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Romance Novel Tropes

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A Walking Shirtless Scene poses with his redhead lady and her barely hanging on grand dress.
Some of the common tropes that have appeared in the Romance Novel.
  • Altar Diplomacy: The hero and heroine are arranged to be married for politics, whether they like it or not.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: It tends to be more exciting and dramatic if the heroine falls for the rebellious, rough-hewn outsider over more straitlaced, easily-obtainable blokes (though he'll never usually be too bad).
  • Anti-Hero: The types vary, but romance novel leads can tend towards bad boys (ready to be reformed) instead of a clean-cut, straitlaced fellow.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: So popular as the male lead that you can buy 'sheikh' omnibuses. Tends to be common among certain categories of the category novels. Of course, as a romantic figure, the Arab sheik or prince goes way back.
  • Arranged Marriage: A common technique in historicals to force the hero and heroine to deal with each other.
  • Attempted Rape: The hero will save the heroine from a would-be rapist as part of a Rescue Romance. Some unfortunate heroines have this happen more than once. Tends to be less common these days as it can be seen as trivializing or downplaying the effects of sexual violence.
  • Authoritative in Public, Docile in Private: A character with a domineering personality (often an alpha male) is depicted as submissive in their romantic relationships.
  • Beautiful All Along: The heroine will often be described as plain (or think of herself as plain), then gets a make-over that reveals her as stunningly beautiful.
  • Broken Bird: Women love to see the healing power of love. Most have a side of Intimate Healing as well, but usually after the hero is a bit less screwed up.
  • But Not Too Foreign:
    • Despite the sheikh novels mentioned above, less "genre" romances often have heroes who are just one exotic (from a US perspective) quarter: Native American, Japanese, Arab or the like, but very rarely are full members of non-European ethnicities in ancestry and upbringing. There are also lines of romance books featuring Afro-American couples as well as interracial relationships; also Native Americans, in contemporary settings as well as historical, some actually written by Native authors like Evangeline Parsons Yazzie.
    • Heroines are even less likely to be exotic.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: In some novels, an extreme importance is placed on the act of uttering the words "I love you".
  • Cinderella Plot: The heroine has fallen on rough times, often with an abusive and uncaring guardian/employer. She'll be swept off her feet by a wealthy guy and/or come into money herself. Shows up more in older works or historical works.
  • Costume Porn: If ladies' outfits are described, they will be in detail. Sometimes gentlemen's, as well, following the precedent set by 19th-century romance author Ouida.
  • Crazy in the Head, Crazy in the Bed: A character's eccentricity or outright insanity adds to their romantic and sexual appeal.
  • Damsel in Distress: The heroine often gets into some sort of trouble so the hero can rescue her.
  • Damsel out of Distress: In some cases, the heroine will actually try to get herself out of trouble; it varies as to whether she's successful.
  • Distressed Dude: In an inverse to the above, the hero may have to be saved by the heroine; it sometimes overlaps with Rescue Reversal. This is a great opportunity for the hero to feel gratitude to the heroine, admiration for her pluckiness and general growing affection for her, for the heroine to treat any injuries he may have sustained, the heroine to realize how much she cares for him after she nearly lost him, and so forth.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: A common plot is for the heroine's sister and the hero's brother to have married, had a child, and then died; this forces the leads to interact on more or less hostile terms over custody, until the matter is resolved by their marriage.
  • Extruded Book Product: Category romances have detailed author guidelines, different for each line, from what sort of character types should be included to when the first sex scene should take place. Those (such as Harlequin Presents) that depend heavily on key tropes may have titles that exactly advertise their contents, such as The Greek Tycoon's Baby Surprise. The idea is that readers should be able to choose a book by its title and category and get more-or-less exactly what they want: if you like the Harlequin Presents style, and Greek tycoons are your jam, and surprise babies hit your emotional buttons, then grab the book off the spinning rack and settle in for a relaxing three-hour read that is unlikely to disappoint you. You probably will also have a small shelf of favorites that stand out for their acuity and subtle characterization—guidelines or no, writers can still write!
  • Faux Action Girl: Less common nowadays, but some works tend to have heroines who are either blatantly lying or in deep denial when they insist they can "take care of themselves", or suddenly become incompetent and helpless whenever the plot needs the hero to intervene.
  • First Love: The main couple will often be this to each other; if they had other relationships prior to this, it will often be stated they didn't truly love their exes.
  • Flirty Stepsiblings: A common way to make the hero and heroine resent each other but be unable to avoid each other.
  • The Grovel
  • Happily Ever After:
    • Explicitly described by many readers and writers as an essential mark of the genre, distinguishing it from other love stories. Abbreviated HEA.
    • Sometimes subverted as a Happy For Now, where the characters are left in a situation which may succeed and may not. Abbreviated HFN.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: In which the male hero only hates women because of the actions of a bad woman, and will be cured in the end by the good heroine.
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: Common in historical romances. May lead to Marriage Before Romance.
  • Hunk: The hero will often be depicted as very buff, chiseled and manly, frequently showing this off with Shirtless Scenes. However, from around the 1990's onwards, Pretty Boys became more in vogue, though hunks do still show up.
  • The Four Loves: Arguably the reason for the existence of the genre.
