The Romance Market
In a world full of dating apps, where the prospects of romance and love are shifted to an online setting, it’s pretty challenging to experience genuine romantic encounters in everyday life. Nowadays, the only way to witness blushing gestures and chivalrous acts is to read about them in books, and most women take advantage of this.
The market for romance novels is predominantly geared toward a female audience, given about 82% of romance readers are women. According to The Observer, 25% of all books sold back in 2018 were romance novels; that’s a quarter of yearly novel sales dedicated to romantic literature. The market for romance novels has increased by about 36% since 2021. This can be attributed to the widespread use of social media during the Covid-19 era.
Using Tiktok, Twitter, and other platformers, readers have been able to reach out to each other and swap suggestions/book recommendations. They’ve even created videos acting out scenes and speaking on books they’ve read to attract other readers to buy the books they essentially advertise. For example, Tiktok creator, @kaven_books, has managed to create a platform with over 172,000 followers, solely by feeding the Sarah J. Maas fanbase with series-related content and comedic clips from her books.
Among this social media craze over creating a more widespread reading community, there has also been talk about the most popular romance novel plot tropes. Filters have been created on these platforms for people to find out, “Which book trope are you?” or, “Which romance trope will you experience this summer?”
Although these filters initially come off as a fun and friendly way to spice up the possibilities of one’s love life, it’s also a way to advertise romance novels. Romance novels are commonly identified based on their trope, which can also be referred to as a “cliche.” A trope is essentially the structure of a plot that is commonly referred to and reused in other stories. For example, the “chosen one,” storyline in Harry Potter can be considered a trope or cliche because it is often seen in multiple stories (Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief).
Although considered a cliche, tropes allow novels to become familiar to a reader. Readers even discuss which tropes are their favorites when deciding the next book they are going to read. They’re more likely to turn toward the books with the tropes they like the most, rather than the ones they do not, much like choosing a book based on genre. Tropes are more specific than genres and can fit into several categories of theme, tone, lesson, etc. They’re also more difficult to identify before reading and depend on a strong cover summary to get across to the reader.
As for romance novels, after browsing among several book communities on various platforms, I’ve comprised a list of the most popular romance novel tropes along with their explanations and examples.
Enemies to Lovers
The enemies-to-lovers trope is one of the most classic romance novel tropes, dating back to one of the original rom-com author’s novels: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
The trope itself reflects a sense of plot and character development, given it requires a shift of attitude as well as a developed relationship between the two characters. The enemies-to-lovers trope starts out in the exact way one might think it does, with the two aspiring love interests at each other’s throats. Now, this can be seen in many forms.
Sometimes, there is no reason at all as to why these two characters should hate one another, and it is more of a matter of circumstance than character. It might have to do with background information or some sort of contextual history the reader may not know about until later in the novel. Other times, the idea of being enemies is more of an act than a legitimate relationship.
Overall, the characters start off at odds with one another, most of the time due to some sort of conflict presented at the beginning of a storyline. Throughout the plot, the trope allows these two characters to somehow grow out of their distaste, overcome their misconceptions of one another, and slowly become lovers.
This storyline is well-liked among romance readers over the thought of another person seeing one’s flaws at the beginning of a relationship and falling in love with that person anyway. It’s also one of the most passionate romance tropes because the “enemies” part creates a lot of built-up tension between the characters that eventually need some sort of release.
Here are a few good examples of enemies-to-lovers tropes in books:
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
The Cruel Prince, Holly Black
The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn
Childhood Friends to Lovers
Childhood friends to lovers sit on the more wholesome side of romance reading. This romance revolves around two characters that have known each other since childhood. This means the story may take place after they’ve already met or could possibly follow the two characters from childhood to teenhood or adulthood.
Most of the time, within this specific trope, the two characters are conflicted with their feelings for one another. If feelings arose before the book took place, it is usually a fight against these feelings and denial comes into play. Otherwise, it could be a discovery of feelings or an unveiling of deeply hidden desires that took root years prior.
Within this trope, the line between platonic and romantic love feels blurred, mostly due to a prior establishment of a platonic relationship that is holding the characters back from their true feelings.
People enjoy this trope because it provides a sense of friendship to a romance. The thought that somebody who has known someone all their life finds themselves in love with them despite knowing all of their flaws is very appealing to readers. Those who tend to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist find this trope to show a sentimental, nostalgic, forever kind of love.
