Most romance readers don’t like all romance. At least I know I have my favourite romance tropes (hellooo, enemies to lovers)…. So today I decided to make a list of the most important romance tropes in books and movies!
There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of different tropes. Some are about the characters. Others are about the conflict, the plot or the theme. Very often different tropes are combined in stories: for example, you can have a millionaire hero, a virgin heroine and an accidental baby to create conflict.
Note that tropes are not the same as clichés! Tropes are simply the building blocks of a story, the themes that readers like and look for. Clichés are story elements that have been used too much, or that are otherwise stereotypical. Some tropes have become clichés by now, but as a writer you can often give them a different spin that makes them more interesting!
I divided the list in two categories: character tropes and conflict tropes.
Romance character tropes
Made famous by Christan Grey, but thankfully there are a lot more billionaire hero(in)es around.
Strong, determined and beautiful… What’s not to love?
- Prince / princess
Not just for fairytale retellings! Modern royalty is also a great ingredient for an exciting romance.
- Bad boy
He may have a criminal past. He may sleep with a different woman every week. In any case, he’s not a safe choice at all…
They have been abandoned in the past, now how will they learn to trust again?
- Celibate hero(ine)
For some reason (religion? magic? past hurts?) they have sworn never to have sex. Will they change their mind?
- Thief / spy / assassin
They’re clever, they’re quick, and they’re probably up to no good. With these characters you can be sure of a thrilling story.
- Beauty and the Beast
After the classic fairytale. She is a naïve, beautiful girl. He is a monster… or is he?
- Soldier / warrior / knight
Whether you’re writing a modern military romance or a historical fantasy romance: the warrior character always makes for an exciting lover.
- Single parent
After having lost their partner, the single parent may not yet be looking for love again. Kids can be an obstacle for romance too!
- Ugly duckling
They’ve always been the overlooked one, and it makes them madly insecure. So what happens if someone truly sees them for once?
They are always meddling in the relationships of their friends. But love is more complex when you’re experiencing it yourself…
- Tormented hero(ine)
These are often the heroes, for some reason. After some major trauma, he’s mentally tormenting himself. Can she bring peace to his heart?
- Sex worker
With a sex worker hero(ine), you can be sure your main characters meet in a steamy way. Please just don’t make it a cliché “man saves favourite prostitute” story.
For all your Wild West romances, whether they’re contemporary or historical.
- Rock star / celebrity
Their life looks like the perfect picture. Yet, something is missing in their heart.
Perhaps they saved themselves for The One, perhaps this is their first love. Usually, the virgin learns quickly!
Romantic conflict tropes
- Love at first sight
They look into each other’s eyes and know it will last forever. Now the only question is… what are you going to put in their way?
- Kidnapping to love
Left to each other’s company, the kidnapper and his victim may end up changing their mind about each other. But please make sure the victim doesn’t go along willingly! They need a bit of a backbone in this story type.
- Accidental pregnancy
That baby wasn’t supposed to be there. They weren’t planning on being parents. Now suddenly there’s a deadline: in nine months, they need to have their relationship figured out.
- Love potion
Alright, this is for the fantasy writers out there. And I will admit, it’s often been done poorly. But a well-executed love potion story may still be an interesting way to get your leads together.
- Blind date
Their friends thought they’d go well together. Or their moms. Or Tinder. In any case, our lovers will have to start from scratch in this romance trope.
One of your characters doesn’t remember the other. Or perhaps they don’t remember their past life at all. Hard to do believably, but nothing is impossible!
- Forced / arranged marriage
This can be the start of a romance, if the spouses start loving each other despite their rocky start. Or it could be a barrier for two lovers: one of them is forced to marry someone else, now how will they get together?
- Best friend’s sibling
Or sibling’s best friend… In any case, mixing family and love is always dangerous. You don’t want to hurt the loved ones of your loved ones.
- Friends to lovers
Dating from a friendship is scary — nobody wants to lose his best friend if all goes wrong. But best friends often make for the sweetest lovers!
- Enemies to lovers
These people are never indifferent about each other. First they can barely stand to be in the same room. But when they’re forced together, sparks begin to fly.
They’re not family by blood: step-siblings, distant cousins or adopted children. Yet they are close enough to make things perhaps a little complicated.
- Mistaken identity
He thinks she’s someone else. She’s undercover, and falls in love. No matter how it starts, there’ll be a lot of misunderstandings to clean up before they can have their HEA.
- One night stand
It was never supposed to be more than a single incident. But something is putting these lovers in each other’s way again.
- Office romance
Whether it’s boss / employee or colleagues: dating at work is a recipe for drama. Prepare for jealous rivals, gossip in the coffee corner and steamy things happening on desks.
- Political romance
Image is everything in politics. And in between the shady deals, intrigues and plots, nobody can be sure of everything. So can they be sure of each other?
- Celebrity / commonor
This romance trope can turn up in a million different ways. A billionaire and a poor student? A rock star and his assistent? A princess and a stable boy? Whatever you do, please make sure the rich and famous one isn’t unpleasantly manipulating the other!
- May / December
One lover is much older than the other. Again, please make sure the age gap doesn’t cause any unpleasant and unethical manipulation!
- Second chance
They tried a relationship once before, and didn’t work out. Now they meet again. Will they work through their issues this time around?
- Fake relationship
He needed a girlfriend for his christmas dinner, she couldn’t show up at the office party without a fiancé. But what are they going to do if actual feelings get involved?
- Forbidden love
Romeo and Juliet aren’t legendary without a reason! A forbidden romance will surely get your readers rooting for your star-crossed lovers.
- Love triangle
I know, I know, this has been done too often by now. But if you can give it some clever, creative twist? A rival will at least rack up the tension for everyone involved.
- Back to hometown
For some reason our hero(ine) is forced back to the place where they grew up. They might run into an old love, but old griefs and secrets may spoil the romance too…
- Forced together
Perhaps they were snowed in. Perhaps they have stranded for some other reason. In any case, they’re here, they can’t go anywhere else — and they have to manage together.
I think those were all my favourite romance tropes! Do you have any others you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments and I’ll put them on the list!