  • The Ingenue: Lots of heroines are portrayed as innocent and kindhearted, but also sheltered and unworldly with a tendency to get into danger (so the hero can swoop in and save her). She'll often be a virgin or at least very sexually inexperienced as well; dollars to doughnuts she won't be by the end.
  • Ladykiller in Love: The "rake" or chronically womanizing man is a popular hero character. He is almost universally guaranteed to no longer be interested in anyone but the heroine (a possible exception is, of all things, the ur-example of the character, Lord Damerel in Georgette Heyer's Venetia.) There is often a scene where a willing woman offers herself and he's quite surprised to not want to take her up on it.
  • Lovable Rogue: The male lead character is simultaneously desirable and off-putting or threatening.
  • Love Tropes: All of them.
  • Magical Nanny: Often in the Magical Stepmother form, though in that case, the marriage is not for real.
  • Magical Native American: Often, if historical.
  • Man in a Kilt: A popular male lead in historical settings is the rugged Highlander.
  • Marriage of Convenience: The couple have been thrown together into a marriage or partnership, bringing them together and immediately into a romantic environment.
  • Mills and Boon Prose: Ironically, despite the Mills and Boon category romances being the Trope Namer, most romance novels avert this trope in favor of less Purple Prose-like sex scenes.
  • More Experienced Chases the Innocent: A more sexually and/or romantically experienced person pursues someone who has very little to no romantic or sexual experience.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: The hero is very forceful with the heroine when it comes to intimacy, but she secretly wants to be with him anyway, so it isn't presented as problematic in-universe. More common in works published prior to the 1980's, due to shifting attitudes around women and sex (namely that it's now widely viewed as A-okay for a woman to initiate and/or actively seek out consensual sex); it occasionally creeps into more recent works, but is now viewed as being a lot more problematic due to the lack of consent and perceived romanticization of sexual assault.
  • Not Like Other Girls: It's not uncommon for the hero to tell the heroine she's not like any other woman he's ever met, or to emphasize how 'different' she is.
  • One-Hour Work Week: The leads usually spend more time making googly eyes at each other than working, which doesn't seem to affect their job performance.
  • One True Love: The couple are often presented as this, as it's the ultimate romantic ideal.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Sometimes the hero will have a young child/children from a previous relationship (the mother will often be dead or a deadbeat, so there's no possible competition there). In the heroine's case, it'll end being Type 1 (they take to her like a duck to water and end up shipping her with their dad) or Type 2 (the kids are initially unsure but the heroine eventually wins them over). If applied to the heroine's rival, it'll be Type 3 (she's a future Wicked Stepmother and the kids prefer the heroine).
  • Perilous Marriage Proposal: The protagonist will often be proposed to in dangerous or unideal circumstances, whether or not it's the man she's supposed to marry.
  • Power Dynamics Kink: A common plot element if the author wants to explore the sexual aspects of power and subjugation without going into the territory of overt BDSM.
  • Pretty Boy: If the hero's not a hunk, he'll probably be this; handsome in a delicate, youthful manner. Particularly in historical romance, there's a good chance he'll be a Longhaired Pretty Boy too.
  • Public Medium Ignorance:
    • Romance novels are full of Purple Prose, gratuitous sex and are basically thinly veiled porn for women, or "mommy porn". Right?
    • Despite the fact that Mills and Boon Prose is rare in the genre these days and the fact that most sex scenes in a Romance Novel are an important part of the emotional connection of the hero and heroine, no one seems to know this. Some people still think that romance novels are full of rape, even though that became rare at the start of The '80s!
  • Reformed Rakes: If the hero is a bad boy, he'll be the ideal man (or at least Reformed, but Not Tamed) by the end, thanks to the Power of Love.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal
  • Roll in the Hay: A couple on a farm will make love in a hay barrack.
  • Romance Cover Scene: Very common for novels published in the late 20th century, not quite so common anymore. Fabio is optional.
  • Romantic Fakeā€“Real Turn: One person pretends to love another, or two pretend to love each other, then they fall in love for real.
  • Romantic False Lead
  • Romanticized Abuse: Definitely not universal (although it's a common misconception about the genre); however, there are some works where the hero (or more rarely the heroine) will treat their love interest rather poorly, yet their behavior is portrayed as romantic or glossed over. In some older works, it can be partly a result of Values Dissonance.
  • Rule of Romantic: Frequently employed; it's kinda the whole point.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Believe it or not, some romance novels actually skim over the sex (if sex is included at all).
  • Sexy Flaw: Flaws and deformities (physical deformities, speech impediments, etc.) serving as a romantic "turn-on".
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: Some sex scenes in romance novels serve no plot purpose beyond fanservice, though others do have an important role in the plot and the development of the leads' relationship.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: The universe seems to be conspiring to keep the leads apart, though it's unusual for them to not end up together anyway.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Far too many of the heroines. Most common in romantic suspense genre as a way to have an otherwise intelligent heroine get captured by the villain so the hero can have a Storm the Castle rescue moment.
  • True Love Is a Kink: When romantic attraction and carnal attraction are one and the same.
  • Unexpected Virgin: A character (often, though not always, the heroine) you wouldn't expect to be a virgin turns out to be. Tends not to come up until they're actually about to do/have done the deed ("Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin?").
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: A prime source of drama for the first two thirds of the story. It'll definitely be resolved by the end, though when exactly it's resolved can vary.
  • Virgin-Shaming: Being a virgin is seen as a source of mockery.