Come one, come all, readers! Let’s chat about tropes and which tropes we love. Specifically, let’s get down and dirty about what romance trope are you, and why you are so absolutely in love with that kind of story.
All stories use tropes and archetypes, and each genre has specific tropes that readers know and love. But before we get too far into romance tropes, let’s talk about what a trope is and why readers need them.
What Is a Trope?
In rhetoric, a trope is figurative language where you use one word to mean something that’s different from its literal meaning. For example, using the phrase “busy bees” to describe workers getting shit done–that’s a trope.
But when writers and readers talk about tropes, that’s not usually what they mean. Instead, we’re usually talking about common patterns or stock characters we’re all familiar with.
Some common character tropes include:
- the dumb blonde
- the chosen one
- the girl nextdoor
- the damsel in distress
- the trusty sidekick
- the manic pixie dream girl
- the antihero
- the dumb jock
- the token minority
- the final girl
These are all characters we’ve seen before, and you can probably think of several examples of each character from movies and books you’ve consumed.
Some common story tropes include:
- the hero’s journey
- good vs. evil
- the hero gets the girl
- the training sequence/montage
- the minority character dies first
- a colorful cast of characters does a heist
- a character has amnesia and must remember their past to save the day
- happily ever after
- a long time ago in a land far, far away
- robots enslave the humans that created them
- a race against the ticking clock
- a boring teen has to save the day while two hot teens are in love with them
- the dark family secret must be kept hidden at all costs
I could go on all day, but I definitely won’t. Tropes are a part of every story we know and love. And the more you think about stories, the more you’ll be able to see the tropes the writer used to create it.
How Stories Work
Now is about the time when folks who haven’t thought a lot about stories get real indignant. They want you to know that they don’t like tropes and they only read original books.
For what it’s worth, all stories follow a specific structure. Those structures are usually unique to the culture you’re a part of, meaning that all western stories tend to follow a similar structure or pattern, and the same goes for non-western stories.
The more you can pinpoint a story’s cultural origin, the more you can see the specific tropes that were used.
That doesn’t mean that everything is derivative or overdone. It does mean that we all have a particular cultural simulacra that we know, and stories that don’t use those simulacra will not resonate with us the same way stories that use them do.
The key, as a writer, is to make sure you’re giving those tropes your own spin. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about as I write a paranormal romance series.
And, as a reader, part of suspending your disbelief is the subconscious acknowledgement that you’re consuming a trope you’ve heard of before.
Which Book Trope Are You?
Okay. So. Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk book tropes!
I’m absolutely trash for tropes, and I love seeing how different writers approach the same trope. (And, as someone who loves tarot, I’m totally down with archetypes and universal symbols, so like, yeah. It makes sense that I like tropes.)
Throughout my life, I have embodied many tropes.
The Scrappy Outsider
I don’t know if it’s brain chemistry, mixed cultural heritage, or just my inability to not be an awkward mess, but I feel like an outsider all the time. This definitely causes me to approach interactions feeling like the underdog. And, if I’m being super honest, it’s made me act really scrappy in the workplace too, to the point where I was pretty much the equivalent of the kid with the bottle caps on his Chuck Taylors from Fame.
My default mode is making jokes, especially when I’m uncomfortable. I’m also uncomfortable in like 98% of social situations. So, I make some jokes.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
I am a very three-dimensional sort of character, so know that I don’t feel this about myself. But I do recognize that someone who writes romance novels, reads tarot cards, and wears thick-framed glasses definitely might seem to embody this trope to a casual observer. When you couple that with my love of thrift stores and wearing high tops with formal wear, I get it.
The Damsel in Distress
Look. I’m not proud of this one. But like, if there’s a big spider blocking my exit from a room, or there’s a jar of pickles I can’t open, I suddenly turn into a fainting princess that must be saved.
What Romance Trope Are You?
I know exactly which romance tropes I am. I know what romantic comedy books I want to read based on researching tropes, and I can always find Nora Roberts trilogies to binge by thinking about character tropes I love.
But if you aren’t so sure, I have your back.
What Is My Favorite Romance Trope?
Look. I can’t narrow this down to one.
As a romance reader and writer, I love me some romance tropes. It’s why I read and write romance, gang. I also feel like trope love is part of the joy of being a romance reader. It’s also something you should think about as a writer when creating your romance novel outline.
So, here are my top three tropes.
There’s Only One Bed
This trope usually shakes out one of two ways:
- The story is set in the past, and an unmarried man and woman traveling together without a chaperone are already breaking so many social conventions that could ruin the woman’s reputation. But they have to keep up the ruse when they get to the inn, so they get a room that naturally only has one bed, and must share it for the night. You’re a grown adult. You know what happens next.
- The story is set in the modern era, and two characters have booked the same rental cabin. It’s too late to call the booking company, and they’re both too stubborn to leave and lose their deposit. So they stay at the cabin to spite one another, and eventually, when it’s time for bed, well. You know what happens.
It’s worth noting that this is basically the first 15 minutes of the horror movie, Barbarian. So please know that a trope in one genre can be so completely different in another.
He Falls First
In books where both the man and woman’s points of view are shared, I absolutely love when we get the inner turmoil of a man who realizes he has fallen in love with a woman who may not like him that much. We find out later that she does, but until then, he’s an absolute wreck.
I’m not sure why I enjoy this so much. Maybe it’s because I nursed so many unrequited crushes throughout the years. Maybe it’s because I like to think men are capable of being all up in their heads about love. Either way, it’s always fun for me to read.
Wake Up Married
You know what the strongest foundation for a relationship is? Waking up after a wild night only to realize that you got married to a stranger. Then, the rest of the book is spent trying to obtain an annulment, only to realize in the process that maybe you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. Naturally, a lot of these stories take place in Las Vegas where quick, regrettable marriages are easy to set up.
What Relationship Trope/Ship Dynamic Are You?
Do you like romance tropes too? What sort of relationship trope do you think you embody? What kind of dynamic do you love to see in a relationship?