According to Merriam-Webster, a trope is “the use of a word or expression in a figurative sense” or “a common or overused theme or device.” Of course, they mean that in a bad way.
But romance writers view tropes through a different lens. To romance writers, tropes are character traits and plot devices that function as building blocks for short stories, novellas, and novels. Here are 100+ tropes to mix and match into unique romance stories. (Letters in parentheses refer to my novels that contain the trope in question. A list of those novels can be found at the end of the list of tropes.)
Bully: One lover cruelly attacks the other, but ultimately becomes “tamed” as a result of true love.
Business rivals: Our lovers are rivals in the boardroom before they come to know each other in the bedroom.
Class warfare: One lover comes from money and social status, the other lacks both, and sparks fly once they meet. (RF, MUB, SS)
Enemies to lovers: Our lovers are enemies until they realize the depth of their romance. (B, HH)
Forbidden love/Star-crossed lovers: Some outside force (cultural, familial, social, etc.) is determined to keep our lovers apart but they’re willing to fight for the relationship they desire.
Opposites attract: Our lovers seem to be opposites in everything they think matters (vegetarian/carnivore, Democrat/Republican, city/country, etc.), but they discover that love unites them in ways beyond those differences. (B, AR, RF, PP)
Revenge: One of our lovers is determined to get revenge for a real or imagined wrong in the past, which might have been committed by the other lover or by their relative or close friend.
Consanguinity: The lovers are cousins, step-siblings, or other relatives close enough to know each other but distant enough to flame a romance.
Guardian/ward: A guardian and their ward realize they have romantic feelings for each other.
Orphan: One of our lovers is an orphan, either literally (both of their parents died when they were young) or figuratively (they were in the foster care system or otherwise deprived of ordinary familial love.)
Pseudo-incest: Our lovers have a family relationship that would be considered incest except for a technicality (typically the lovers are step-parents or step-siblings.)
Resistant children: One or both of our lovers have children who actively resist the lovers’ new relationship.
Sibling’s current spouse/lover: One of our lovers falls in love with their sibling’s current spouse/lover.
Sibling’s former spouse/lover: One of our lovers falls in love with their sibling’s former spouse/lover. (STDD)
Step-parents: One of our lovers is the step-parent of the other.
Step-siblings: Our lovers are step-siblings of each other.
Widow(er): The spouse of one of our lovers has died. The widow(er) might have been happily married, or they might have been unfulfilled in their marriage. (F, SS)
Best friend’s current spouse/lover: One of our lovers falls in love with their best friend’s current spouse/lover.
Best friend’s former spouse/lover: One of our lovers falls in love with their best friend’s former spouse/lover.
Best friend’s sibling: Usually, the heroine is the younger sister of the hero’s best friend (but other combinations are possible!) The sibling has always been taboo, but true passion upsets the status quo. (CS, FLF, HH)
Friends to lovers: Our lovers have been friends for some time, but only now discover they want something more from their relationship. (CH, FLF)
Cyrano: A lover woos another for a friend, only gradually realizing that they are falling in love themself.
Love triangle: One lover must choose between two potential matches.
Polyamory: Our story involves at least three simultaneous lovers. See also, reverse harem
Reverse harem: A subset of polyamory, where our story involves one woman with multiple male lovers.
Afraid to commit: One or both of our lovers is afraid to commit to a relationship.
All grown up: One of our lovers returns to the other, discovering that a once-off-limits juvenile is now mature enough for a relationship.
Alpha hero(ine): One lover defines “Type A”—they are driven, assertive, and in control of the world, except where their lover is concerned. (MUB)
Age gap (May/December): Our lovers have a substantial age gap. See also, Cougar (CH, HHero)
BBW: “Big Beautiful Woman”—our heroine is plus-size and body-positive.
Cougar: A classic age gap relationship, but the older lover is a woman.
Fish out of water: One of our lovers doesn’t fit in a social or professional environment, but that doesn’t keep them from proving themself and winning the heart of the one they love. (B, RF, MUB, SS)
Grumpy/Sunshine: One of our lovers has a grumpy, negative outlook; the other is cheerful and upbeat.
