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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Call

The Ultimate Guide to Romance Tropes

Writing a romance novel? Review what’s great and tricky about these common tropes of the genre.

A couple walking in the mountains.
Photo Credit: Andres Molina | Unsplash

Do you like reading or writing romance novels? Us too! We’ve read hundreds of romance novels and edited them also. And although they all center around love, they’re all unique. 

So, what allows romance novels to be unique but also holds them together in the same genre? Tropes.

Tropes are the common themes or elements you find when turning the pages of a novel in a certain genre. Readers expect to recognize at least one or two tropes that are familiar to the genre they’re reading.

When tropes are written well and used effectively, they hold the novel and the genre together. They’re powerful, passionate, and fun storylines that readers will love. But

beware—when tropes are written poorly, your story may fall flat, and your readers may

find it cheesy or cliché.

So, let’s talk romance tropes! Below is the ultimate guide to romance tropes: what they are, what’s great about reading them, what’s tricky about writing them, and what examples you can look at.

Note: The tropes listed here are specifically focused on those that carry through the entire story arc, meaning they impact the main themes, plot, and characters in the story as a whole. Of course, there are many more types of romance tropes, such as character attribute tropes and subgenre tropes, but we’ll focus on story arc tropes because they have the biggest effect on just about every action, theme, and sentence in the writing process.


1. Enemies to Lovers

In this trope, your main characters start out despising each other but, eventually, fall in love. How the love interests feel about each other from the beginning to the end of the novel are so different—polar opposites in fact—that it can be difficult to write a convincing narrative of how the characters actually go from enemies to lovers. You’ll need to make sure that your story is plausible and shows concrete steps of how their feelings change for one another. 

The same element that makes this trope difficult to write is also what makes it so popular to read. If you can effectively show how their hate abates and their love for each other grows, you’ll have wonderful character arcs and a well-rounded story. And both of those elements make a romance readers will remember.

Examples: Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross, You, Again by Kate Goldbeck, I Hated You First by Rachel John


2. Friends to Lovers

Your love interests are best friends. They get along so well that it’s easy to see how their relationship could grow into more. But why hasn’t it yet? Make sure to write something that will push love interests to cross the threshold of friends to lovers. But if one character admits he wants more, will the other reciprocate? What if your love interests try out being lovers and it goes wrong? Will their friendship then be ruined forever?

What can be tricky about writing this trope is that your characters already have a strong connection. You want to play on that connection, but you don’t want it to be too easy for them to fall in love. So along their path to falling for each other, make sure they are faced with several obstacles that have the potential to take them off that path.

Examples: Thirteen-Year Crush by Jess Jefferies, The Cheat Sheet by Sarah Adams, Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson


3. Love Triangle

This is one of the most intense romance tropes. Your main character is falling for two people at once! But (obviously) she can pick only one. Who will she choose? How will she decide? And how will everyone react? This is a trope that will keep readers guessing!

The ending is the hardest part to nail down in this trope. Your main character has to pick someone to be with in the end. And the readers need to be okay with who your main character chooses. But during the story, both options in the love triangle need to be plausible. And your main character needs to be falling for both of them—until she doesn’t. You’ll have to come up with a really great reason for your main character to pick one and let the other go.

Examples: One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Two Halves of my Heart by Rachel De Lune, What the Heart Wants by Jessica Gadziala


4. Second-Chance Romance

There are two routes a second-chance romance can take. The first route has a couple start together, break up, and then get back together a second time. This trope can be complex because your main characters need a good enough reason to break up but not so good that it stops them from getting back together a second time. This trope can also be a powerful one because characters often grow, change, and forgive. It’s a wonderful way to show the ups and downs of love in the human experience.

The second route this trope could take has two people fall in love, but for some reason, they can’t be together at that moment. However, down the road, they get a second chance and have the opportunity to be together again. This route is less complicated to write than the first one, but it is still important to make sure your story is plausible. When your characters do get a second chance at love, make sure that however their circumstances have changed, the coincidence is believable.

