30+ romance tropes to instantly hook your readers
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my writing career, was to disregard the marketability of my stories. I thought that using tried and tested concepts (“tropes”) was a form of cheating that only amateurs stooped to. Needless to say I was the amateur.
In fact, tropes are a great way to capture reader interest and can hook buyers with the power of a few words alone (aka the "blurb").
As with anything in publishing (life), there is always an exception to the rule. The talented writer revolutionising the publishing world with a book devoid of tropes. (No idea how that would work.) The mediocre writer catching a fluke wave of success. (Definitely a few of those out there.) Most commonly, however, it is the eager startup failing for lack of understanding the market, shying hard work, and underestimating smart selling. To get your head-start, tailor your novel to appeal to your chosen target audience with one (or more) of the following tropes.
Trope by Hero
aka "the Pantymelter": Alpha Males / Beta Males / Gamma Males / Damaged or Tortured Males / Nice guys / Not So Nice Guys = Antiheroes / Strong and Silent Types / etc.
The possibilities with this type of trope are endless and for good reason. A hero without character isn’t much of a hero at all. And a book without a character trope won't get you very far in terms of sales.
If you're new to writing, consider reading the perhaps best explanation of the Alpha Male trope in romantic fiction.
Clan / Guild Trope
aka “the Family Man”: Highlanders / Vikings / Shifters / Vampires / etc.
Interactions amongst clan / guild members and between individual clan / guild members and the heroine are often a crucial part of this type of trope and almost as important as the blossoming romance.
Dark Lover by J.R. Ward.
Down to Earth Trope
aka "the Real Man": Country Boys / Small Town Men / etc.
A strong and loyal hero (usually of few words), has his world shaken up by a spunky heroine. Exceptions are possible, though unlikely.
Ready to Run by Lauren Layne
Edge of Danger Trope
aka "the Bad Boy": Criminals and Outlaws
For the thrill-seeking romance reader, bad boys are as good as they come.
Not one of my usual go-to tropes. Feel free to share your favourite outlaw books in the comments.
aka “the Womanizer”: Serial Daters / Commitment Phobes / Rakes / etc.
The playboy loves to play the field. Until he meets the heroine. Possible variations include: the playboy who dislikes his reputation; the fake playboy.
aka "Men in Uniform": Athletes / Doctors / Firefighters / Law Enforcement Officers / etc.
Be still my beating heart. Sweaty jerseys and sooty suspenders, who could resist? Men in uniform make many a romance reader sit up and pay attention.
Try Protecting What's His by Tessa Bailey for an example of one seriously hot cop.
Public Figure trope
aka “the Dreamboat”: Musicians / Actors / Politician / etc.
Common story arc: Famous hero falls for girl-next-door heroine. Public scrutiny, travel, or the temptation of other women challenge the blossoming romance.
Recommendations welcome in the comments.
aka ‘Tall Dark and Dangerous’: Navy SEALs / Special Agents / Spies / etc.
A nation in distress. A woman in the crossfire. A hero rising to the challenge.
Try Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter series. (Book 1: The Unsung Hero).
aka ‘the Prince’: Aristocrats / Billionaires / Royalty
Loved or loathed, the Fifty Shades series by E.L. James is perhaps the best known romance of this trope. Whatever your feelings towards the series, there is no denying her books sold, and sold... and sold.
Trope by Theme
A blow to the head, or a scheme to draw in a love interest. Amnesia tropes focus on the H/h’s real, or perceived loss of identity.
White Lies by Linda Howard.
Best Friend's Sibling
Usually the younger sister of hero’s best friend, although other combinations are possible.
Staking His Claim by Tessa Bailey.
Bet / Blackmail / Wager
A couple originally getting together because of a bet, blackmail, or a wager.
After the Kiss by Lauren Layne.
Big Beautiful Woman (BBW)
Heroines with curves and the heroes who love every inch. (The heroine may or may not be struggling with her body image.)
Master of the Mountain by Cherise Sinclair.
H/h is of a significantly higher/lower class than their love interest.
Prevalent in historical romances. Share your contemporary recommendations in the comments.
Enemies to Lovers
One of my all time favourite tropes. Who doesn’t love to see the sparks flying when two adversaries develop feelings for each other?
Besides Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice I can highly recommend The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.
A modern retelling of a classic. Also, a fairytale.
The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand.
What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas when a one-night stand, or (summer) fling develops into a forever kind of love.
Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Friends to Lovers
A tricky one, where hero and heroine take the leap from a (long term) friendship to a forever kind of romance. How to tackle it? Take a leaf out of Lauren Layne's book Blurred Lines.
H/h is kidnapped and falls in love with the kidnapper. A variation of the trope: the kidnapping victim falls in love with his/her rescuer.
To Command and Collar by Cherise Sinclair.
H/h has to choose between two potential matches.
Share your thoughts on great recommendations in the comments.
Whether a marriage of convenience, an arranged marriage, a pretend marriage, or a marriage on the rocks the nuptials are crucial for this type of romance.
Snow-Kissed by Laura Florand.
The match or the matchmaker falling in love.
Lauren Layne delivers a twist on the usual matchmaking trope in To Have and to Hold.
Another favourite of mine where hero and heroine have to overcome a substantial age gap.
Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh.
H/h assumes another identity for reasons best known only to themselves.
Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey.
H/h are opposites in every regard. They find common ground when it comes to love.
Ready to Run by Lauren Layne.
Whether an accidental pregnancy or a secret baby, one and one equals three in this trope.
This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
H/h must atone for wrongs committed in the past.
Broken by Lauren Layne.
H/h is on a quest to seek revenge for a real or perceived wrong in the past.
Behind Closed Doors by Shannon McKenna.
Backstory, boredom, and a single shady motel room at night. Variations are possible, though unlikely.
Love Story by Lauren Layne.
A physically or psychologically scarred H/h finds love and a sense of self-worth.
Blind Curve by Annie Solomon.
Childhood sweethearts, ex-lovers, or the one who got away. Hero and heroine share a common past and get a second chance to discover the true depth of their feelings for each other.
The Trouble With Love by Lauren Layne.
Snowed in. Flat tyre. Cancelled flight. The perfect setup for a blossoming romance.
Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair.
H/h travels back or forward in time.
Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning.
H/h has never consummated a sexual relationship.
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh.
Hero and heroine are working in the same office, for the same company, or on different floors of the same building.
Read Lauren Layne’s Stiletto/Oxford series for a combination of all three. (Start with After the Kiss.)
A purportedly unattractive heroine transforms from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, or discovers that a transformation isn’t necessary for a fulfilling love life.
Crushed by Lauren Layne.
The teacher and the student. The trainer and the recruit. Often May-December romances, this trope delivers all the feels with the added spice of the forbidden.
Releasing 24 April 2018: Disturbing His Peace by Tessa Bailey
How to use the trope advantage
Tropes can be used alone or in conjunction. The sample books I provided can give you a good indication on how to weave tropes together for maximum impact. (Also, they are great reading material for rainy afternoons.) Once you have a good grasp on romance’s most popular tropes, try writing a book description that would capture your interest and share it in the comments below.
Did I miss a trope? Let me know in the comments.