Posts tagged with: tropes

The Same…But Different: Using Popular Tropes to Make Your Romance Novel a Familiar Favorite With an Exciting Twist

Romance novels are all about the tropes. What’s a trope? A premise / plot device so popular a bajillion (that’s a scientific term) books have used it. Like an accidental pregnancy. Or a woman who falls for her brother’s best friend. Or a secret baby.

Maybe this is one of the reasons people sometimes criticize romance novels for being formulaic. And, sometimes, they can be. I’m a total sucker for a good brother’s-best-friend story, but I don’t want to read the same brother’s-best-friend story over and over. I want the same trope, but a different story.

As writers, it’s important to make sure that, if we’re using a familiar trope, we’re putting a unique spin on it. But how do we do that?

There are all kinds of strategies, but here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Take a familiar trope into a new time period, location, or world.
    • Example: The Selection by Kiera Cass
      •  The Trope: A Bachelor-style competition where a prince will choose his wife
      •  The Twist: Make it dystopian
  • Turn the trope on its head: 
  • Blend two (or more!) tropes together:
Free Falling in Love by Ava Blackstone

How many tropes can I fit into one romance novel? Let’s see: (1) Mistaken identity, (2) Opposites attract, (3) Friends to lovers, (4) Office romance

When I sat down to plot Free Falling in Love, the fifth book in my Voretti Family series, I knew I wanted the hero, Alex, to switch places with his brother Matt. Because—come on. They’re identical twins. You didn’t expect me to write an entire book featuring a hero who had an identical twin without the two of them switching places a couple times, did you?

The problem was, I watched waaaay too many versions of The Parent Trap growing up, so the idea of Alex and Matt deciding to switch places felt predictable and stale.

Not to mention that, over the course of the previous four books in the series, I’d given Alex, a responsible, color-inside-the-lines personality. Why would this Type-A rule follower choose to switch places with his unreliable twin?

He wouldn’t.

Time to scrap the whole idea?

Not quite, because putting the twin-switch trope together with Alex’s rule-following personality gave me an idea. I could make the twin switch an accident. So, through a combination of a flat tire and bad timing, Alex’s coworker, Nikki, mistakes him for his twin. And he doesn’t realize what’s going on until after she blows his mind with the Best Kiss Ever.

Poor Alex.

Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. He gets the girl in the end.

What about you? What romance novel tropes have you used in your books? How have you made them your own?

Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale

I admit it. I am guilty of studying tropes and trends, because I know that readers like them and my publisher expects them. And also, being familiar with tropes and trends is helpful.

But early this year, when my publisher asked me to write yet another Christmas novella for the 2015 holiday season, I was less than enthused. Honestly, if I had to write another:



a) Retelling of the Gift of the Magi (I did that in my novella I’ll be Home for Christmas),






b) Take on Scrooge (I did that in my book Last Chance Christmas), or







c) Baby in a barn story (I did that in my novella Silent Night)




I. Would. Scream.

(Did I mention that the publisher made this suggestion in January, right after I was thoroughly Christmass-ed-out?)

I expressed these negative feelings to my husband on our daily commute. I railed against Dickens for having written the quintessential Christmas Novella of all times. I ranted about Scrooge — about how he is such a powerful icon of the season that he’s everywhere, in every story you read.  I mean, even It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have Scrooge archetypes messing up Christmas for everyone.

“Not gonna do it,” I said.

Then my husband said, “What if you wrote a story where Tiny Tim was all grown up?”

And I said, “Okay, if Tiny Tim is a grown up, who’s Scrooge? A little kid?”

And he said nothing.

Did I mention that he’s a whiz at knowing when to shut up?

The next morning, this idea of turning Cindy Lou Who into a tiny-sized Grinch was still rattling around in my head. So I Googled the words, “Kids who hate Christmas.”

I got the usual listing of posts about greedy kids, even greedier grownups, and people ungraciously mouthing off about Christmas gifts they hated. But once I got past all that crap I stumbled across several heartbreaking and utterly inspiring articles and blog posts about and by parents whose children either have autism or who are on the Asperger’s spectrum.

For many of those special kids, Christmas is a nightmare. For their parents, Christmas can be a difficult obstacle course that requires love and patience and even more love.

A story began to form in my mind, but I didn’t think I was courageous enough to write it. The courageous ones are the parents of these special kids, and I didn’t feel as if I had any authority to write about them.

I put the story idea aside. I worked on a dozen other ideas all of which had some well-worn Christmas trope that failed to inspire. I dithered. I procrastinated. I complained.

And then I sent an email to my BFF and critique buddy, Caroline Bradley, who just happens to be the mom of a child on the Asperger’s spectrum. I didn’t contact Caroline to seek information about Asperger’s– not at first. At first it was just to have a conversation about whether I was brave enough to take on this topic.

Bless her, Caroline was more than enthusiastic. She told me that if the story had captured my heart, then it shouldn’t matter whether I was qualified to write it (that’s what research is for) or whether it was the usual trope (sometimes you have to stop listening to the marketing people). In short, she told me to be brave, write fearless, and tell a good story – words I hope to continue to live by.

I started by asking a lot of questions of a lot of parents and siblings of autistic kids.  I did my research. And then something magical happened, when I had finally stopped telling myself that this story was beyond me, I discovered that it was actually inside me.

The story arrived fully formed in a matter of days and needed almost no revision.

This experience has convinced me that when I dig deep, stretch my boundaries, and tell a story from deep inside my heart, the writing is never a problem. It’s when I back away from the hard stuff – that’s when the writing becomes impossible.

midnight clear coverA Midnight Clear, a Christmas story of a single mom with a special needs child goes on sale today. Here’s an excerpt.

So, tell me, have you ever had a story present itself that you thought you weren’t brave enough to write? Did you write it? What happened? Was it hard or did it turn out to be easy?

The Latest Comments

  • Marianne Hull: The genre is paranormal romance with shifters. It’s going to be a novella, I think, so there...
  • Autumn Jordon: Marianne, I’m not sure what genre you story is, so my suggestion might be totally off, since I...
  • Marianne Hull: I’m finding this very restrictive, but it does boil the story down to essentials. He walks away...
  • Lydia Stevens: Ooh! I like that! It definitely speaks to the immediacy of the conflict! Thank you! 🙂
  • Autumn Jordon: Happy to help.