Romance novel tropes that we love and that we hate

Hate:  Anything where something was misheard and if the characters just @#$ing talked to each other that big misunderstanding would be cleared up and the book would have ended in chapter 3.

Love:  When the main character tries to play matchmaker disastrously and ends up falling for the person she’s supposed to be matchmaking.  (And everything turns out great for the other half of the pair as well.)  Bonus points for same-sex couples getting together.

Hate:  September/May romances with super young heroines unless they’re done really well and don’t seem like pedophilia.

Love:  When characters are forced into a relationship (not a forced sexual or romantic relationship because that’s awful, but like they both have guardianship of the same dog or house or something) and through working together they come to love each other.

Hate:  When one or both of the main characters is too dumb to live.

Love:  When the hero asks if it’s ok to kiss the heroine (and she says yes!)

Hate:  Anything non-consensual.  When the hero refuses to take no for an answer.

Love:  Feisty older ladies like aunties who scheme in a good way.  Also young managing misses too, like BFFs or sisters.  So long as it all turns out for the best.

Hate:  When the main characters don’t come clean to each other soon enough.  He or she is actually rich.  Or he’s really his brother.  They get some leeway here if the reason they don’t come clean is because they’re in love and the other protagonist hates wealthy people, or if the future of England will be compromised if ze drops hir disguise,  but never if they just think it’s amusing to let the other person think she’s falling in love with the gardener even though she’s a lady and it’s a regency romance (for example).  And if the latter does happen, then at that point, the hero needs to LOSE the girl until he makes it up to her by losing some of his dignity as well so he’s learned his lesson about not being a jerk.  Heroes are redeemable, but they shouldn’t be allowed to end the book as jackasses.

Love:  Coincidences that turn out not to be actually coincidences, but part of an intricate plot to get everything to work out.  (Real coincidences in moderation, but be light on the deus ex machina.)

Hate:  when she takes off her glasses she’s actually beautiful, not mousy, like she was with them on.  Glasses make a woman automatically ugly.

Love:  Strong well-developed supporting characters who have personalities and aren’t just 2-d stereotypes.  (Whether or not they fall in love with someone by the end of the book!)

Hate:  All the characters are disagreeable.

Love:  When two old battleaxes fall for each other while trying to help the youngsters.  (or rekindle their romance from their younger days)

Hate:  Heroine bemoans that she’s too busty for fashionable beauty.  Really, your boobs are too big, and that’s your problem?

Love:  Women have genuine friendships and value them highly.

Hate:  You can tell who will end up in bed together by who hates each other the most at the start.

Love:  When there are multiple ways for everything to come out just right in the end– the characters don’t just wait on deus ex machina fate to intervene.

What are your favorite and least favorite romance tropes?

62 Responses to “Romance novel tropes that we love and that we hate”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Since you have such a detailed list of specifications, maybe you should write one.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Why? It’s not like there aren’t hundreds of thousands to choose from. I’m sure you have things you like and dislike about cheeses or whiskeys but that doesn’t mean you have to make one.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        I would love to make cheese and whiskey!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, then WHY DON’T YOU?

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        I got no cows and no still!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, why don’t you move someplace where you can get those?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 says she thinks that what you meant is that we’re such awesome writers that we’d write great romance novels. Not that we’re not allowed to have preferences unless we put our money where our mouths are. Which was your intention?

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        I take a deconstructionist view of authorial intent.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You’re really working hard for the patriarchy this week, CPP. This isn’t your only attempt at silencing someone that we’ve seen on the interwebs.

        It seems like you’ve silenced all our readers. :( I was really looking forward to the light-hearted responses that this post would bring too. They were going to cheer up a hard-core working/moving day.

        Hey everyone! It’s ok to have likes and dislikes even if you have a comparative (or absolute) advantage in something else! And it’s great to express those likes and dislikes! And it’s ok to have likes and dislikes that are different from other people’s (assuming you don’t hurt anyone acting on said preferences– consent is important).

      • Debbie M Says:

        I just found this; Comradde PhysioProffe didn’t silence me! Though CP, if you would love to make cheese or whiskey, you really should think about doing so! (I don’t think you need your own cow for cheese. Or even your own goat, which would be easier and could also replace your lawn mower.)

        Of course when you have multiple interests, it’s impossible to have time to do everything you want to do, so you just try to get the most important or fun or high-return things in.

