Romance is full of tropes, and this is probably because romance readers can be voracious. If we find a story we like, we want to read all the books by that author. Then we want to read all the books with similar plots—which means we want all the books with that romance trope.
First, what’s a trope?
Tropes are plot devices, characters, images, or themes that are incorporated so frequently in a genre that they’re seen as conventional.
For example, the mail order bride is currently a popular trope, especially in Christian fiction.
I’ve seen box sets of fifteen or twenty mail order bride stories for sale on Amazon. I’m a fan of mail order bride stories (e.g. the Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh), but I don’t think I could manage a set of twenty!
Fortunately, there are dozens of popular romance tropes, including:
- Friends to Lovers
- Enemies to Lovers
- Fake Romance
- Love Triangle
- Forbidden Love
- Marriage of Convenience
- Secret Royal/Billionaire
- Secret Baby
- Secret Romance
- Second Chance Romance
- Reunited Lovers
- Trapped in an Elevator/Snowstorm
- Mail Order Bride
- Belated Love Epiphany
- Opposites Attract
- Soul Mate
I’m not a big fan of the love triangle.
It seems to me that a perfectly nice person ends up getting hurt. Mind you, that’s better than the alternative, where the guy thinks he’s in love with Woman A (who’s a real piece of work) but is also attracted to Woman B (the obvious best choice), but I’m left wishing he’d stick with Woman A because Woman B deserves someone with more depth.
That can also happen in reverse (and I can think of one far-too-long-running Christian romance series where the woman had the choice and chose who I think was the weaker man. One reviewer said that if the character was that shallow, then the second man was better off without her, and I had to agree (#TeamCody).
That’s the other problem with the love triangle: half your audience will be convinced the story ends with the wrong couple getting together.
I went through a phase of reading and enjoying secret baby romances, but then the improvements in technology and social media made it harder to believe that the woman couldn’t tell the father she’d had his baby. This meant she hadn’t, which meant she had to have a good reason for not telling him … and many didn’t. Also, secret baby is a more difficult trope to pull off in Christian fiction.
I’m also a big fan of friends-to-lovers (especially in novellas and short fiction—I’m a little wary of a novella where the couple go from first meeting to marriage in less than a hundred pages), and enjoy the occasional enemies to lovers (Maybe It’s You by Christy Hayes is a fun example).
And I enjoy most other tropes … in small doses.
So what’s your favourite trope, and what’s a great example of that trope in Christian romance?
First, let’s define a trope.
A trope is a common plotline used in genre fiction. For example, romance has the mail-order bride trope. These are usually set in the American West in the late 1800s, and feature a woman travelling (often alone) across the country to marry a man she’s met only through letters. They meet and marry, then fall in love after overcoming whatever difficulties the author has lined up for them.
Some people love these stories—as evidenced by the number of mail order bride stories on Amazon. Others loathe them. I’m somewhere in the middle—I enjoy reading them, but I’m not the target reader for the box set of twenty.
There are dozens of other romance tropes: billionaire, rock star, sports star. Brother’s best friend, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers. Secret baby, second chance at love, finding love again.
And that’s the one I get tired of in Christian fiction: Finding love again.
It’s not so bad now, but there was a time a few years back when it seemed every other romance novel I read featured a young widow finding love again. That’s sweet … but it means a lot of dead husbands.
Christian men, your twenties are a dangerous time.
If Christian romance is to be believed, you’re going to die. You might be murdered. You might be the victim of a drunk driver (or a texting driver). You might die for your country. But you’re gonna die, and leave your widow (and possibly one or more children) in a precarious financial state. Because it seems married Christian men in their twenties don’t have life insurance.
But that’s okay, because all those guys who didn’t marry young apparently spent their twenties doing something productive so now they’re financially stable and emotionally available. They are ready and willing to marry your wife. They never have any emotional baggage. No divorces (if they do, it’s because their wife was unfaithful). No problems. And they’re always Christians. Perfect.
Now we’re moving into a variation on the trope.
Instead of dead husbands, the women have loser ex-husbands (or ex-boyfriends), and a child. Sometimes the ex-husband is the father of the child. Sometimes the child is the result of an out-of-character one-night-stand. (It has to be out of character, because this is Christian fiction.) But it always results in an unplanned pregnancy and an unknown father. Charming.
Now I think about it, perhaps I preferred all the virtuous Christian husbands who died through no fault of their own. At least that was presenting a positive picture of modern manhood, not one-night-standers and serial philanderers.
What plotline or trope do you wish you’d never see again, and why?