Popular Romance Tropes And Examples to Inspire Your Love Stories
Romance is the genre of a million tropes. Learn the popular ones to inspire your own romance!
Every book genre has its popular tropes, but when it comes to variety, romance readers have an Olympic-sized pool of options to swim in. In 2021, the romance genre accounted for 18% of adult fiction sales. Put another way, almost 1 in 5 books read are romance novels. The genre’s popularity and its huge variety of subgenres and tropes make it an appealing choice to many authors.
Fans of romances tend to be loyal to their favorite subgenres and tropes. Hop on to social media today and you’ll find endless videos and posts debating which trope is the best. Readers flock to familiar motifs, and in the romance world, timeless clichés and on-trend themes abound. These tried-and-tested scenarios have built in audiences.
There are exhaustive lists to be found, and even whole books dedicated to covering tropes. Here, we’ll look at a few of the most popular romance tropes and provide examples to provide romance writers with some inspiration. We’ll also provide examples of romance books making use of particular tropes.
What is a Trope?
In the literary world, writers and readers flock to certain themes referred to as tropes. Tropes are frameworks or scenarios that move a story forward. They are considered common and used frequently. They are recognizable, expected patterns that give an easily identifiable starting point to a story and can be used to attract potential readers.
For example, the love triangle romance is a classic and frequently used trope. Three characters compete for love and only two will win. Built in tension. Think Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Katniss, Peeta and Gale), Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy and Wickham), and Odd One Out by Nic Stone (Cooper, Rae and Jupiter).
Tropes are shortcuts to let readers know what kind of romance they are about to enjoy. They define what will bring the couple together, create tension between them or rip them apart. They can determine pacing and set out the stakes of a story, cutting to the essence of a story faster than a log line or snappy blurb.
There are two categories of tropes: Plot Devices and Character Traits.
A plot device is a set of circumstances that move the narrative forward. They can be the situation a character finds themselves in that spurs growth or change. From the meet cute to blind dates, a plot device pushes the book along.
Who the players are in a romance novel and the characteristics of the couple work together to push and pull a storyline. These themes give insight to the personality traits of the core characters and act as shortcuts to the tension or conflict to be resolved in the book.
Pro Tip: Consider putting one of the tropes in the title of your book to attract readers.
Plot Device Based Tropes
At their core, romance novels are about relationships. How characters associate with each other defines the type of romance. For example, an enemies to lovers trope implies dust ups, misunderstandings and feisty dialogue. At the other end of the spectrum, a friends to lovers theme harkens more angst, slow burn romance and a more introspective tone as the potential couple try to determine if they want to take the leap from friends to more.
Arranged Marriages: Someone, usually parents, acts as a matchmaker and chooses who the characters will marry
Enemies to lovers: The characters dislike each other when they first meet
Friends to lovers: Friends forever, the characters decide to act on their growing attraction
Love triangle: Three characters, two become a couple, one loses
Opposites Attract: Characters are from opposing lifestyles, backgrounds, etc.
One-Night Stands: After one night together, the characters meet again and determine if they were a moment in time or their relationship can exist outside of the bedroom
Second Chance Romance: They were in love. They break up. Can they love again?
Soul Mates/Star-Crossed Lovers: Fate keeps pushing the characters together, or apart.
Christina Lauren’s popular Love and Other Words offers a Friends to Lovers, Love Triangle, and Second Chance scenario all in one touching, heartfelt book. For an Opposites Attract, Enemies to Lovers romance with witty dialogue and some comedic elements, check out The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.
The couple in question have no choice but to spend time together. This trope is a classic way to create an emotional or physical connection between a couple. Making them exist in the same, preferably small space can wear down barriers, ratchet up sexual tension, and create irresistibly intense connections.
