In honor of Valentine’s day, I wanted to dedicate this week’s post to romance tropes. Almost every young adult novel has a romantic subplot, and it can be really easy to fall into a cliché plotline.
Importantly, not all tropes are clichés, and especially with romance subplots, readers often appreciate being able to categorize the relationship arc as something they have previously read. The easiest way to ensure your plot is well-developed and interesting is to be aware of the tropes and clichés and understand how to twist them into something unique.
This is probably the hardest romance trope to write well because it has been used so much in so many popular novels. From Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby to The Hunger Games and Twilight, love triangles have been a part of pop culture for a long time. The key is to write a love triangle that is unique enough for readers to avoid drawing parallels to existent love triangles.
As with any other plot or subplot, the outcome should not be predictable, so the central character needs to truly be stuck between their options. There should be a strong case for both suitors, and the final decision should not be influenced by external factors.
Also, it’s really easy to accidentally use gender stereotypes when writing a love triangle. Think about it. How many people do you know who are actually sought after—and truly loved—by more than one suitor? Often, the character at the center of the love triangle is conventionally attractive and meets standard beauty expectations, which makes for an overly cliché and unrealistic storyline. Think about why multiple characters are interested in the same character. What aspects of their personality and background make them attractive?
One way to make a love triangle more unique is to use a different shape. Maybe your story has a love line, in which no love is reciprocated (yet).
Star Crossed Lovers
A tale as old as time, star crossed lovers is the tie that binds Romeo and Juliet and Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, as with most tropes, there is no surprise ending that will come off as completely unique. Both the tragic ending and happy ending have been done numerous times. The least cliché and most relatable ending will be somewhere in the middle, where the characters gain something and lose something.
It’s also important to remember to start such plots well. How do these star crossed lovers meet when they are not supposed to? Why do they fall in love when they have the rest of the world to choose from? Why don’t their circumstances sway them away from pursuing a relationship?
Or maybe they do. Your unexpected twist could be avoiding the trope entirely.
Another trope is forced love. Characters are often forced by their families or situation to fall in love or pretend to be in love. These often result in the characters trying to escape (and often end with the characters falling in love anyway).
To avoid making this one cliché, I suggest simply avoiding making the characters fall in love anyway. If they escape their situation, what are the odds they would actually reunite on purpose or by accident and fall in love?
Maybe, instead of the characters running away from their fate, they try to make it work. Arranged marriages have been—and continue to be—a part of many cultures, and they often work out well. Even if the two characters don’t actually fall in love, maybe they become good friends and work together to avoid being forced into a relationship.
As with all other tropes, you can make this work if you develop your characters and their relationship well.
Enemies to Lovers
This is everyone’s favorite romance trope, right? People who would otherwise be on opposite sides of history fall in love. One important thing to remember when developing this trope is to make all interactions between the characters natural. Show how their love is strong enough to overcome their enmity. Don’t let your two characters love each other because of the way they tortured or manipulated each other. Show that the characters are willing to disobey orders and go out of their way to help each other. Also, their initial enmity should not have sprung from personal desire. If you don’t follow these suggestions, the relationship will come across as toxic. Make sure you are developing a healthy relationship, even if it has dark origins.
One cliché way for two enemies to fall in love is disguise. Neither character knows who the other is, so they are able to truly understand each other’s personality. This can be done well if you avoid classic methods of disguise (masquerade party, online communication, etc.).
No matter what genre you read, you have probably seen versions of all of these tropes in many books. As you read, try to categorize the romantic subplots and understand what makes the plot in each particular book unique, and think about how you can apply that to your own works.