Since I first discovered romance novels around the age of 12, I have read a lot of them. And I mean A LOT. So many, in fact, that I exhausted the collection at my local library, regularly bought out the drugstore’s supply, and once was almost crushed to death by the stacks and stacks of paperbacks adorning my bedroom. Thank god for e-books.
In my early days as a romance reader, I kept stumbling across the same plots again and again. It was only later that I realized these are tropes of the genre—common storylines that are comforting to us in their familiarity. Maybe it was an ugly-duckling romance, or another arranged marriage. Maybe it was a long-lost love re-found. Regardless, I came to adore certain tropes, and devoured them with the ferocity of a romance-obsessed teenager. Now, a little older and wiser (though not much), I’m here to share a few of the tropes I still can’t get enough of. With a little help from the popular website TV Tropes, here are four common romance novel storylines—and the books that go along with them:
This trope can manifest in several ways —from the arranged marriage, to the marriage of convenience, to the clueless marriage. These are not marriages that start in love: more like politics, family drama, or inheritances. But they certainly lead to love, with a healthy dose of denial and secrets thrown in for good measure.
Personally, I prefer the clueless marriage, where one half of the wedding party does not quite understand what’s happening until it’s too late. This is why I’m obsessed with Julie Garwood’s Scottish romance, The Wedding (or any of her early historical novels, honestly). Garwood’s specialty is beautiful, feisty English women getting carried off by hot, alpha Scottish lairds. The Wedding, fortunately, is no exception. Lady Brenna is traveling to the highlands to get married, but then her future husband’s greatest enemy abducts her. Connor MacAlister marries her out of revenge and she pretty much has no idea what’s happening through most of the first chunk of the novel. It sounds absurd—and trust me, it is—but only in the best, most romantic way.
Hero and heroine have a passionate encounter. Heroine realizes she’s pregnant and, for whatever reason, takes off. Years later, the two meet again, but the heroine is determined to keep little Johnny a secret. Love, heartbreak, broken trust—the unknown child plotline is not for the faint of heart.
There are hundreds and hundreds of unknown child novels (also known as “Secret Baby”), but my favorite is Simply Irresistible, by Rachel Gibson). After leaving her fiancé at the altar, Georgeanne has a passionate affair with John, a professional hockey player. Seven years later, he finds out he has a daughter, and he’s determined to be part of her life. But what does that mean for the star-crossed lovers? Spoiler alert: there’s lots of kissing.
Our love interests come together under the guise of a ‘bet’ of some kind—usually made at the expense of the heroine. He bets he can bed her, or marry her, or resist her, and she’s not very happy about it. Then, of course, they fall in love.
I’m going on record with this—there is no “Bet” romance better than Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie. It stars the overweight and snarky Min who falls hard for traditionally handsome Cal, despite knowing he made a bet to sleep with her within a month of their first meeting. Or did he? The chemistry is off-the-charts, the secrets are deliciously low-stakes, and they make out a lot while eating donuts. Do. Not. Miss. This. Book.
A relatively newer trope tied to the rising popularity of paranormal romances, mind-link mates are instantly—and literally—inside each other’s heads. They can read one another’s thoughts in a physical characteristic that marks them as soulmates. We see this a lot in animal-changeling books: think werewolves, were-tigers, were-anything, really.
No one writes mind-link makes better than Nalini Singh, who utilizes the trope in her popular Psy/Changeling series AND her Guild Hunter series. But the connection works best in Mine to Possess, the story of leopard-changeling Clay. Half-Egyptian and all-hunky, he spent his childhood in poverty, finding a friend in the traumatized Talin. They’re ripped apart as kids, only to find each other later—and this time Clay is no longer hiding his changeling identity. The two communicate with their hearts, their minds, and, uh, definitely with their bodies as well.