From Merriam Webster: Full Definition of trope. 1a : a word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech b : a common or overused theme or device : cliché <the usual horror movie tropes> 2 : a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages.
I think, for our purposes, though, the Urban Dictionary comes closest: “Despite the erroneous definitions already published here, TROPE on the interwebs really refers to an often overused plot device. It can also be described as another variation on the same theme.”
I do like what Tahra Seplowin says in her article at So You Think You Can Write. “Tropes are time-tested scenarios or plot devices that appear again and again, while hooks are any element of the story that might draw the reader in. You may have heard “trope” and “hook” used interchangeably, and there are often similarities and overlaps. One fundamental difference is that tropes are always tried-and-true devices, while hooks can be either well-known or brand new.”
If the theme of the romance genre is “love wins in the end” - then tropes are the subcategories of the theme, the overarching plot within the romance.
This is the list of tropes from the Romance Writers of America website:
Top 10 popular romance tropes: (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
I’m not entirely sure that #6 and #10 are tropes. And it seems to me there are some fairly common tropes left out of this list.
Secret baby - though not one of my favorites - doesn’t show up on the list. It’s the one where the hero left town, leaving heroine pregnant and now he’s back and shocked to find that he has a child.
Forbidden love - heck this one goes back to Romeo and Juliet, doesn’t it - though R&J wasn’t a romance, was it. This is the one where hero and heroine aren’t allowed to fall in love - maybe he’s her commanding officer - or from True Honor, she’s his lawyer.
Is “older man, younger woman” (or vice versa) a trope? I have used that one.
I really like the friends to lovers one because the hero and heroine enjoy each others company for a while before the physical longings show up. This one can work nicely with the love triangle too. Am I wrong in saying that Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak (Arrow) had a friends to lovers story? Or maybe that was a different trope - loving him from the moment she saw him but from afar. Maybe Oliver and Felicity had a “girl next door” story - or more like “office downstairs.”
Good grief! RWA might want to add some to the list.
As I was exploring this topic, I found an article that listed - wait for it - 64 tropes. Yes I counted them. So, if you don’t like the secret babies trope, you don’t have to use it.
But honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever given tropes that much thought when crafting a story. Maybe that’s because I’ve read enough romance that love stories seep out of my heart.
Tropes might be a handy tool to use as a romance writer. The list of 64 tropes might be a great idea generator. But now you know about them. My work for the month is done.
Remember, the only way to get books written is to WRITE. So BIC-HOK - butt in chair, hands on keyboard. See you next month.