[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Cameron Lund to the site today. She’s gushing over all her favorite tropes. Take it away, Cameron!]
People love to critique the romance genre by saying it’s “too tropey.” Romantic comedies are, after all, a formula, and you know what to expect when you watch or read one: two characters who have an a) interesting history or b) meet in a fun and unique way are then set off on an adventure together. They get into all sorts of shenanigans until suddenly there is an a) unfortunate misunderstanding or b) someone is caught in a lie, and they break up. This leads to the grand gesture (the run through the airport, the song and dance number, the public humiliation and profession of love) which is critical in showing that the character in the wrong has grown and changed and the two lovebirds can finally admit their feelings and run off into the sunset together (or as in the case of Grease, take off into the sky in a magical flying car).
But there’s a reason we keep coming back to the same story again and again! Tropes are the best. It’s comforting to sink into a book or a movie and know that it’s going to end in a happily-ever-after. It’s fun to watch new characters experience known tropes and see how their unique personalities handle the situations in new ways. And it’s exciting to wait for the big moment you know is coming, the anticipation flipping you through the pages faster than you can say “You had me at hello.”
Besides, romance tropes get a bad rap because they’re mostly written for and enjoyed by women—but stories written for a male audience are formulaic too (does the “brooding lone-wolf action hero with a dead wife” sound familiar?). Tropes exist because they work. And while sometimes subverting our expectations can be fun—sometimes it ends in disaster (here’s looking at you Game of Thrones.)
My upcoming book Heartbreakers and Fakers is a celebration of many of these well-loved tropes—I tried to combine all of my favorites in a fun and unique way. And even though the concept of a “grand gesture” in real life feels icky (let’s teach our romantic partners to respect our wishes, amiright?), there’s nothing that brings me more joy in a story than a run through an airport, a declaration of love, and a happily ever after sealed with a kiss.
So bring on the tropes! I’ve listed a few of my favorites down below along with some examples from books and movies.
Fake dating is so big right now and that’s because it works so well! It forces the two characters to act like a couple and say cute things to each other while upholding the tension of keeping them apart. Inevitably when fake feelings turn real, there’s enough of a barrier in the story to stop the characters from admitting their love right away, which adds to the conflict. This one’s especially juicy if the characters don’t get along! We love a couple that has to act romantic in public while bickering behind the scenes.
- Heartbreakers and Fakers – Cameron Lund
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han
- Counting Down With You – Tashie Bhuiyan
- Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall
- Rent a Boyfriend – Gloria Chao
- The Upside of Falling – Alex Light
- The Proposal
- Just Go With It
Enemies (or Rivals) to Lovers
My first experience with this trope was in the animated movie Anastasia, which I was obsessed with as a kid. I loved how Dmitri and Anya bickered and teased each other while slowly catching and fighting their feelings (a relationship which was modeled from the screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s). This trope is King when it comes to banter. It keeps our characters in conflict while the romance slowly develops—so it has pining and passion and oh the angry kisses it can lead to!
- The Hating Game – Sally Thorne
- What’s Not to Love? – Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegemund-Broka
- Last Chance Books – Kelsey Rodkey
- Today Tonight Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon
- Carry On – Rainbow Rowell
- Bridget Jones’s Diary
- Pride & Prejudice
Best Friends to Lovers
All of my favorite childhood books had this trope so it will always be my favorite one. Lyra and Will from the His Dark Materials series invented love and broke my heart for the first time. I love this trope because it’s built on a mutual history and shared understanding. These characters already love each other—they just have to figure out that it’s a romantic love too. The pining in this trope is top notch. “What if she doesn’t feel the same way and it ruins our friendship?” *chef’s kiss*
- The Best Laid Plans – Cameron Lund
- Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins
- Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
- Love and Other Words – Christina Lauren
- People We Meet on Vacation – Emily Henry
- Always Be My Maybe
- When Harry Met Sally
- 13 Going on 30
This is the trope where two people who know each other in real life fall in love online anonymously. I love this one because you can play around with dynamics between the two characters. Maybe they are real-life enemies. Or one could find out the truth before the other and have to decide whether or not to continue the online flirtation. This trope shows our characters that maybe first impressions aren’t always correct and they might actually have more in common than they thought.
