The 2014 Romance Book Buyer Report from Nielsen and RWA says that survey respondents in the “heavy” reader group gave these answers as their favorite romance tropes:
• friends to lovers
• soul mate/fate
• secret romance
• second chance at love
They’re missing my fave, but I can see the appeal in all of these, especially that first one.
Friends to Lovers
I think this one is because the author is forced to set up a non-physical relationship first. That is, too often a romance set-up is that they’re both gorgeous and hot and they want each other. Yeah, that happens and then it ends. The relationships that last are built on a lot more, so if that solid relationship is already in place, when the lovers finally notice the physical attraction, the whole relationship deepens. I’ve used this one a lot, by my count ten times, because of how much easier it is to build a deep relationship, and because it’s fun to write, watching as two clueless people stumble toward ecstasy.
I think this is the fairy tale, the idea that there is one person in all the world you are meant to be with and Fate will deliver him or her to you. I’m as drawn to this as any romance reader, but the only way I could make it work as a central plot was to actually write a fairy tale. That’s still my most popular book, and I think a lot of that is because of the power of this fantasy: no matter how inept you are, Fate will deliver your love to you.
I think this one works because of the pain component: It’s stressful keeping a secret from friends, family, and co-workers, doubly stressful when there are two of you in the secret, triply stressful when the stakes are high. Which is where I always have problems with this one: If they stakes are high, just tell the truth and stop living a lie, people. On the other hand, if keeping the secret makes everything more exciting, go for it. I don’t judge. I also don’t write this one because none of my protagonists can keep a secret.
Second Chance at Love:
I’m interpreting this one to be “your ex shows up again,” but it could also be the after-the-divorce-or-break-up story. The ex plot helps because again, the relationship is already there, so part of your romance arc is already there, too. But I think the idea of both second-chance plots is the refutation of Soul Mate trope: You can honestly and completely fall in love with somebody and have it go south, and when that happens your life is not over. Pick yourself up and get back in the game. I think this dovetails well with the friends-to-lovers trope since people who have burned by love (that’s essentially everybody) tend to be warier than first-timers, and they’re more likely to friend-zone possible romantic partners for safety. That also sets up a nice dynamic in that it takes a lot of power to blast people out of a friendship and into a love affair, so the attraction has to be strong. Also: fun to write.
So here’s a question: Is your favorite romance trope in there, or did they miss one? My personal fave is the “Oh, hell, not YOU” trope, I think I’ve used that in every book, but that one probably wasn’t on the survey.
Movies pictured: When Harry Met Sally . . ., The Princess Bride, Avanti, Mamma Mia!, 10 Things I Hate About You.
ETA: Thanks to MJ, here are the choices from the survey:
(1) friends to lovers
(2) soul mate/fate
(3) second chance at love
(4) secret romance
(5) first love
(6) strong hero/heroine
(7) reunited lovers
(8) love triangle
(9) sexy billionaire/millionaire
(10) sassy heroine
That “sassy heroine” is at number 10 makes me sad (really, not even better than “sexy rich guy”?).