For writers, using romance novel tropes can be an excellent way to build a story.
You’ll be secure in knowing that your readers will quickly recognize the type of story it is and settle in to enjoy it.
In fact, it’s really important for you to know the expected tropes for your romance genres so that you can deliver what readers want.
That doesn’t mean every story in that genre will be the same, far from it.
Instead, good writers can add their own spin to the tropes to create an original but still satisfying story.
But what are romance tropes (also known as love tropes)?
Why should you use them, and how can you make sure your stories are unique?
- What Are Romance Tropes?
- Why Should a Writer Use Romantic Tropes?
- 25 Unique Romance Tropes Explained
- 1. Friends to Lovers
- 2. Enemies to Lovers
- 3. Forced Proximity
- 4. Second Chance
- 5. Insta-Love
- 6. Fake Relationship
- 7. Belated Love Realization
- 8. Billionaire Romance
- 9. Forbidden Love
- 10. Bad Boy
- 11. The Bet
- 12. Opposites Attract
- 13. Fish Out of Water
- 14. Age Gap
- 15. Work Rivals or Adversaries
- 16. Best Friend’s Sibling
- 17. Holiday Romance
- 18. Impossible Love
- 19. Damsel in Distress
- 20. Different Worlds or Experiences
- 21. Secret Identity
- 22. Marriage Pact
- 23. Dating Service Goes Wrong
- 24. Revenge
- 25. Main Character Has a Profession the Love Interest Hates
- List of 50 More Romance Book Tropes to Consider
- How to Make Popular Romance Tropes Unique
What Are Romance Tropes?
Merriam-Webster defines a trope as “a common or overused theme or device.” Obviously, that doesn’t sound good. No one wants to be accused of their writing being tired or that they write in clichés.
But for romance writers, it’s a different thing entirely. Romance writers use tropes almost like LegoTM to build their stories. Tropes in romance aren’t considered tired or trite. They’re actually expected.
A trope might be based on:
- a theme in the novel
- a character type
- a particular setting
- a plot device or element that’s been used in many other romance novels.
As we said above, using tropes helps to bring your readers into your story more quickly and give them what they expect.
Of course, romance novel tropes do go in and out of favor over the years, so it is wise to keep an eye on what’s popular right now when you’re planning your next book, particularly if you like to write to market.
Why Should a Writer Use Romantic Tropes?
Using romance novel tropes helps to bring your readers into your story more quickly and give them what they expect to see.
For the reader, romance tropes:
- Provide a sense of familiarity.
- Give a shortcut into the story.
- Allow them to search for and find exactly the type of story they’re looking for.
- Let them relax into the story like relaxing into a warm bath because they already know what they will get.
As you can imagine, all of those things are also very helpful to authors. If you write to suit the tropes in your chosen genre, you’ll find it an awful lot easier to satisfy your readers. And, of course, we all want that.
For writers, love tropes can:
- Keep us on the right track with our story.
- Help us hit expected plot points.
- Help us get to know our characters because we already know at least part of how they’re going to react due to the trope(s) we’re using.
- Assist us with writing our blurb to fit the tropes and the story.
- Help us with getting the pace of the story right.
- Make our marketing easier as we already know what our readers want.
- Give us ideas for our stories, plots, characters, settings, and more that we might not have thought of.
- Let us exercise our creativity in coming up with twists on familiar tropes while still giving readers what they want.
25 Unique Romance Tropes Explained
Now you understand why you’d want to use tropes, here is our popular romance tropes list to give you some inspiration:
1. Friends to Lovers
This is one of the most popular romance tropes. It’s so tempting to think that two people who already get on so well as friends might possibly find they have more between them.
That doesn’t mean the path has to be straight and easy, from A to B. It’s definitely possible to complicate things for the lovers and make them work for their happy ending.
At least one or possibly both could, for example, be worried about losing their friendship if things don’t work out romantically.
2. Enemies to Lovers
The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. If there’s hate there, it’s because there are still strong feelings, and what better potential for sizzling, intense, and deep love than with an enemies-to-lovers tale?
