Romance is one of the most popular genres in the literary world. Whether you like it or not, love stories are everywhere, not just in books but also in movies and TV shows. One of the ways romance authors keep us hooked to these steamy stories is with the creative use of tropes.
A trope is a reoccurring theme or plot device that is instantly recognizable to the reader. They are, in a way, clichés that have appeared in stories throughout the centuries.
But just because these story formulas have been used time and time again, it doesn’t mean that they have to feel unoriginal. A good romance writer knows hows to incorporate a romance trope in an exciting and contemporary way. It’ll feel familiar to the reader but not regurgitated.
If you want to know more about romance tropes, I’ve got your covered. This ultimate guide to the most popular tropes will help you see how, when, and why they’re used.
If you’re an aspiring romance writer, this article will help you incorporate tropes in an original and creative way. And if you simply love reading romance novels, getting familiar with classic romance tropes will enhance your reading experience. Once you recognize popular tropes, you’ll see patterns emerge in pretty much every romance story you read.
So read on as I dive into some of the most popular, tried and tested romance tropes for your reading pleasure.
Romance Tropes Guide
Romance Trope #1: Friends Become Lovers
Example: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
There is something incredibly alluring about seeing someone you’ve known platonically for years in a whole new light, and the ‘Friends Become Lovers” romance trope deals with just this.
We often see this trope played out as two childhood friends that grew up alongside each other, experiencing all the ups and downs of adolescence with nothing more than a peck on the cheek. Then, as they get older and become adults, their lives fork in different directions, and they’ll often lose touch for years.
But some act of fate will ultimately bring the pair back together. This time, instead of just friendship, there’s a spark of something new. They finally see what they’ve been blind to for so long, and a new chapter in their relationship begins.
Romance Trope #2: Enemies Become Lovers
Example: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Contrary to Trope #1, the ‘Enemies Become Lovers’ trope deals with two people who, at first, can’t stand each other. For some reason, maybe a misunderstanding or difference of opinion, they get off on the wrong foot.
And in this case, things usually get worse before they get better. The pair usually become even more at odds with each other as the story develops. They might even be embroiled in a conflict or rivalry that borders obsession. Then, when all they can think about is each other, something happens, and their perspectives shift.
As they say, there’s a fine line between love and hate. Eventually, that line is crossed, and all that pent up anger is transformed into pure passion. Whatever the reason for the switch, it’s always satisfying when two enemies stop hating each other and start loving each other instead.
Romance Trope #3: Forced Proximity
Example: The Roommate, by Rosie Danan
Also known as the ‘Trapped in the Elevator” trope, this is one of the most popular scenarios played out in romance novels.
Sometimes, two people are physically trapped together in a confined space. Maybe it’s a cabin in the woods, during a snowstorm. Or perhaps they’re locked in a room together against their will.
But the space doesn’t always have to be that enclosed. Other examples of Forced Proximity are two people stuck in the same office as each other day after day. Or it might be two characters on vacation who are part of a larger group of friends.
Most of the time, these two characters start out either as relative strangers or not liking each other much; often, it’s both. Then, as the plot develops, and they’re forced to endure the same experience in the same space, something switches. They being to form an unavoidable bond, and finally, romance begins to blossom.
Romance Trope #4: Fake Relationships
This one sounds a little strange at first, but the ‘Fake Relationship’ trope is actually a pretty popular theme in romance literature, as well as in some classic high school movies too.
It starts with two people who, for some reason, have to fake being in a relationship together. Perhaps it’s to make another person jealous, or it could be an undercover operation. Maye it’s to obtain a marriage visa in a foreign country. Whatever the reason, all that acting eventually transforms itself into something real.
Often, the pair will part ways after their feigned affair, only to both realize that they enjoyed playing pretend. Eventually, the couple declares their true feelings for each other, and they try their relationship again, for real this time.
Romance Trope #5: The Secret Millionaire/Billionaire
Example: Royal Scandal by Marquita Valentine
This trope involves stories about one member of a couple who turns out to be filthy rich.
Sometimes, it’s simply a millionaire or billionaire business mogul, but this character will often have royal blood and be a prince or princess. Tired of the limelight, they might decide to live like us’ normal people’ for a while. They go undercover, trying to experience how it feels to live without money and status and all the pressures those things can bring. But along the way, they unexpectedly end up falling in love.