Coach/Teacher: Characters have to see each other on the daily
Only One Bed: There’s only one room left at the inn and it has one bed
Road Trip: Two characters have to travel somewhere, thus forced to spend time together
Roommates: Living together has characters in each other’s faces
Workplace Romance: Characters are forced to work together, may be in competition
Pick up Talia Hibbert’s Act Your Age, Eva Brown, for a hot romance that takes place inside the tight confines of a restaurant’s kitchen. Watch roommates fall in love as they navigate bills, fridge space and love in Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey.
Suspense is the name of the game with this popular trope. These romances have a surprise in store for one of the characters and maybe even the reader. Whatever the mystery, it’s soon to be exposed, creating built in tension and a running clock.
In Disguise: One of the characters is hiding their identity, either from the other character or the world
Fake Relationships / A Marriage of Convenience: Two characters agree to deceive everyone, giving the illusion they are dating or married, meaning they have to act like two people in love.
Forbidden Love: They probably shouldn’t be together for some potentially illicit reason
Mistaken Identity: One character makes an assumption about the other character and at some point, the truth will out
Secret Baby: Baby on board, but no one knows. Now someone wants to change the rules.
Find Fake Dating done right in Ali Hazelwood’s The Love Hypothesis, which deserves its popularity. For a funny and smart Mistaken Identity romp, read Neanderthal Meets Human by Penny Reid.
The backdrop for a romance can influence the story. Characters are attached to the setting in some way and the location can even become a character itself.
High School / College: First loves and coming of age stories for young adults abound in these settings
Holidays: It’s that time of year and everyone is in love, usually Christmas or Valentine’s Day
Medical: Working in a medical profession is stressful and a great place to find an everyday hero
On Vacation: A character travels to a foreign city or exotic location and meets a stranger
Small Town/Big City: Life is slower or faster for the character in this setting, especially if they are new in town and need to adjust
Book Lovers by Emily Henry offers Small Town romance while On Vacation. Need a Holiday fix? Try Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, which takes place in New York at Christmas.
Love can’t be bound by time or space and fantasy romances have a loyal and obsessive following. With enchanted lands, captivating characters and epic romances, these books extend the imagination of the reader and the author. Often they are set in worlds with different rules and create love stories with infinite possibilities.
Cursed: A character has fallen under a spell, a wicked charm has gone wrong or a legend waits to come true. Only true love can reverse the curse.
Fairy Tales: Disney knows where it's at, and once upon a times with princes and princesses in fabled lands make this trope desirable
Historical: Romance is ageless, and the backdrop of another century comes with built in chivalry perfect for slow burns
Paranormal: Shapeshifters, Vampires, Dragons, Faeries, oh my! Characters transform into other forms
Time Travel: The best of both worlds or all times. Pluck a character out of the present day and send them back or forward in time to meet their love interest.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and its resulting 14 book series mixed time travel and historical romance into a blend of steamy, swoon worthy romance. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is required reading for fantasy fans, featuring faeries and legends.
Character Attribute Based Tropes
There is a fine line between love and hate and this tension makes for instant drama, mishaps and strong feelings. Dialogue is a key element in this trope as the characters are usually fighting. Emotions run hot, tempers flare and sparks fly.
Bad Boy/Girl: Strong-willed and potentially dangerous, the main character should probably stay from these love interests, but definitely won’t
Different Worlds: Like oil and water, there’s no way these two can mix, until they find common ground
Revenge: Betrayed by the other character or their family, one character is determined to get payback
Rivals: Think Romeo and Juliet, these two characters shouldn’t work, but they do
Anna Todd created a world-wide sensation with her bad boy series After. Find chemistry and conflict in the Rivals romance The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas.
Friends & Family
Familiarity breeds comfort and sometimes love. Usually a more slow-paced romance, these tropes deal with overcoming or admitting feelings. Moving a relationship from friend zone to romance takes nerve, the tension being it might not work out and the characters will lose the key dynamic. Is the risk worth the reward?