As a writer, just think about how much tension and angst you can crank up and the highs and lows you can take your characters and readers to.
3. Forced Proximity
This one could combine beautifully with enemies or friends to lovers, or you could start off with two strangers. There are so many possibilities here. You could put two characters together in the only available bedroom at a hotel.
You could make them share a holiday home due to a double booking. Another popular option is to have two characters snowed in together, or they could be locked in a department store over the weekend.
However you do it, it’s hard for two people to spend so much time together, get to know each other, and then be completely indifferent.
4. Second Chance
When a previous relationship has already gone wrong, it can be incredibly hard to open up and allow someone a second chance.
Of course, for romance writers and readers, that’s fertile ground for lots of angst, will they- won’t they moments, and problems to overcome.
It could be as simple as a terrible first date where the couple gives each other another chance or a previous long-term relationship where years have passed since they last saw each other.
This one tends to get an instant reaction too. Readers tend to either really love this trope or really hate it. Be sure to know your readers before you try this one.
The idea of love at first sight is intriguing. Some people are convinced it can’t happen, and yet others are convinced it’s the real deal when it does.
Readers can enjoy the spark and the attraction between the couple right from the beginning of the story, along with the ups and downs and how they achieve their happy ending.
6. Fake Relationship
Ever been single and had to go to a family event where everyone felt it necessary to point out your single status and try and set you up with someone?
For characters, too, that gets old really fast – so old that they might think of renting a date or asking their best friend, for example, to be their pretend boyfriend.
But just like the forced proximity trope, spending so much time together is likely to lead to all sorts of feelings they might not have expected.
7. Belated Love Realization
It’s become a bit of a cliché, but how many times have you seen the romantic lead race to the airport to stop their love from leaving because they’ve only just realized what they mean to them?
You don’t have to end your book like that, but the trope of your main character realizing that they’re really in love with someone they almost overlooked can work really well.
You can keep your readers on tenterhooks throughout the book because they know how the characters feel about each other all along, and they hope for that happy ever after.
8. Billionaire Romance
This trope is hugely popular, whether it’s billionaires or mere millionaires. Most people have imagined that kind of lifestyle where they never have to worry about money again. Why not add the possibility of love and romance into the mix?
With this trope, you can let your imagination go wild. Do your characters live in the US but want to spend a long weekend in Paris with a whole new wardrobe? That’s no problem when your billionaire has their own plane.
You could add another layer to this if the other character has no idea that their crush is a billionaire.
9. Forbidden Love
How much more do you want something or someone if you’re told flat out you can’t have that? Imagine what forbidden love can add to a tale of romance – the angst, the intensity, the passion, and the stakes.
Of course, you’ve got to write them out of a serious corner and get your couple on the path to their happy ending, but readers love a good journey to their romance.
10. Bad Boy
Picture the scene where the bad boy finally falls for his one true love. Who could resist that? So many people are fascinated by the bad boy made good, and it works for romance too.
Readers will enjoy watching him change from the opening of the book and get over his past traumas and problems to become the man worthy of the woman he loves.
11. The Bet
The bet trope can go a couple of different ways. One is that your characters bet each other something with high stakes for the loser; the tension builds from waiting to see who loses, while the romantic feelings also build.
Or the story may consist of the main character betting other characters that they can get the guy or girl.
The tension then comes from building genuine feelings between them, but with the problem that the subject of the bet might find out and assume that they only had a relationship because of the bet.
12. Opposites Attract
What if one character is known for being grumpy while the other character is always the sunniest character in the room?
What if one is an introvert and one’s an extrovert? What if one’s in the military and the other is the most laid-back person on the planet?
Or they could be a scientist and a skeptic or a scientist and a person into horoscopes and afterlives. Whatever their differences, opposites can and do attract, and sparks can fly.
13. Fish Out of Water
This trope can make for a hilarious romantic comedy if done well. Though naturally, your fish won’t only be learning about their new situation and themselves, all while falling in love with their perfect match.
Whether it’s a country boy in the big city or a glamorous movie star in the sticks, the fish-out-of-water trope has plenty of room for comedy and romance.