On the other hand, Mr or Mrs Billionaire may have a potential love interest in mind, but they want to make sure that person isn’t a golddigger before they give their heart away. They might try to hide the true extent of their wealth until they know they can trust their new mate.
All being well, the non-wealthy member of the couple will love the rich one for their heart and soul, and not just their extreme wealth and power. But of course, things don’t always turn out that way.
The Secret Millionaire/Billionaire trope is increasingly popular in contemporary romance literature, possibly because it’s a scenario that so (unfortunately) out of the ordinary in real life.
Romance Trope #6: First Love
Fondly or not, everyone remembers their first love. So it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular romance tropes out there.
Sometimes, the first love might be an unrequited one in the form of a secret crush. Other times, it’s a full-blown romance that takes both parties on an unforgettable ride.
Occasionally things work out well for the couple, and their love endures throughout the entire story, but more often than not, there are bumps in the road. The old saying ‘the first cut is the deepest’ is indeed true, and often the protagonist endures a heartbreak they’ll never forget.
Romance Trope #7: Forbidden Love
Is there anything more passionate and alluring than loving someone you’re not supposed to? This trope explores the relationship between two people who, for whatever reason, cannot be together.
Sometimes it’s down to a family feud or differences in culture and background. Other times, it’s because of a circumstance. Perhaps one person is already in a committed relationship, or they’ve taken a vow of celibacy.
Either way, knowing they cannot have each other draws the pair closer together. The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, after all.
Romance Trop #8: Second Chance Romance
Many people have a real-life second chance romance, so it’s no surprise that this trope is so popular in romantic fiction.
The ‘Second Chance Romance’ usually involves a couple who were once together and happy, but something happened to draw them apart. Maybe they split up and went their separate ways after an affair, or perhaps they were forced apart through circumstances out of their control.
Then, through the twists and turns of fate, something happens that brings them back together. They start to rebuild their relationship, heal old wounds, and create new memories together. They’ll remember the things that attracted them to each other in the first place and rekindle the fire and excitement they once had for one another.
Romance fans really love this trope as it tells us what many of us long to hear, that it’s never too late for a second chance at love.
Romance Trope #9: Fated Mates
‘Fated Mates’ applies to couples who knew they were destined to be together, right from the very beginning. Often it’s a love-at-first-sight type of scenario, where two people’s paths cross, and boom – their hearts go wild.
Of course, just because they know they’re supposed to be together, that doesn’t mean our couple won’t come up against some hurdles along the way. In fact, this trope is best used when something stands in the way of their relationship. That way, the reader gets to join them for the ride as they overcome these roadblocks of love and, in the end, win the prize of each other.
Romance Trope #10: The Love Triangle
Example: The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer
‘The Love Triangle’ trope always involves, of course, a minimum of three people. That being said, there are some occasions when a fourth person joins in, and the love triangle is actually a square. Either way, this trope almost always involves a severe dose of heartbreak.
For example, Sally is madly in love with James, but James has a crush on Jonathan. James is too shy to share his feelings, and Jonathan is so busy lusting after Sally that he’ll never notice anyway. In this scenario, no one really wins, although sometimes, this trope can have a happy ending, at least for some of the participants.
Romance Trope #11: Opposites Attract
Example: The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
This is one of the most engaging tropes in a good romance novel since we’re never quite sure how ‘Opposites Attract’ is going to play out.
We’ve all heard that some of the best relationships are between two people who are polar opposites. This is because each partner has particular strengths that make up for the other partner’s weakness, and vice versa.
For example, the shy, sensitive artist with a kind heart meets the outgoing party girl who helps him come out of his shell. And in return, he teaches her the value of compassion.
But sometimes, even if things start out hunky-dory, their personalities begin to clash, and the relationship goes downhill. With this trope, you never quite know how it’s going to end up.
So there you have it, a complete round-up of the most popular romance tropes in literary fiction. Chances are, you already know quite a few books, movies, and TV shows that incorporate the tropes listed here. Maybe you can think of a few others too.
As soon as you’re aware of them, romance tropes become much easier to spot; they’re everywhere!
Hopefully, if you’re a writer, this guide will get you thinking about how you can include some classic romance tropes in your stories in a fresh and original way. And if you simply love reading romance novels, I hope you’ve found something new that sparks your interest here.