Examples: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary, Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto


5. Mistaken/Secret Identity

These are such fun tropes! Two people meet, but one of your characters thinks the other is someone he is not. 

There are slight differences between the mistaken and secret identity tropes. Mistaken is when one character mistakes another character for someone else. Secret is when two people are in love and then—wham!—one of the love interests tells the other he’s actually a prince or a billionaire.

Here’s an example of mistaken identity: Amaya is planning to meet up with Daniel on a blind date, but for some reason, she starts talking to Oliver, who just goes with it. Amaya finds out later that she went on a blind date with the wrong guy! 

The crossovers in this trope of who one character thinks another character is versus who he actually is make for a very entertaining storyline. The difficult parts of writing the mistaken/secret identity are keeping who knows what about who straight and revealing the truth about the identity at the right time. But once you get those down, your readers will be wrapped up in your story.

Examples: Accidentally Amy by Lynn Painter, Faked by Karla Sorensen


6. Forced Proximity

This trope is another classic. Forcing your love interests to be stuck together on a cruise, road trip, or project is bound to create opportunities to fall in love. After all, how can they not when they can’t get away from each other?

When using this trope, make sure your characters have an organic interest in one another (at least eventually). We don’t want readers thinking that they fell in love only because they were forced to be together. We want readers to see that they fell in love because they finally were able to spend time together and had to come face-to-face with their feelings for one another.

Examples: House Mate by Leah Brunner, The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, Happy Place by Emily Henry


7. Forbidden/Impossible Love

There are slight differences between forbidden love and impossible love. Forbidden love is when society, family, or someone close to the main characters disapproves of the main characters being together (their love is forbidden). Think: Rowen’s parents disapprove of Rowen dating Lily, the girl next door, because Lily’s family isn’t from upper society like Rowen’s family is.

With impossible love, instead of it being forbidden for two characters to be in love, there is something that makes it (almost) impossible to be in love. Think: They come from different universes or they come from different eras in history. Maybe William is living in the 1800s and Madeline is living in the present day, but somehow every morning at dawn by the well at the end of the property, they can see each other for just an hour.

In these tropes, it’s easy for readers to root for the love interests. After all, what makes someone want something more than hearing they can’t have it? However, the circumstances around the characters’ forbidden or impossible love will be tricky to navigate. But once you come up with a solution, all the pieces of the story will come together.

Examples: A Royal Obligation by Amanda Schimmoeller, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz


8. Soulmates/Star-Crossed Lovers

It’s a classic story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. Though this may be one of the most cliché tropes, it’s cliché for a reason—it works! 

So if your main characters fall in love at first sight or seem to be made for each other, that’s okay. Just make sure their path to love isn’t as easy as it was to fall for each other. Make sure to place obstacles in their way, so they really have to fight for their love and prove they are meant to be soulmates.

Examples:  All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani, Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds


9. Fake-Dating

Fake-dating is another one of my favorite tropes. Here, we have one character or both who need a boyfriend or girlfriend for a specific event or even for a longer period of time. The pair agree to pretend to be dating each other, but really, they know there is no relationship between them. It’s all for show and the other people in their lives. But down the road, after they’ve been “dating” for a while, they realize they actually do love each other.

You’ll need to make sure that their fake dating is mutually beneficial. They both need to be getting something out of pretending to be together, or else they wouldn’t agree to fake date—no one is that kind. And don’t forget the fun! Your characters will be thrown into sticky situations where they may have to cross physical boundaries or lie to those closest to them. All this creates reader intrigue. After all, fake dating is complicated. 

Examples: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory


10. Opposites Attract

There are many versions of the opposites attract trope, but they all whittle down to putting two people together who are so different from one another that they seem like they really couldn’t form a successful relationship.

I am a firm believer that opposites attract. But sometimes, when you look at those two people and how different they are, you might think, how on earth are those two together? That’s what makes the opposites attract trope so good. As a writer, you’ll need to show how the rigid and serious one complements the happy-go-lucky one (Grumpy vs. Sunshine). Or how the lady of the house fits well with the pauper (Rich vs. Poor).

