, I have one that's not on the list - bait and switch, where the heroine (usually this way around) thinks that the hero would be perfect for someone else, then decides that they want him! trope wise, I think your book Dear Julia is a bait and switch?

  3. Wow, I had no idea there were so many tropes! Thanks for researching and sharing this, Romy!

  4. oops, scratch my last comment, I see you have bait and switch up there, as point 17...sorry!

  5. Great post. I'm giggling like a school girl at most of these tropes! When you put them like this they sound so simple and silly and yet when you read the stories they suck you in! :-)

  6. Great point, Sally. Actually,I think I'm going to split # 17 into two! I never thought of 'Dear Julia' as Bait & Switch, but you're so right!

    Glad I've given you a giggle, Mandy!

  7. This is a great post, Romy. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Suz (who can't log in)


  8. Great post, Romy! I love seeing lists like this and yours is especially great being that it's alphabetized...:-) I think my favorite is still the reunion trope but the marriage of convenience always intrigues me. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I'm totally going to steal some of these! Great list :)

  10. Thanks, Anonymous Suz!

    Olivia - I'm so pleased I'm not the only one anal enough to enjoy having everything alphabetised and in order. I blame my German blood.

    Amalie - feel free to steal away. And right back at ya for a great list.

  11. This is an awesome post! Thanks for sharing, Romy, I've added it to my favourites. Good luck with the Nano/Entangled smackdown! :-)

  12. A great post, Romy, thanks - it's good to see most of the novel themes reduced to a comprehensive list like this!

  13. I've saved this list to my favourites. It's a great way to get ideas for a new book.

  14. Thanks for your list, Romy, so that's what a trope is!

  15. Great list Romy. Wonder if I can spin some of these to support fantasy. Hmm...

    Also, look me up on savvy. I was too late for the smackdown but am doing NaNo. I'm jealous of all of you lucky ones :)

  16. Thanks for this, Romy. One other suggestion, which may be alluded to somewhere above, is forbidden romance (kind of like family feud). One character being forbidden or even blackmailed to stay away from the other. Would that then count as two tropes?


  17. Thanks for the suggestion, Alexia. Family Feud was already in there and I've now added in Forbidden romance.

    Yes, I think that would count as two tropes, and most books would have at least two or more tropes.

  18. I love forced marriage/marriage of convenience tropes. There's one category that I call "Mortgage Marriage," where the heroine is forced to marry the Hero to save her home. There's also the Marriage of Pretense, where the Hero needs a "beard"-- he demands the unwilling heroine to act his gf/mistress/fiancee in order to satisfy requirements or fend off overeager female.

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