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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?

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

  1. I love a good trope! Fake relationship is probably my favorite, but I have probably done at least one trope in each of my books. (I’m so tropey!) For example, I did a widower-falls-for-his-nanny in Dirty Little Secrets… only the nanny was Muslim and the widower was from a powerful political family with a base that would not appreciate her diversity.

    Can’t wait to check out FREE FALLING IN LOVE, Ava! It sounds excellent. Is it out already? Or coming soon?

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  2. Becky Holl says:

    I am not a writer although, I have tried. I found this article fascinating. thank you.

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  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    I love tropes, and like Vivi, can probably identify at least one I’ve used in each of my books. Now that I think about it, “opposites attract” is a trope I’ve used in all of my books. Craft-wise, there’s half the relationship conflict, right there. 🙂

    My first book, TASTE ME, was also a (paranormal) bodyguard story, and my latest release, ENTHRALL ME, has a celibate hero. My twist on the celibate hero trope is that Wyland, a 300-year-old vampire, has been celibate for OVER A CENTURY.

    I think trope awareness can be really helpful to both readers and writers. As a reader, knowing what my trope ‘catnip’ is helps me decide which books to buy. As an author, explicitly stating what my romance tropes are when promoting helps readers looking for those particular tropes find me more easily.

    #oppositesattract
    #celibatehero

    Fun post, Ava!

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    • >>As a reader, knowing what my trope ‘catnip’ is helps me decide which books to buy. As an author, explicitly stating what my romance tropes are when promoting helps readers looking for those particular tropes find me more easily.

      Yes! I don’t generally click on ads, but if I see a book that has one of my favorite tropes, it’s hard for me to stop myself from at least checking it out.

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  4. CherylPR says:

    I’ve definitely used opposites attract. Built-in conflict right there! I love a good secret baby story, though I’ve never written one.

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