I’ve spent much of the last week working on the plot line for a new story, and in the process, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about common romance plots. Some people might even call them tropes. You know the ones I mean, the classic plot lines that have been used over and over again, especially in category romance. Because of this, romance books and romance writers have often been characterized as being formulaic and cookie-cutter. I have to say I’m not of that opinion myself. Classic plots are classics for a reason. Classics become classics because people love them, myself included.
Common Romance Plotlines/Tropes
Author Mindy Klasky has compiled an extensive list of romance tropes on her website. Some of them include:
- Accidental pregnancy – our heroine’s pregnancy may be the result of a one-night stand, a longer-term fling, or a long-term relationship.
- Amnesia – a blow on the head, a drug interaction, or for some other reason – our lover doesn’t know how s/he got where s/he is, but now s/he needs to fit into a new family, workplace, etc.
- 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.
- Class warfare – one lover comes from money and social status, the other lacks both, but sparks fly once they meet.
- Disguise – one or both lovers pretends to be something s/he isn’t – an expert in the workplace, a member of a family, etc. – but s/he falls in love while in disguise and is forced to continue the ruse.
- Enemies to lovers – our lovers are enemies (business rivals, part of a family feud, law enforcement and criminal, etc.) until they realize the depth of their romance
- Fling – our lovers intend their relationship to last for a short time (from one night to a specific longer period, such as a vacation or a work project), but their relationship grows beyond those limitations. (MMM)
- Friends to lovers – our lovers have been friends for some time, but only now are discovering that they want something more from their relationship.
- Forbidden love – 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.
- Gay for you – our hero or heroine has been strictly heterosexual, but finds him/herself falling for a person of the same gender.
- Mail-order bride – one lover (usually male) requests a spouse through print or electronic services.
- 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.
- May/December – our lovers have a substantial age gap. When a woman is the older lover, this is often called a “cougar” relationship. (CH)
- 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.
- Parent/childcare worker – one of our lovers is a parent; the other is hired to care for his/her child(ren) as a nanny, tutor, or governess.
- Return to hometown – one of our lovers returns to his/her hometown, either willingly or unwillingly, for a short time or with the intention to stay permanently.
- 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.)
- Revenge – one of our lovers is determined to get revenge for a real or imagined wrong in the past. That wrong might have been committed by the other lover or by his/her relative or close friend.
- Secret baby – our heroine is or was pregnant with the hero’s baby, but he does not know the child is his. (MMM, ST)
- Stranded – our lovers are stranded together, with the forced environment 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.
- Sudden baby – one of our lovers discovers or inherits a child s/he never planned on nurturing.
- 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.
- Unrequited love – one of our lovers has long wished for a romantic relationship with the other.
- (Wo)man in peril – one of our lovers is in physical peril from some outside person or organization; the other lover rescues him/her.
(This isn’t the full list. This is just a sampling I pulled. You can find the full list here, if you’re interested.)
As a reader, I can recall romance books I’ve read with all of these plot lines. Some of them, I can truthfully say I have read dozens of titles with that plot.
I can remember scouring grocery store and department store shelves (because there weren’t any bookstores near where I grew up, and the library was only open part time on weekdays) for what I called “kid books”. This is not to be confused with children’s books. Rather, this referred to romance books where one or the other character had a child. They might be a single parent. It might be a sudden baby or a secret baby. I didn’t care. I liked them all. My sister, on the other hand, prefered the billionaire playboy type books, where the lead male character is wealthy, whether he is a businessman, a celebrity, secret royalty, whatever. Men with money were her penchant.
What about you? What are some of your favorites, either to write or to read?