Playboy: One of our lovers has a reputation for playing the field, seeking out sexual relationships without any emotional attachment—until they meet their one true love. (F)
Rake: Typically in a historical setting, one of our lovers has a reputation for socially unacceptable daring (e.g., gambling, seducing lovers, etc.)—until they meet their one true love.
Scars: One of our lovers lives with physical or psychological scars from the past and overcomes the pain of those scars with the help of the other lover. (HC, MUB, RF, SS)
Seasoned lovers/Silver fox: One or both of our lovers is older than the conventional age for romance (undefined, but typically forty or older.)
Tortured: One of our lovers has a dramatic, often secret past that causes them to live in emotional agony, cut off from the common joy of a loving relationship. (HC, MUB, RF, SS)
Ugly duckling: One of our lovers is not conventionally beautiful, but in the course of falling in love either becomes conventionally beautiful or discovers that conventions are immaterial. (HC)
Virgin: One of our lovers has never consummated a sexual relationship. (RF)
Wallflower: One of our lovers is shy or introverted, avoiding traditional social interactions.
Work and Play:
Romance builds around the job or entertainment of the lovers.
Athlete (AR, C, CH, CS, FLF, HH, PP, RF, SS, ST, TD)
Cowboy (including rancher)
First responder (including police, firefighter, etc.)
Royalty (including sheikh)
Kidnapped: A criminal kidnaps a victim and both parties realize they have romantic feelings for each other.
Only one bed: Our lovers discover that they must share a bed (or a car, a train compartment, etc.)
Road trip: Our lovers are on a road trip (or boat trip, plane trip, etc.), out of their element, encountering new experiences as their relationship grows. (SS)
Roommates: Our lovers begin their story as roommates, either willingly or unwillingly.
Trapped: Our lovers are stranded together, with the forced proximity kindling their relationship. They might be stranded on a desert island, in an airport after a flight cancellation, in a motel on a road trip, etc. See also, Only one bed. (C, F, SS)
Arranged marriage: Family expectations, cultural traditions, or religious beliefs bring our lovers together or try to keep them apart. (MUB)
Bridal party: One of our lovers is the best man, maid of honor, or other participant in a bridal party,
Jilted bride/groom: One of our lovers is left at the altar, but discovers true love in a new relationship. (C, CS)
Marriage of convenience: Our lovers are determined to marry but they feel no love for each other; rather, there is some business or social reason that compels their relationship. (MUB)
Matchmaker: A matchmaker unites two lovers. This story can either be about how the two lovers make their relationship work, or it can be about how the matchmaker falls in love with one of the matched lovers.
Runaway bride/groom: One of our lovers gets cold feet on the eve of their wedding, but discovers they can truly love another. (CS)
Singles pact: Our lovers vow to seek each other out if they remain single by a specific date.
Vegas marriage: Our lovers, typically drunk, get married on the spur of the moment while vacationing in Las Vegas; they may or may not remember their marriage in the morning.
Some or all of these phases might be included in our lovers’ romantic journey.
Baby makes three: Often appears in the epilogue, when our lovers’ Happy Ever After is “validated” by the heroine becoming pregnant, an adoption being finalized, or some other means of completing the family with a child.
Band of brothers/Girl squad: A structure to facilitate romance series, where the heroes and/or heroines are united on a team (e.g., a sports team, military unit, etc.) to achieve a common goal. (AR, CH, CS, FLF, PP, RF, SS, ST, TD)
Blind date: Our lovers do not know each other before they are brought together by friends, a dating app, etc.
Break up to save lover: One lover sees no way to save the other but to break up, sacrificing the relationship for the other’s true happiness (which can actually only be achieved after reconciliation.)
Love at first sight/Instalove/Instalust: Upon meeting, our lovers immediately know that they are meant to be together forever (either romantically or physically.)
Meet cute: Typical of a romantic comedy, the amusing circumstances that first bring our lovers together (e.g., mistaken identity, spilling coffee, etc.)