14. Age Gap
With an age gap romance, there’s a chance for misunderstandings aplenty. If the gap is large enough, a huge difference in lived experiences and lifestyles may exist.
Or there may be a barrier between sexual or romantic experiences – for example, the ingenue with the more sophisticated love interest.
This trope can lend itself to comedy, depending on how it’s done, or you can write it straight and explore why the characters are still right for each other, despite their differences.
15. Work Rivals or Adversaries
A workplace rivalry can get hot and sparky really fast. The characters might be going for the same promotion or plum assignment.
Whatever they want, they’re determined they’ll be the one to win. Until love and attraction get added to the mix, and suddenly, everything’s not so black and white.
16. Best Friend’s Sibling
What if your main character falls for your best friend’s younger sister, perhaps after seeing her all grown up after a long time apart?
What if your best friend strictly forbids your main character from even thinking about dating his sister or brother? LGBTQ characters are just as valid in romance as any other characters, and there is definitely an audience for books that aren’t about straight characters.
Whoever your couple is, you have a hint, potentially, of forbidden romance, perhaps secret or not-so-secret longings, and a whole lot of pent-up passion.
17. Holiday Romance
You’ll be spoiled for choice if you choose this trope, with everything from Christmas and New Year to Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving. You can have a lot of fun putting your characters unwillingly into celebrating when they don’t feel like it.
This trope will also combine beautifully with the fake relationship trope and perhaps with opposites attract, where one character really does wish it was Christmas every day and the other… not so much.
18. Impossible Love
Even more so than forbidden love, imagine the longing and the obstacles involved in a completely impossible love.
Maybe one character is in a distant time period, and the other lives in 21st-century Manhattan. Perhaps they exist in parallel universes.
Maybe one character is fictional, and the other is real. This one is great for authors who like a challenge. You’ve got to figure out how they meet in the first place and work out how they get their happy ending.
19. Damsel in Distress
You could couple this trope with the man or woman in uniform trope, but it makes for an exciting and passion-filled tale on its own. Use your imagination to decide what distress you’re putting your heroine through.
Will it be a horrible work day with everything going wrong that could, or will you go into full-on romantic suspense with rescue by a hot Navy SEAL?
20. Different Worlds or Experiences
Reading through the list, you can see where you can combine some of these. The impossible love trope might work well here, as might the age gap one or the fish out of water.
Or you might simply look at your couple being from different countries or one growing up rich while the other grew up poor. One could be a hunky priest questioning his vows, and the other an atheist barista who works at the coffee shop near his church.
This trope can make for some interesting obstacles for a romance or lend itself to comedy along the lines of Crocodile Dundee.
21. Secret Identity
If one of your characters has a secret, that’s a recipe for disaster in any relationship. Even more so if they’re not who they say they are.
You just know that their love interest will find out at the worst possible moment. But how will they fix it and get their well-deserved happy ending?
22. Marriage Pact
This trope is quite a popular one. It’s been done in various movies and books. It’s a straightforward bargain between friends usually, that if neither of them has met “the one” by a certain age, they’ll marry each other.
But what happens when the time has almost run out, and one of them meets someone just as the other one realizes how they feel?
23. Dating Service Goes Wrong
Imagine your main character running a dating service and being asked to find a date for their perfect man or woman. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s potential for plenty of will they, won’t they angst, and of course, the dreaded all-is-lost scene when it seems the love interest has chosen to be with the date your main character found for them. But, naturally, there’s a happy ending in there somehow.
This one takes the enemies-to-lovers trope a step further. Not only does your main character actively dislike the person who comes to be their love interest, but they’re also out to get revenge on them.
It’s quite a journey from outright hate and thoughts of revenge to falling for each other and getting their happily ever after.
25. Main Character Has a Profession the Love Interest Hates
What if you’ve got the perfect couple? Or you would have, but one has a job that the other can’t bear. That’s a recipe for a lot of tension and obstacles to overcome.
How do you fix that? Does the main character come to accept the job? Does the love interest leave their job so they can be together? Your readers want to know.