Best Friend’s Brother/Sister: The character sees their friends’ siblings in a new romantic light
Brother/Sister’s Best Friend: The character sees their siblings’ friend in a new romantic light
Single Parent: Characters fall in love with not only the single parent, but the kids
Step-siblings: Their parents marry and the characters realize they have a connection
Widower: The main character has proved they can fall in love. Can they do it again with someone new?
Looking for a Brother’s Best Friend book, try Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover. Julia Quinn nails the widow who finds love again in her To Sir Phillip With Love.
Sometimes the defining attributes of a character color the story line. The traits and accompanying pros and cons shape the relationship between the two characters. They may come from different worlds and learning to live in the others is often a challenge to overcome.
Billionaire: One character has oodles of money and influence
Bodyguard: Assigned to protect a character, someone crosses a line and falls in love
Cowboy/girl: The character embraces the rural lifestyle
Mafia: Love is dangerous in this world, with gangsters, guns and grifts
Military: Hero and Heroines come built in, but beware, there may be baggage
Rock Star/Movie Star: Celebrities are people too and the love interest must see beyond the on-stage persona
Royalty: One character is in line for the throne and must choose between duty or love
Runaway Bride: One character thought they wanted to get married, probably for the wrong reasons, and ditches the altar to find true romance.
In the mood for a modern-day Royalty romance, pick up Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Billionaire romances abound and Elise Faber has a series of them, starting with Bad Night Stand.
One Trope is Never Enough
In a case of “the more, the merrier,” most romance novels have a mixture of multiple tropes within them, helping them cast a wider net for an audience.
Take, for example, Nicolas Spark’s classic The Notebook. It’s packed full of tropes.
Opposites attract: Allie is vivacious and outgoing, Noah is a quiet introvert
Different Worlds: Allie is from an affluent family. Noah has a blue-collar background.
Love Triangle: Allie, Noah and Lon
Military: Noah and Lon both serve in the army in World War II
Second Chance: Allie returns to town and bumps into Noah
Small Town: Where Allie and Noah meet
Forbidden Love: Allie’s father bans her from dating Noah
Star-Crossed Lovers: Their relationship hits a few bumps along the road, but they end up together in the end
Pick Your Trope
One of the most important questions aspiring romance authors must ask themselves is what tropes interest them the most. While you can’t go wrong, here are a few complimentary tropes and the writing style they might mix well with.
Enemies to lovers meets Opposites Attract. If you like to write snappy dialogue, fast-paced scenes that leave you and the reader wanting more, pent-up tensions that explode into fiery passion, these tropes might be a good starting point. Readers of these themes expect to love/hate along with the characters and are flipping pages to get to the moment the potential lovers give in to their desires. Add a fantasy or historical theme layer on top of these and you take the story to a new level.
Small town romance is almost synonymous with sweet. Think friends to lovers meets best friend’s brother/sister, characters who grew up together and their lives are changing as love enters the picture. These themes are well suited to writers who like to slowly build tension, write from a more emotional perspective, and focus on relationships. Readers of these stories expect angst, angst and a little more angst, backed by explorations of feelings, cute dates, romantic overtures, and probably a bouquet of flowers or chocolates somewhere in the book. Throw in a returning character who left for the big city and struck it rich, either billionaire or celebrity and you amp up the from different worlds theme. This allows your characters to rediscover each other with fresh eyes.
Want to write action paired with romance? Military or mafia romances make great dance partners with Bad Boy/Girl characters. These heroes/heroines are familiar with danger and placing them in perilous situations is a requirement. Readers expect high drama, butt-kicking maneuvers and life saving scenarios that push and pull the lovers in all directions. Give them cliff hangers, villains and death-defying scenes. Dial up the tension with a Forced proximity trope, like on the run from the bad folks or trapped in a locked room and fans of these romances will thank you.
Every romance story makes the reader a promise; come on an emotional journey of self-discovery, and stick around for the happy ending. The almost endless combination of tropes available provides plenty of room and opportunity to write a romance novel that feels both familiar and unique. Pick a pack of tropes and start writing towards a happily ever after of your own design!