Here are a few good examples of childhood friends-to-lovers tropes:
People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry
The Summer I Turned Pretty, Jenny Han
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Where Rainbows End, Cecelia Ahern
Fake dating is a popular trope among readers mainly because it is the least likely to happen in real life. Fake dating tropes surround some sort of conflict presented at the beginning of a story that forces the protagonist to find themselves in a fake relationship negotiation.
This trope normally occurs because both of the potential love interests need something from the arrangement. Something pushes them to make this decision and most of the time, their fake relationship starts out pretty uncomfortable and a tad forced.
In some cases, feelings may already be present by the time the negotiation takes place but in most books with this trope, the characters start out without any sort of romantic intentions for the other. Throughout this trope, the two characters are forced to share each other’s company and possibly affection for the sake of keeping up with their ruse. They slowly begin to realize that they’re not pretending anymore and the feelings they’re trying to fake are becoming reality.
Readers enjoy this trope because it’s a very unlikely romance to ever occur in actual life. Many readers who seek romance in books often enjoy the idea of a romantic interaction that is unlikely to ever happen to them. They enjoy living through it within the pages of a fictional character’s perspective. Fake dating is intriguing and exciting because, although it’s a cliche, it’s still a unique romance compared to real-life romance.
Here are a few good examples of fake dating tropes:
The Love Hypothesis, Ali Hazelwood
Written in The Stars, Alexandria Bellefleur
Boyfriend Material, Alexis Hall
The trope of destiny or soulmates speaks to romance readers because the thought of being destined to be loved by one person is a hopeless romantic woman’s dream. This trope is a bit broader because the thought of soulmates could be interpreted as metaphorical or literal.
In many fantasy romance genres, literal soulmates are commonly included. In this case, two characters are soul-tied and were born to be with one another. This means that when they meet, they’re immediately drawn to one another and can’t seem to stay away. They may not know they are soulmates right away and slowly figure it out, or they immediately are aware of their forever connection.
In a metaphorical sense, destiny can be established and interpreted by the narrator of the story. The two protagonists just happen to meet each other on the slimmest chance or simply at the right place, at the right time. In this sense, they are also immediately drawn to each other and sometimes keep running into one another until its undeniable that they’re meant to be together.
This trope usually creates a very strong romantic connection and certainty between the two characters, due to the fact that their fates are intertwined.
People enjoy this trope specifically because of the hopeless romantic wish that there is somebody out there in the world that they are just meant to be with. When soulmates are involved, there’s no question or uncertainty in their relationship.
Here are a few good examples of destiny/soulmate tropes:
The Soulmate Equation, Christina Lauren
Throne of Glass Series, Sarah J. Maas
Alone With You in The Ether, Olivie Blake
Forbidden love is one of the most classically beautiful yet sad tropes in romance literature, dating back to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It is the concept of the right person, with the wrong time or circumstances or even life. Forbidden love is usually very heartbreaking and does not end well for either of the two potential lovers.
In forbidden love tropes, there is usually some sort of outward conflict that keeps the two characters from one another. Somehow, they defy this conflict by meeting and inevitably falling in love. Usually, these characters are very aware that what they’re doing is not allowed or will elicit some sort of problem in their lives.
These characters often hide their relationship at first but eventually, the truth of their kindling comes out. Unfortunately, these stories often end with the two protagonists being split up because of the forbidden conflict that keeps them apart.
Readers appreciate this trope because it shows the bravery of loving somebody you can’t have. Although it is not an escapist form of romanticism and probably one of the sadder tropes, it’s usually paired with a beautiful message and story. It also expresses the perseverance and power that love has over hate (often represented through the conflict).
Here are a few good examples of forbidden love tropes:
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Julia Quinn
Maybe in Another Life, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
The romance genre in literature is often geared towards the female audience due to the lack of romance found in everyday life. Female readers use the romance genre, as well as the tropes that lie within its stories, to experience a love that exceeds fiction.
The use of these tropes; Enemies to Lovers, Childhood Friends to Lovers, Fake Dating, Destiny/Soulmates, and Forbidden love are used to provide female readers with familiar yet enthralling romances to curl up with on a rainy day.
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