The Best (and Probably Worst) Romance Tropes

By: romance-novelIsabelle Resnick

When it comes to genre, there is an implicit contract between writer and reader, producer and audience. A reader has certain expectations when he or she picks up a romance novel, for example; its elements —a destiny meeting, unrequited feelings, a relationship-threatening obstacle — are different from that of a mystery or sci-fi series. To break the genre’s conventions is to break trust with the reader. We tend to pick up books of certain genres because we know they will tell the stories we want to read.

The best (and worst) thing about genre conventions is the tropes that come with them. There are the tropes authors find difficult to avoid, and the ones we readers love to hate (and vice versa). Many of the following tropes can be found in romance novels, but fanfiction writers in particular are notorious for sprinkling these elements into their stories.

Fanfiction /fanˈfikSH(ə)n/: prose that lovers of make-believe grace us with when they write continuations and reinterpretations of the stories we know and love.

These writers don’t hold back when it comes to romantic clichés, a guilty pleasure I am not afraid to admit to. In no particular order, here are the best (and probably worst) young adult novel and fanfiction tropes within the romance genre:

  1. Fake Boyfriend/Girlfriend: We saw this trope in the film, The Wedding Date, and in books like The Deal by Elle Kennedy. One of the first works of fanfiction I ever read was called “My Fake Boyfriend Harry Styles,” and it opened the Pandora’s box to my love of cheesy and unrealistic tropes. The premise is simple: whether it is to keep your family’s nagging at bay, to make someone jealous, or to stage a publicity stunt, two non-lovers, often strangers, must appear as a couple. Through forced handholding and time spent together, the two realize their feelings for one another, and they live happily ever after. (See also: the arranged marriage trope).
  2. The Bad Boy: Who doesn’t love a bad boy? Even the idea of a good girl gone bad is enticing for many audiences (think: Grease’s Sandy Olsson), but the Danny Zuko’s of the fiction world are far more common. They come in many forms, like Noah Shaw in the Mara Dyer series and many a fanfiction’s Draco Malfoy, especially when paired with the goody-two-shoes Hermione Granger. Yes, that’s a thing. Many of us love the idea of being the one to “change” a bad boy or being the person to make that leather-jacket-wearing, greasy hair-flipping man fall to his knees. Julia Stiles did it to Health Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. Or did Heath’s character change Julia’s bad girl? Nevertheless, in reality, the “bad” boy or girl may not be the ideal partner, so be wary of trying to carve their stone into the statue of David. (See also: the dating bet).
  3. Best-friends-turned-lovers: He was a boy. She was a girl. Could it be any more obvious? Not in young adult romance, it can’t. The story goes like this: one friend gets involved in his or her first relationship, and the other suddenly realizes he or she has feelings for the other. Chaos and crying ensues. After they help Harry defeat Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts, Ron and Hermione realize life is too short to pretend their relationship is anything but platonic. The end.
  4. Enemies-turned-lovers: Ah, the evil twin of best-friends-turned-lovers. This one is all the more enticing. Screaming matches turn into first kisses within a few pages. Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger’s story is not a new concept. You can trace this trope back to Pride and Prejudice, and before that, one would argue Romeo and Juliet, who found love despite the war between their families, the Capulets and Montagues, a 400-year-old example of enemies-turned-lovers.
  5. Forbidden love: I would be remiss to leave out one of the most popular tropes of all time. The forbidden love trope is realized in many of the Disney princess films, including The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and Beauty and the Beast. The trope is common surrounding groups of people who have historically been unable to mix due to social rules and taboos. Members of different races and religions have in the past been at the center of these novels, and today the forbidden love trope is a common theme in LGBT novels like If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan.

One of the biggest criticisms of tropes is the predictability of it all. The key to tackling a trope is to avoid telling the same old story, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking out certain tropes to fulfill your romantic daydreams.


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