If you’ve studied writing, odds are you’ve heard of the 36 Dramatic Situations or 36 Plot Lines. This list was determined after the author Georges Poll studied and analyzed not only classical Greek texts, but also classical and contemporary French works. The basic tenet of his analysis concludes that in all of literature and performance, there are only these 36 situations. Everything that’s been written or performed since is a variant on one of these. But what does that have to do with romance tropes?
It took me a moment to appreciate that what Poll did was compile what he saw as an exhaustive list of tropes. What is a trope? Something comforting, something familiar. Again looking at Wikipedia, we find the definition of literary trope: “The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.”
If a trope is a cliché, then isn’t that a bad thing? Shouldn’t we avoid them? I wondered that myself when I was at the RWA conference this summer and stumbled on a workshop on tropes in romance. What I took away from that workshop (and from the conference as a whole) is that tropes are what keep the romance genre turning. We often hear feedback from agents and editors telling us they want something different. What I’ve learned—at least in my own experience—is that this isn’t entirely true.
The books that sell are filled with tropes. It’s that the authors have taken the time to put their own spin on these time-tested, best-selling storylines and made them into something new and different. Something unique.
RWA polled its members about their favorite romance tropes in 2014. The list is far from inclusive when it comes to tropes, but it does give an insight into what many people want to see. According to Romance Writers of America, the top ten most popular romance tropes are:
- Friends to Lovers
- Soul Mate/Fate
- Second Chance at Love
- Secret Romance
- First Love
- Strong Hero/Heroine
- Reunited Lovers
- Love Triangle
- Sexy Billionaire/Millionaire
- Sassy Heroine
At All The Kissing, I conducted an utterly unscientific poll to see which tropes our members like best, and which trope-filled books they recommend. After modest outrage that Enemies to Lovers hadn’t made the list—and a bit of discussion about the differences between Second Chance at Love vs Reunited Lovers (the general consensus was that Second Chance is where the couple broke up, but have a second chance at their relationship later in life, and Reunited Lovers is a case of circumstance, not choice, breaking the lovers apart until some later time and Strong Hero/Heroine vs Sassy Heroine (strong doesn’t equal sassy, but sassy heroines are often strong)—I’m happy to give you a sampling of our favorite romance tropes, with examples.
Most books contain a major trope theme, but in many cases they contain more than one trope. Please keep in mind as you read on that this or any list of tropes is far from exhaustive. If you’re not familiar with the concept of tropes, TV Tropes is a fine place to start. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: most times I get lost there for days, if not weeks on end.
Our Favorite Romance Tropes
Without further ado, here’s All The Kissing’s list of our favorite romance tropes and a few books we feel fall into those categories.
Enemies to Lovers
The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
Divergent Series, Veronica Roth
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Friends to Lovers
Emma, Jane Austen
A Girl Like You, Gemma Burgess
Sutphin Boulevard, Santino Hassell
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
Fallen, Lauren Kate
Remembrance, Jude Deveraux
Second Chance at Love
Once In A Lifetime, Harper Bliss
Bad Influence, KA Mitchell
An Extraordinary Union, Alyssa Cole
A Lady Awakened, Cecilia Grant
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
The On the Ropes Series, Aly Martinez
Haven, Rebekah Weatherspoon.
The Love Square, Jessica Calla
The Hunger Games Series, Suzanne Collins
Trade Me, Courtney Milan
Maid for the Billionaire, Ruth Cardello
The Sinclairs Series, J.S. Scott
Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie
The Spotless Series, Camilla Monk
Flow, Kennedy Ryan
Far From Home, Lorelie Brown
The Marriage Bargain, Jennifer Probst
My thanks to Lynn Czerniawski, Jen DeLuca, Valerie Gower, Avery Kingston, Rosanna Leo, Lisa Leoni, Judy Lin, Mary Ann Marlowe, Julia Miller, Kelli Newby, Sarah Smith, Anne Terpstra, Lidy Wilks, and JR Yates, without whom this post would have been impossible. To read more on these tropes and books, and why and how they made the list, join the discussion at https://www.facebook.com/groups/allthekissing/.
This is but a small sampling of the romance tropes you’re likely to find in novels.
Remember, tropes (in particular, our favorite tropes) are what keep readers coming back to romance.
They lend an air of familiarity to any book, but we read in anticipation of the way each author will bend or enhance the trope to catch our interest. If I’ve left out your favorite romance tropes or if you’ve got questions about any of the tropes mentioned in this article, let me know in comments below.