It’s always amazing to me the things I don’t know. One, in particular, was what a trope was.
Yeah, I know.
Five full novels under my belt, half a million words of fan fic, and tropes were one of those things I heard about on blogs and nodded my head like I knew what was going on.
At best, I figured it was synonymous with cliché. And cliché is a bad word. Therefore, trope was a bad word.
I WILL NOT HAVE TROPES! I would cry. I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE!
Then came this thing where I had to explain what tropes were present in a book, and research away!
Cut to my horrifying conclusion that I had been mentally bad-mouthing something that is not something to be ashamed of.
TROPES ≠ CLICHÉS
TROPES = PLOT DEVICE
Yeah, I totally knew that! But kinda like how all chocolate is good, but not all good things are chocolate, there seems to be a barrier in there somewhere. First, because I’m a list kinda person, let’s get us a list going of some common tropes in romance novels
I know, I know. So actually, what I’ll kindly do is point you to a FANTASTIC blog post I found and used to garner my own knowledge on the subject. There are lists of common tropes, and the author of the post breaks them down to what they look like.
List of Romance Tropes
So, for fun, what I’m going to do is pull examples from one of my own books to better explain what a trope is, and then boogie about being a special snowflake.
Hello, Order Up!
For those of you unfamiliar with it, Order Up is my New Adult romance about a pizza delivery guy falling for his coworker, and aside from them being adorably geeky best friends/lovers, problems prevail everywhere they turn.
(I highly recommend it, biased as that is)
BACK TO TROPES!
Tropes can best be summarized as the main focus of a story—the plot lines you ravenously can’t get enough of and inhale like I do the fancy cheese section in my grocery store. You know, the ones that stink so good and are right next to the wine. DON’T JUDGE ME.
Love books about secret babies? Secret babies are a trope.
Can’t get enough cougar romance? You’re a cougar trope lover.
Think tales of virgins falling in love and experiencing intercourse for the first time are the only books that should be written? Virgin tropes be your thing.
Me? I went through a period where I was hung up on writing workplace romances, one of them being Order Up, because workplace romances can be tricky. Personally, I don’t have experience with that. (Sure I don’t)
So, like I mentioned before, tropes are also plot devices. Why is this helpful? Most books have more than one twist, or turn, or sudden issue. The problems that arise between Wes and Reagan’s relationship, these are my plot devices. Every book’s got ‘em. You start with a tale of a virgin getting laid, then you find yourself wandering down a road of fake engagements, mistaken identity, a sudden athlete love triangle and BAM! You got yourself a hell of a story.
Recently (which is why I'm writing this post) I was told at least 3 tropes per story is the magic number. Have that many, they said, and you got plenty of book.
Three tropes? Ha! I laugh at your tiny number and I will bring ALL THE TROPES!
Tropes in Order Up:
Order Up is billed as a work place romance. That’s one.
However, the story starts BEFORE they work together, so trope NEGATIVE ONE is actually a May/December SLASH Forbidden love situation. The hero, Wesley, is 21, and Reagan is an underage 17. Yeah . . . I went there.
Then they work together. Hello workplace romance trope. (I think we’re at 2)
Now, tropes can also apply to the characters themselves, not just the plot.
For example, Wesley is (for all intents and purposes) an orphan. Yep, gave my baby the orphan trope. Still breaks my heart. (#3)
Reagan is a dancer, wiggling and sashaying from the time her eyes open to the time she collapses, exhausted, in her bed at night. Ta-da! We have an athlete trope. (#4)
Wesley’s lack of parents are used more for character building, while Reagan’s dancing actually becomes a plot device. But before that happens, we have other issues/tropes to overcome.
#5 - Class Warfare trope: Reagan’s family has got the dolla dolla bills, yo. Wes is broke as a joke. Think Reagan’s daddy is gonna be cool with his sweet little daughter going slumming with a dude who delivers pizza for a living? Nah. Not even close. And more than the daddy issues, Wes comes down with a clear case of “I’ll never be good enough for her.” What’s a guy to do? Especially when the girl ends up following her dancing feet to college on the other side of the country?
WE HAVE A TROPE ON THE WAY!
We take a dive into the Self-Made Person trope. (#6)
Wes decides to buckle up and make something of himself.
Now, personally, I’m not a fan of the CEO romances. I have no problem with people who adore them, and they have a lot of potential and a hell of a market to back up their popularity. Me? I like average joes. So Wes gets himself a job that’ll do the trick to bump up his self-esteem enough that he can go after Reagan and they can get a Happily Ever After.
Here’s where the special snowflake part comes in.
I . . . have problems. Little whispers in me that say I must be different and unique and do the things that no one has done before. So when I give Wesley a job to fix all the things, he’s not a sudden CEO. He doesn’t inherit a law practice that brings in the big bucks. He gets an average job. Better than pizza delivery, not that there's anything wrong with that, but more long-term, able-to-adult, can-support-a-family NORMAL kinda job.
Wait, you’re saying, how does an average job fix everything?
BECAUSE IT DOES!
Why would I want to read about a dude who has a job no better than mine? you ask.
BECAUSE YOU WANT TO READ THIS!
The thing is, his job is just enough of a push to get them where they need to go, but doesn’t strain reality for me. It’s a job a lot of people have, and his paychecks have a comma, but not two or three numbers before said comma. It's also in character for Wesley.
Why did I give him this job?
(aside from what I mentioned above?)
BECAUSE I’M A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE!
If I had a sudden benefactor swoop in with the Benjamins, it's not only too easy, but it's boringly EXPECTED. Furthermore, because I have this charming personality trait, when Wesley and Reagan are in their May/December romance stage where their age gap isn’t just awkward, it’s ILLEGAL, I didn’t follow the normal rules have them just say Screw It and get down and dirty with the hopes that no one would notice.
SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE AWAY!
Wesley flat out refuses to do anything, even KISS Reagan, until she’s of legal age. Once she blows out her birthday candles, however, then that trope is declared defeated and we move onto another.
The point of all this?
I got the tropes, baby. I got the books about the sudden babies and the athletes and the class warfares and all that stuff.
Tropes are GOOD! Tropes are the sub-sub-sub genres people want to read. So give the people what they want and hold your head up high.
Want to make ‘em drool, though?
Give them the tropes, then TWIST them.
Instead of A + B = C, give them A + B = HOLY SHIT, I NEVER SAW THAT COMING!
Start with a trope people know and flock to, and then make it unique.
EMBRACE THE SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES!
And remember, tropes MAY borderline on clichés, and you very well may be tempted to start reading a book and roll your eyes, going, “Oooh, this is one of THOSE books, the books about BLANK.”
HOWEVER, a trope is only a cliché when you don’t Special Snowflake the crap out of it.
Down with Clichés!
Up with Special Snowflake Tropes!
They’re the key to everything. Except my childhood diary. I lost that fucker years ago. If you find it, please, let me know.