Examples: Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, Mrs. Nash’s Ashes by Sarah Adler, Things We Never Got Over by Lucy Score


11. Arranged Marriage/Marriage of Convenience/Marriage Pact

There are several marriage relationship tropes. Arranged marriage is when two people are forced to be married even though they don’t love each other. Marriage of convenience is when two people marry each other because, even though they aren’t in love, they really need to get married—and soon! (Think: If Gillian is married, she can finally inherit her fortune. Or if Sawyer gets married he won’t be deported to his home country.) The marriage pact is when two people agree that if they aren’t married by a certain time, they’ll just marry each other. All these tropes have one thing in common: When the couple first gets married, they don’t love each other. But by the end of the book, they do love each other.

That transformation is a wonderful start to a character arc, but you’ll need to add much more to it for their true-love relationship to be plausible by the end of their story. What sparks their interest in one another when there wasn’t a spark before? Will they both feel that spark, and admit they felt it? Or is it just easier to not be in love? 

Examples: Running Mate by Leah Brunner, Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey


12. Amnesia

This trope is pretty self-explanatory. At some point in the novel, one of the love interests has amnesia and forgets crucial details or events that happened in the story. Her memory could return by the end of the novel—or maybe not. Her amnesia could be what finally brings the two love interests together. Or it could be what forces them apart for a while, and then over the course of the novel, brings them back together.

This trope can be intense, which helps readers keep reading. If one of your characters has forgotten how they came to love your other character, your readers will be turning pages to find out if and how she can fall in love again. And if your character falls in love with your other character only because she forgot something crucial that was keeping them apart, your readers will want to know if the other character will reveal the truth or if he will keep living their relationship on a lie. It’s deep stuff. But if you write it well, there will be plenty of ups and downs to keep your readers invested and, eventually, a happy ending that will keep them satisfied.

Examples: A Demon’s Guide to Wooing a Witch by Sarah Hawley, The Blonde Identity by Ally Carter, An Earl to Remember by Stacy Reid


13. Fish Out of Water

The paradox in this love trope is fantastic. You take one character and put him in a situation that he is completely not used to and not suited for. For example, a corporate-type having to move home to work on a long-lost relative’s farm. Or a peasant having to blend into the royal court. Fish out of water is basically what a fish would look and act like on land, but we’re talking about humans instead. It will be challenging; awkward, and, for the readers, amusing. But by the end of the novel, your main character will be more comfortable being out of water and in his new habitat. 

The important part of this trope is the significant other. To be a true romance novel, your fish-out-of-water’s love interest needs to be a pivotal part of his becoming more accustomed to his new surroundings. If your fish figures everything out all by himself, then this wouldn’t be a love story. It would be a novel about self-discovery with a love interest on the side. Make sure your fish discovers how versatile and strong he is because of the person he is falling in love with. That’s a romance novel.

Examples: It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey, Bookshop Cinderella by Laura Lee Guhrke, Someone to Love by Mary Balogh


14. Slow Burn/Love Epiphany

For this trope, think of two people who everyone else knows are in love but the pair themselves just can’t see it. You probably could name someone in real life. I know I can. If not, there are plenty of novels that use the slow burn or love epiphany trope. The slow burn is when two characters’ interest in each other slowly, slowly burns and grows, until (finally!) it ignites into an explosion of love. This is where the love epiphany comes in. It’s usually at the end of the novel, and when it seems like your two main characters are destined to be apart forever, it finally clicks, and they run to each other and profess their love.

Pacing is a tough one in this trope. You need enough ups to show that your main characters do have chemistry and are falling in love, but you also need enough downs so that they don’t fall in love too fast, because that wouldn’t be a slow burn. You’ll need to nail this pacing so that your readers don’t get too bored with the will-they-or-won’t-they theme that makes up the novel.