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List of 50 More Romance Book Tropes to Consider
Enjoyed our first romance tropes list but need even more inspiration? Here are 50 more romance tropes to help you write your next novel:
1. Love Triangle
2. Destined for Love
3. Memory Loss
4. Oblivious to Attraction
5. Guardian and Ward
6. Step Siblings
7. Unexpected Baby
8. Arranged Marriage
9. Dating the Wrong Person
10. Office/Workplace Romance
11. One-Night Stand
12. Road Trip
13. Blind Date
14. Honorable Marriage
15. Childhood Sweethearts
16. Love Under the Main Character’s Nose
17. Physically Opposite (i.e., very tall, broad man and petite woman)
18. Injured Main Character and Nurse/Support
19. Small-Town Romance
20. Holiday Romance
21. Characters Want Different Things
22. Forced Marriage
24. Men in Uniform
25. Royal/Commoner Romance
27. All Grown Up
28. Alpha Male
29. The One That Got Away
30. Long Distance Relationship/Pen Pals
31. Trouble in an Existing Relationship
32. Secret Identity
33. Working with the Ex
34. Runaway Bride
35. Best Friend’s/Someone Else’s Love
36. Sworn off Relationships
38. Sharing Accommodation
39. Accidentally Married
40. Bully Romance
41. Everyone Else Can See It But Not the Couple
42. Matchmaking Family/Friends
43. Secret Admirer
44. Inheriting a Property/Hotel/Shop
45. Rags to Riches
46. Political Marriage
48. Ugly Duckling to Belle of the Ball
49. Suspect and Investigator
50. Blackmailed into Breaking Up
How to Make Popular Romance Tropes Unique
Obviously, the concern with using tropes that have been used a thousand times or more is how to make your own story unique.
Well, let’s start by saying that it’s unlikely you’ll have to worry about that. No one else is ever going to write the same story that you came up with, even if you both start with the same tropes, the same characters, the same novel title, and the same settings.
You are already unique, and it’s not possible for you and another writer to produce something exactly the same.
Writers contribute to multi-author anthologies every year that all share the same themes and tropes, and they all still come up with different stories. Worry less and spend more time enjoying writing the story that only you can write.
However, there are things you can do to make sure your story is unique:
1. Change your setting.
If you’re writing, for example, a story with the guardian and ward trope, you (and your readers) would usually expect it to be set in the Regency period with balls and beautiful gowns galore.
However, as long as you know your readers will follow you, who is to say that you can’t write that same trope set in a far-off galaxy with a crusty, but obviously attractive alien guarding his human ward until he can find a suitable human match for her?
Of course, we all immediately know that’s not going to happen. Of course, the guardian and ward are going to get together. The story is simply about how that happens. But it’s sure not your average Regency tale either.
2. Add one or more unexpected characters.
Readers love Jane Austen, but probably nobody expected to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies until it happened. Both the book and the film were successful, and Austen fans read and watched regardless.
Now, you’ll see copies and similar books across online retailers, but it was definitely a twist on the enemies-to-lovers theme that few saw coming.
Who (or what) can you add to your story to shake things up?
3. Mix your genres.
Again, bearing in mind what your readers like, there’s nothing stopping you from writing mixed genres to make your story unique. What about science fiction rom-coms or time-traveling wolf shifters? What about romantic suspense with aliens?
4. Use more than one trope.
You don’t have to stick to only one trope when writing your next novel. In fact, you’d probably find it quite hard to try.
But when you’ve chosen your main trope, why not look at how you can mix and match other tropes that work with what you’ve already got?
Imagine a second chance romance where the main characters meet again after several years. At this point, they’re enemies to lovers because their initial relationship ended so badly that they now hate each other, at least at first.
And what if one character has a secret identity they’re keeping from the other one because time has passed and things have changed?
All of those different tropes still work together. In fact, they add more layers and more plot points than you started with.
Hopefully, we’ve demystified romance novel tropes for you. It’s really not hard to get to grips with what a trope is and to learn to use them well in your novels.
Just remember to learn the expected tropes for your genre and keep giving your readers more of what they want.