A romance trope is a common situation found in romantic stories.
Most romance readers have a favorite trope or two and they will purchase a book based solely on the promised trope. They also have tropes they will avoid at all costs and romance publishers know this. It’s one of the reasons why so many titles will have buzz words. If a reader loves marriage of convenience stories, a title with the phrase convenient marriage, marriage bargain or temporary bride will make her pick up the book and look at the back cover to learn more about the story.
Why are tropes popular?
Tropes are popular in romance fiction because the author takes a familiar scenario and gives it a twist. Let’s say your favorite fairy tale was about the ugly duckling. You’ve always enjoyed stories about a dowdy or plain character getting made over into someone glamorous and beautiful.
The ugly duckling or Plain Jane is not an archetype but a trope because it’s about the transformation of a character. It’s not the Plain Jane you want to read about; you’re interested in the makeover and what happens to the character after the transformation..
Romance stories about makeovers don’t follow a rigid formula and that’s the beauty of tropes. However, the stories that share a trope will have familiar story beats and scenes. Compare Miss Congeniality with The Princess Diaries. The heroines are not alike and they have different motivations for getting a makeover, but the stories share similar scenes like the makeover montage.
Also, some authors will play with reader expectations and invert the trope. For example, what if an attractive hero has to go undercover as a slovenly man? Or perhaps a brazen heroine must act mousy.
While some readers want to read about ugly duckling circumstances, they don’t want a faithful retelling. They want the author to understand why readers enjoy the trope and include a few surprises to the emotionally satisfying ending. The makeover romances share situations but the journey can take some detours.
What isn’t a trope?
A romance trope is not a sub-genre of romance fiction. A sub-genre has less to do with the situation and more to do with the landscape. Examples of sub-genres are contemporary romance, historical romance and paranormal romance.
Also, a character archetype is not a trope. An archetype is a universally identifiable role a person plays in his world. A reader knows what role a waif plays in her community as opposed to a warrior.
Here’s a quick (and incomplete) list of romance tropes:
- Amnesia: A main character is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t remember what went wrong in the relationship with their One True Love.
- Arranged Marriage: The main characters are not in love when they marry.
- Baby on the Doorstep: A main character suddenly has physical custody of a child and needs help from the other main character.
- Fake Relationship: The main characters pretend to be in a romantic relationship and wind up falling in love.
- Forced Marriage: A main character is blackmailed or forced into marrying the other main character.
- Forced Proximity: The main characters are required to stay close together for a short duration.
- Marriage in Trouble: The main characters are in love but the marriage is falling apart.
- Marriage of Convenience: The main characters enter a temporary marriage for reasons other than romantic love.
- Secret Baby: The heroine hid the fact that the hero is the father of her child.
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