Redemption: One of our lovers has committed wrongs in the past (either against the other lover, or against someone or something else) for which they must atone. (HC, PP)
Return to hometown: One of our lovers returns to their hometown, either willingly or unwillingly, for a short time or with the intention to stay permanently. (HC, HH, HL, ST, STDD)
Reunion: Our lovers knew each other in the past and generally had some romantic relationship back then (at least a one-night stand, possibly a long-term relationship.) (HH, HL, ST)
Second chance: Our lovers had a relationship in the past that didn’t work out, but now they’re thrown together with a new common goal. (HL, ST)
Amnesia: Due to a blow on the head, a drug interaction, or for some other reason, our lover doesn’t know how they got where they are, but now they need to fit into a new family, workplace, etc.
Blackmail: One lover knows a secret about the other, and they seek a big payday. (AR)
Disguise: One or both lovers pretend to be something they aren’t—an expert in the workplace, a member of a family, etc.—but they fall in love while in disguise and are forced to continue the ruse.
Fake relationship: Our lovers pretend to have a relationship (often engagement, but sometimes friendship or marriage), frequently including elaborate rules and limitations for that relationship. (C, SS)
Mistaken identity: One of our lovers is assumed to be someone they are not, and they are forced to continue the ruse.
Secret admirer: One of our lovers is a secret admirer of the other.
Secret baby: Our heroine is or was pregnant with the hero’s baby, but he does not know the child is his. (MUB, ST)
Holidays: Our lovers work out their romance against the backdrop of one or more major holidays. (F, HL)
Medical: Our lovers live and/or work in a medical setting or a world heavily influenced by the practice of medicine (may include veterinary medicine.) (C, F)
Office romance: Our lovers work together, either as co-workers or as employer/employee. (CH, F, TD, STDD)
Reality TV show: Our lovers participate in a reality TV show, either as contestants, hosts, or other interested parties.
School/Academy: Our lovers live and/or work in an academic setting (high school, boarding school, college, etc.)
Small Town: Our lovers live and/or work in a small town, typically with a supporting cast of amusing secondary characters. (B, HC, HH, HHero, SMDD)
Fairytale: A traditional fairytale (e.g. “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella”) is retold in an alternate cultural or historical setting.
Fated mates: Our lovers are fated to be together, often through a magical bond.
Love potion/magic spell: Our lovers are brought together through magic.
Time travel: One of our lovers travels backward or forward through time to reach the other.
Accidental pregnancy: Our heroine’s pregnancy may be the result of a one-night stand, a longer-term fling, or a long-term relationship. (MUB)
Fling: Our lovers intend their relationship to last for a short time (such as a vacation or a work project), but their relationship grows beyond those limitations. See also, One-night stand. (C, MUB)
Gay/straight for you: Our hero or heroine has been strictly heterosexual or homosexual, but finds themself falling for a person of the same (or opposite) gender.
Instant family: One of our lovers discovers a family they never knew they had; the other lover might be part of this family or endangered by this family
Last to know: Our lovers are the last to realize that their relationship constitutes true love.
Mail-order bride: One lover requests a spouse through print or electronic services.
Never date/marry: One or both of our lovers has vowed never to date or marry, but when they meet their true love, their vow is tested.
On the rocks: Our lovers are united as the action of the story begins, but their relationship is going through hard times.
One-night stand: Our lovers intend their relationship to last for a single secual encounter, but their relationship grows beyond that limitation. (C)
Sudden baby: One of our lovers discovers or inherits a child they never planned on nurturing. (PP, ST, STDD)
Unrequited love: One of our lovers has long wished for a romantic relationship with the other. (CH, HHero)
(Wo)man in peril: One of our lovers is in physical peril from some outside person or organization; the other lover rescues them.
Virgin auction: Our heroine’s only asset is her virginity, which is purchased by the hero.
AR — Always Right
B — The B Word
C — The C Word
CH — Catching Hell
CS — Center Stage
F — The F Word
FLF — From Left Field
HC — Harmony Christmas
HH — Harmony Hearts
HHero — Harmony Hero
HL — Harmony Lights
MUB — The Mogul’s Unexpected Baby
RF — Reaching First
PP — Perfect Pitch
SS — Stopping Short
ST — Second Thoughts
SMDD — Small Town Daddy Dance
TD — Third Degree
© 2019-2022 Mindy Klasky
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