It's Time To Ditch These 5 Romance Tropes
Romance readers are connoisseurs of sexy scenes, ravishing relationships, and steamy smooches. We know what we like and we eat it up. And, like any genre, romance has its well-known and well-loved tropes... and then there are those that aren't so well-loved. Here are 5 tropes in romance that really need to die.
Damsels in Distress
Do we even really need to name this one? Why, in 2022, are damsels in distress still a thing? Even Disney has had enough of this trope!
"Damseling" your characters isn't just stale and cliché. It's insulting, and it's weak storytelling. It robs the characters of agency and choice. There are a thousand other, better conflicts to choose from, in which your lead character (of any gender) can take an active role in their story. It's one step away from fridging your characters (if you don't know what I mean by "fridging", Google "women in refrigerators").
Leads deserve more. They deserve to be their own heroes, and their heroes deserve dynamic, active partners. Need an example of "anti-damseling"? Think Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rey is abducted by the baddies, but by the time her male allies arrive to rescue her, she's already escaped her bonds and is halfway to freedom. Damsels don't need rescuing; Damsels are doin' it for themselves.
Conflict Through Miscommunication (or, People Too Dumb to Just Talk to Each Other)
There are far, far too many stories built upon the plot contrivance that two characters can't just talk to one another. Whole novels stem from characters being total boneheads with no concept of communication!
It's not just romance: look at the HBO sensation House of the Dragon. An entire kingdom poised to go to war because two best friends can't find one opportunity over the course of twenty years to just sit down and discuss the issues of inheritance. A father's entire family falls apart because at no point in two decades did he think to sit down and explain his expectations clearly and forthrightly. The entire conflict of the Targaryen household boils down to people too dumb to just talk to each other.
As a trope in romance books, it's high time we jettison this sort of pre-made, paint-by-number conflict. Characters aren't too stupid to discuss their misunderstandings. It wasn't clever in Romeo and Juliet, and it's not clever now.
The "Evil" Other Woman
It's agreed that infidelity doesn't belong in romance (or, if it does, it's a specific subgenre of romance). The "evil" other woman trope, however, exists in stories all across the romance bookshelf: love interests pitted against the lead, reduced to nasty caricatures like Cinderella's wicked stepfamily.
Real people aren't simple, one-dimensional rivals for a hero's heart, and women especially should be learning to uphold and encourage one another, rather than seeing each other as competition for a lover's affections. Too many of us grew up learning to fear and distrust other women and put each other down. We were raised on The Heathers and Mean Girls and even The Great Gatsby (which flipped the trope to give us The Evil Other Man).
But its long past time to get over it. Rivalries can be fun, sure, and antagonists are absolutely necessary to conflict. Reducing those antagonists to flat, rote romantic competition is a tired old horse, though, and frankly I think it's time we stopped beating it to death.
He's so Fine He Blows My Mind (or, "The Guy Next Door is Just So Cute, I Didn't Even Notice This Gruesome Murder Scene I'm Standing In!")
We know there's a lot of ogling in romance books. A lot of ogling. Romance leads spend a generous amount of time eyeing, considering, studying, reflecting on, fantasizing over, and getting lost in the exquisite beauty of their prospective partners. It wouldn't be romance without it!
But there is a limit. That limit is usually when there's a dead body in the vicinity.
I recall reading a rather popular series of paranormal romance books which were also urban fantasy mysteries. You might know it by another name in HBO's popular TV lineup, but that's beside the point. At several points the leading lady—let's call her Cookie—simply can not stop thinking about the sexy credentials of a nearby strapping young lad, even while standing outside the crime scene where a friend had just been found murdered.
I appreciate a sexy body as much as the next romance reader, but there is a time and a place. He might be fine, but if I happen to be dealing with the death of a friend, a letter threatening my life, evidence of a stalker in my house, abrupt news of a relative's passing, or any other profoundly important, life-altering revelation, I guarantee the hunk next door and his fabulous pecs are not at the forefront of my mind.
Spare me romance leads who can't see the forest for the trees, no matter how impeccably sculpted or deliciously endowed those trees may be. Have some sense, please!
"Doms" and "Masters" Who Are Really Just ASSHOLES
What the hell is up with this trope? In recent years we've had 50 Shades and 365 Days, and no shortage of similar "sexy" books masquerading as BDSM. You hardly have to scratch the surface, though, to recognize they aren't safe, sane, or consensual: they're just books where men get off on beating, even sometimes raping, their women, and somehow it's supposed to be romantic.
This trope isn't just tired and weak. It's disgusting, and downright dangerous. Readers curious about BDSM can walk away from these works of fiction romanticizing all the worst parts of lovers calling themselves Doms, who don't know—or don't care—what the word really means. Real BDSM involves two-way communication and deep, hard-earned intimacy. It means trust, and more importantly, honoring trust, such that when your submissive gives their safeword, it is a non-negotiable signal to stop.
True BDSM in consensual and involves understanding: it is not Christian Grey or Massimo forcing their way on women who've denied them because "they know what you really want."
This trope needs a really good kick to the curb, yesterday.
And there you have it. Five tired romance tropes we're ready to leave in the dust. Can you think of any more? Let us know in the comments. We might just do a follow-up!