Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tropes in Romance: Good or Bad?

I can hear some of you asking now, what is a trope? Simply, a trope is a cliché, a common (sometimes overused) literary device. Some common romance tropes are the virgin, friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, lovers torn apart, The Big Misunderstanding, The Bad Boy, the brooding vampire, insta-love, etc. There is an endless list of tropes easily found in just about every romance title, be it mainstream or gay romance, and every genre has its own special tropes readers either love or hate.

So, the question becomes, are these tropes good or bad? Do they add to a novel or detract? I know a lot of authors and readers who would say to bury the trope deeply, or subvert it in some way. And I agree, subversion of a trope can be an awesome way to bring something unique into a genre full of tropes. For example, vampires and shifters. The images of the brooding vampire or the dark alpha shifter are classics that can be found throughout the genre.

Imagine a vampire who has every reason on earth to hate himself. He’s a murderer, a thief, a seducer. But, because he has someone in his life that reminds him of all the good he has done alongside the bad, he remains optimistic about his existence. Instead of brooding, as a vampire might if he hates who and what he is, he instead revels in the positive aspects of his affliction, finding love and peace rather than endless angst and self-loathing. This would be a new take on an otherwise tired trope.

A subversion of the dark alpha shifter could be a headstrong beta who challenges the alpha of the pack for leadership, but then loses. Here, the main character has been built up as the big bad shifter, one who will take down the current alpha, and then fails spectacularly. The trope has been taken and turned on its ear, because he is the dark alpha-minded shifter, but he really isn’t alpha material. Not yet, anyway.

At the same time, though, taking a trope and owning it 100% is just as valid. The author just has to do it right, sell the reader on it from page one. Don’t half-ass your handling of a trope. That leads to unhappy readers, poor reviews, and a discouraged author. If you’re going to write your two main characters falling in love within the first four sentences of meeting one another, then take that up right to the end. Explore what happens with fated love, with soulmates, with what appears to be the loss of free choice. If you have a Bad Boy, keep him bad from beginning to end, even if he does have a heart of gold under all the rust.

Tropes are great literary devices, and no one can escape them. They creep into all writing, television, movies, plays, music. They’re just there, the undercurrent of the familiar. Tropes aren’t good or bad. They are what they are, and in the hands of a skilled author, a reader can be taken on an amazing journey.

Where you can find S.L. Armstrong:
Twitter: @_slarmstrong

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