With National Novel Writing Month now in full swing, there are a lot of people out there writing romance, whether in a romance-focused book like The Romantics or just as part of the story. Between movies, songs, books and maybe even our dreams of meeting a dashing stranger on the subway (I actually met my husband on OKCupid which was just as good, I promise!), we know that with romance comes a whole bunch of tropes.
Our first thought might be to skip them altogether. Learn them all and then avoid them like the plague. But with many of these tropes present since the days of Aristotle and Aristophanes (grab a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics both for great writing advice and to see how unoriginal every story is), it’s unlikely we’re going to eradicate them altogether. Instead, I prefer to turn them on their heads and find a way to make them my own. In The Romantics, this was fairly easy—Love, the narrator, was hyper-knowledgeable about every trope under the sun, so she could point them out and deliver her take on each and every one.
Below, a few classic tropes and different ways to handle them.
The Meet Cute
We’ve all seen it before, whether in the movies or in real life. Boy meets girl (or boy meets boy or girl meets girl) in that random, serendipitous sort of way that sets our hearts aflutter. It may not be very true to life, but we love it, no less. The Romantics has one of these, but I gave it a little twist—the Meet Cute in the book actually leads the main character, Gael, to the wrong girl. This is what Love has to say about the Meet Cute:
“You know, when two people run into each other out of the blue, and suddenly everyone thinks it’s meant to be. Humans are experts at focusing so much on how they found someone over who that person actually is and if they’re truly the right one. Le sigh.”
Enemies to Lovers/Love Across Battle Lines
We all know this one, since Shakespeare delivered us a prime example in Romeo and Juliet. But can it work in a way that’s not so Montague-Capulet dramatic? I happen to think so, and my absolute favorite example is in the movie, You’ve Got Mail. The romance develops under a full-on battle, indie bookstore (The Shop Around the Corner) vs. multi-level monstrosity (Fox Books). We have Joe Fox quite literally putting Kathleen Kelly out of business, frequent references to The Godfather, and various characters throughout the story declaring war. It’s a subtler version of the classic tale and holds up to this day (plus, it’s all about books!).
A favorite of early 2000s rom-coms (hello, She’s All That and Ten Things I Hate About You), the bet, where one character is dared to romance another character with money—or some other enticement—on the table, is a classic and fun way to get two characters together. Another benefit to using it? It’s rife with dramatic irony, and it creates real, authentic emotion when the bettor inevitably falls in love properly and has to tell their partner the truth, setting you up perfectly for a Break Up and Grand Gesture.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl
This is one of the few tropes I think should mainly be avoided. The whole flighty/depressed/anxious/annoying girl who saves the boring guy is not exactly feminist or sensitive to actual mental health issues, and of late we’ve seen it one too many times. According to Love: “Leave it to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope to convince a guy that someone who straight-up irks him will also somehow save him.”
The Grand Gesture
Whether you make it as simple and subtle as a spoken apology, as dramatic as Mr. Darcy saving the family’s reputation in Pride and Prejudice, or as big and shiny as the halftime dance show in Trainwreck, most romances require one of these. How little or big it is depends completely on you and your story.