Examples: The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata, The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas


15. The Bet/Obligation

Another great trope starts with a bet. Either one or both love interests are pursuing the other because of a bet they made and lost. For example, after losing a bet, Jim has to take Loretta, a woman who makes him unnecessarily irritated, on a date. Eventually, you guessed it, the two fall in love. 

The obligation trope is a bit different but has the same elements as the bet. Instead of a bet, the main character is obligated to date the other main character. For example, Yanet’s grandmother will only let her live with her over the summer if she agrees to spend every Friday night with Ahmad, the grandmother’s gardener. In obligation, it’s pretty hard to say no to spending time with the other person because your main character needs something that is conditioned upon them doing it.

In these tropes, the person who was “forced” to take the other person on a date or to simply spend time with him or her eventually truly gives the other person a chance, and by the end of the novel, they’re in love. However, the climax of this novel is usually the person who was taken on the date (from our examples, Loretta and Ahmad) finding out that their relationship didn’t start on an organic note. After all, who wants to be in love with someone who doesn’t truly love them back? And if they were forced to spend time together, can their love even last if it was based on a lie? As a writer, you’ll have to tell the story so all those questions are figured out and your readers are satisfied.

Examples: Tempt Thy Neighbor by Teagan Hunter, Landon and Shay by Brittainy C. Cherry, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire


16. Best Friend’s Sibling/Sibling’s Best Friend

This trope is when your main character falls in love with his or her sibling’s best friend. Or it can go the other way around too: your main character falls in love with his or her best friend’s sibling. Growing up, you might even have had a crush on your sibling’s best friend, so you can see how this could be very plausible and very sticky as far as navigating relationships goes.

In the beginning or for a good chunk of the novel, the sibling will be adamantly opposed to the love interests’ being together. For example, Charlie’s little sister, Kate, and his best friend, Tristan, are falling in love, but Charlie is completely against it. After all, how could Charlie’s best friend view Kate that way when Kate has just been an annoying tagalong? And Kate definitely isn’t supposed to be growing up and falling in love. Or maybe Charlie is upset with Tristan because Charlie doesn’t want Tristan to break Kate’s heart, and Charlie knows Tristan’s track record with other girls he’s dated.

It could go a plethora of ways. The goal, for you as a writer, is to create enough tension between the sibling, the best friend, and the other love interest that it puts pressure on all their relationships. Will Charlie and Tristan still be able to stay friends? Can Charlie and Kate keep a strong or at least amicable sibling relationship? Can Tristan and Kate be together when they know how much turmoil it is causing Charlie, someone they both care about?

Examples: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, The Crush by Penelope Ward, Break the Rules by Roxie Noir


17. Someone Else’s Love

This trope is another messy one that is so good, readers won’t be able to put your book down. Someone else’s love is when the person your main character is crushing on is supposed to be with someone else. For example, falling in love with someone who is already engaged. 

Another layer that makes this trope more complicated is when the crush happens to actually be involved with someone your main character cares deeply about. For example, a best friend’s crush of eight years or the man your older sister is betrothed to. 

In this trope, you’ll have to show your main characters’ love growing without intending to step on toes or deeply hurt the feelings of the people they care about. Your love interests’ relationship may have to be developed in secret, and they may deny their love at first. But by the end of the novel, they won’t be able to stay away from each other, and eventually, they’ll have to let their world know. That’s when all chaos will break loose. As a writer, you’ll have to piece everything back together and make sure your readers don’t feel like your love interests are being selfish or steamrolling over the person they both care about. There’s a thin line there, but you can write in a way that every character wins and the readers are content with the ending.

Examples: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn


The list above includes tried and true romance tropes. When writing your next romance novel, you can pick one or even a few tropes. After all, if one romance trope makes your book intriguing, imagine what several will do. The goal is to keep your readers captivated by creating a story that is messy and thrilling and, most importantly, ends in a happily ever after. With a few romance tropes reflected pristinely in your pages, you can’t go wrong. 

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