- What I Like About You – Marisa Kanter
- Shipped – Meredith Tate
- Tweet Cute – Emma Lord
- Tell Me Three Things – Julie Buxbaum
- Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
- Geekerella – Ashley Poston
- Alex Approximately – Jenn Bennett
- You’ve Got Mail
- A Cinderella Story
In this trope something forces our two protagonists into the same space. Maybe they’re on the campaign trail together. Maybe they’re roommates or working late hours in the office on the same project. Maybe their car breaks down and they’re forced to spend the night in a snowy cabin. This trope works because it creates an interesting situation in which our characters can interact and bond. If they’re stuck in a closet about to die, they might as well reveal their deepest darkest secrets, right?
- American Royals – Katharine McGee
- The Bride Test – Helen Hoang
- The Roommate – Rosie Danan
- You’d Be Mine – Erin Hahn
- Long Shot
- Palm Springs
“There’s only 1 bed!”
This often goes alongside the forced proximity trope, because if you’re going to trap your characters inside a snowed-in cabin then of course the cabin must have *gasp* only one bed! My first experience with this trope came from the OC when Ryan and Marissa were forced to share a bed at the motel on the way to Mexico and woke up cuddling in the morning. That’s a very important part of the trope. Even if the characters start the night on opposite ends of the bed they must always wake up in a cuddle because their sleeping selves just can’t resist each other. This trope works so well because it’s the best way to get characters physically close even if they’re still emotionally distant. Also there’s something to be said about pillow talk; you can speak more freely in the dark. Putting the characters into the same bed can lead to unexpected intimacy.
- Serpent & Dove – Shelby Mahurin
- The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary
- The Worst Best Man – Mia Sosa
- Leap Year
The Set Up – “Am I a bet? Am I a f*cking bet?”
You know the drill. Someone bets someone else they can make a girl prom queen. Someone asks for help getting the girl of their dreams. Someone guarantees they can make anyone fall in love with them. In other genres, the breakup of the characters can feel forced if the author is searching for a misunderstanding to add to the story. This one works because the conflict is baked right into the plot—the third act breakup is expected because we know at some point the truth will come out. So the tension comes from waiting to find out how and when that moment will happen. Bring on the big reveal!
- If I’m Being Honest – Emily Wibberly & Austin Siegemund-Broka
- Perfect on Paper – Sophie Gonzales
- She’s All That
- 10 Things I Hate About You
- How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
What are your favorite tropes?
About the Author:
Cameron Lund is a young adult author, singer/songwriter, and pizza enthusiast. Originally from the middle of the New Hampshire woods, she moved to the beach to study film at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has stayed out west ever since. Her love of travel has taken her to more than twenty-five countries–there’s nothing she loves more than writing while on an adventure somewhere, preferably with a view of a waterfall. Cameron is also the author of The Best Laid Plans. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @camloond.
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Heartbreakers and Fakers by Cameron Lund, out now!
Penny Harris just ruined her life.
As one of the most popular girls in school, she’s used to being invited to every party, is dating the Jordan Parker, and can’t wait to rule senior year with her best friend, Olivia. But when Penny wakes up on Jordan’s lawn the morning after his first-day-of-summer bash, she knows something went terribly wrong the night before.
She kissed Kai Tanaka.
Kai, her long-time nemesis. Kai, Olivia’s boyfriend. Penny can’t figure out what could have inspired her to do it–she loves Jordan and she would never hurt Olivia–but one thing’s for sure: freshly dumped, and out a best friend, the idyllic summer she pictured is over.
Despite the fact that Jordan seems to be seeking comfort (and a whole lot more) in Olivia, all Penny can think about is winning him back. Kai wants to save his relationship too, so they come up with a plan: convince their friends that they really do have feelings for each other. After all, everyone forgives a good love story, and maybe seeing Penny and Kai together will make Jordan and Olivia change their minds.
But as summer heats up, so does Penny and Kai’s “relationship,” and Penny starts to question whether she’s truly faking it with Kai, if he’s really as terrible as she always thought he was, and if the life she’s fighting so hard to get back is the one she really wants.