I have always been drawn to stories full of hope and light. I’m not saying that there aren’t times where I’m more interested in shock value or unexpected endings, but on the whole I must admit I want to see good triumph over evil or the reluctant hero predictably rise to their true potential. I also like to hope that I am not entirely alone on this. I think we have centuries of proof that certain tropes, archetypes, and motifs deeply resonate with us as human beings.
I also think this is why I have found myself growing weary of the trend in general culture to “subvert expectation” in a narrative. I don’t know about anyone else, but 2020 has subverted enough of my expectations that I am not currently looking for that in my fiction content at this time. This tactic in storytelling was wonderfully fresh and gripping in the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones (until the last season, but that is a whole other discussion in and of itself) but doesn’t feel entirely sustainable through the long term (again, I will cite the last season of Game of Thrones).
My general malaise toward this popular idea made me consider more deeply why I find myself so drawn to the romance genre time and time again. After all, if there is a cornerstone to my reading tastes it’s romance. Though I read in many other genres romance is the one I will always come back to. I think I find my home among romance books for a myriad of reasons, but one of the main ones I’ve been considering recently is how happy it makes me that romance books are generally unabashedly proud of their tropes and narrative structure. They are not ashamed of using storytelling tools and tactics that clearly resonate with people, and have resonated with people for decades.
Here are the facts: I will always squeal with delight when there is only one bed. I am a complete sucker for enemies to lovers. Don’t get me started on anything that resembles a retelling from a fairytale as I probably already own it and love it. Romance leans into tropes and happy endings in a way you don’t commonly see in modern day fiction. Although ironic, it really does make the genre feel unique. The fact is it doesn’t make the genre feel tired or overused, but in most instances, it enhances the enjoyment of it. I, and I think many other romance readers, will pick up a book simply because we know it contains a certain trope we particularly enjoy.
In a culture that became obsessed with shock value and sometimes even unsatisfying narrative dead ends (I will not bring up Game of Thrones again. I will not.) the romance genre remains unashamed of what it is. I suppose none of us should be surprised. If any genre is used to being looked down upon, if not overlooked entirely – it’s romance. Romance books, and the lovers of them, give writers freedom to function in a way that works for all of us. Of course we love twists and turns in a plot. Of course we love an anti-hero. At the end of the day though, I think what we like most is to see love succeed, to see goodness in people, and to see the bad guy lose.
I suppose I write all of this to say thank you to a genre that is the honey badger of genres. We won’t let “tropes” become a bad word in our community. We won’t roll our eyes at a “predictable outcome”. We will embrace both wholeheartedly, and thrive within them.
I’m not suggesting we should stop writing the unexpected, dark, or even the intentionally different. I enjoy all of those things, and I even think they are important. What I am saying is there is also a certain overlooked strength in choosing to use tools and tactics that are known and loved. It doesn’t make the narrative less compelling or less creative. It provides a framework for both of things to thrive and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that.
Thank you to romance writers for being brave and for writing what you love. Thank you to readers who I can always talk to with no irony at all about what tropes are best. Thank you, you wonderful honey badgers. Also, not to be dramatic or anything but give me a book about a fake relationship that turns into real confusing feelings or give me death.