        (I absolutely cannot write fiction. But I did try! It turns out that since I can’t think of good characters or good plots, I can’t actually write books I like.) I think we can recognize that it’s hard to get a plot going without having characters lie to each other–but that doesn’t me we have to like it!

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        Holy crap. Just saw your other comment. It is never my intent to silence you guys! I thought I was providing a light-hearted response!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        ok, I apologize for misinterpreting then

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        No worries! Your blogge is one of my favorites!

  2. Debbie M Says:

    Good list. Especially about people not communicating with each other and (unless there’s a VERY good reason) lying to each other. Lying to each other to save their feelings is never a good reason–people should know the truth, even bad or scary truths. Then they can make better decisions.

    Hate: Not just the glasses–I usually dislike any kind of makeover. Although for some reason I don’t mind it if someone realizes that someone else could be more than just a great friend (though it’s obvious to everyone else that they could belong together) when the other person dresses up. Maybe if the makeover is temporary and the realization is permanent, that’s okay?

    Love: I like not just asking permission to kiss, but all kinds of politenesses. People do not say thank you enough (especially in movies.) Or apologize.

    Hate: I hate when two people are not supposed to be together, and one person goes to kiss the other one and the other one doesn’t resist. You actually can refrain from kissing someone you are attracted to–even if they start it–if you are already married to someone else, etc. Really.

    Love: I like it when if there’s trouble, the female helps somehow instead of just standing around. I also like it when people aren’t afraid to look like a coward in order to keep people from getting hurt (though that’s not really a romance genre thing).

    Love: I like when two people do the best thing even if it’s not socially acceptable. I’m specifically thinking of a situation in a Georgette Heyer book where the two people finally figure out that actually, they CAN run off and elope–none of the reasons that it’s simply NOT DONE apply to them!

    Love: Happy endings for everyone. Like when the icky people find someone to appreciate them and who don’t mind their ickiness. Or they just can’t help being less icky for someone they actually like.

  3. Leigh Says:

    You already have such an extensive list that it’s hard to add to! (That’s my excuse #1) My other excuse is that when I’m reading romance novels, I usually don’t spend time analyzing them.

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    FYI the other half of us actually has written romance. But it is a secret so don’t tell anybody, ok?

  5. Rented life Says:

    I think I’ve only ever read 1 romance novel and that was so long ago. I should try again I guess. I do watch a lot of rom-coms though.

    In any book where there may be romance on top of whatever else is going on, I love a good build up. The romantic tension, a good kiss–if I can get chills reading about a kiss then the author made me happy.

    And characters too dumb to live shouldn’t be allowed in any book. Drives me nuts. Also authors whole major mathematical errors like saying someone graduated one year but the age is 5 years off of that and the character isn’t a genius or anything.

    I try to write little romantic short stories. No one hates each other tons and then ends up together (drives me nuts when that’s always the path taken). I try to create situations characters have to navigate–distance, class, significantly different life experiences that the other hasn’t even considered before. And of course I want to write that great kiss. Autocorrect wants to keep changing “kiss” to “kids”. Why?)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t mind characters too dumb to live so long as they’re side characters! Ridiculous characters can make fun macguffins. But they’re not easy to identify with.

      • Rented life Says:

        I guess I would any any character I struggle to identify with. Ex: If they are sooo angry all the time no matter what then I just can’t bring myself to care what happens to them.

  6. chacha1 Says:

    Love: historically accurate complications, like the fact that never-married women could own property in only very specific and rare instances until, like, 1910.

    Hate: in historicals, careless anachronisms and the employment of current trend-speak like “Let’s do this.” Gaaaaahh. I would call this a trope only because I know some writers actively try to make their historical characters sound “current” so that readers can “relate.” Gaaaaahh.

    Love: a good animal character.

    Hate: secret babies.

    Love: the damaged hero.

    Hate: the alpha-a-hole hero. (commonly abbreviated to alphole. you’re welcome)

    Love: sexy sex scenes.

    Hate: virgin breaking-in sex scenes complete with rapturous orgasms. Gimme a break.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      hahaha, alphole!

      disagree on that last one… orgasms can be pretty darn rapturous, even the first one!

      oh, I remember the hate I keep forgetting to put up here: when the hero’s damage is that he was dumped as a teenager and his “true love” married someone else and that’s why he’s been a dissolute rogue and had series of mistresses lo these past 10-20 years. You were 16, she married someone else. Get over it. Most of us do! If he’s going to be a damaged rogue, he needs some more damage to his backstory than just he got dumped as a teenager. (Or that he got dumped and then she wanted to have an affair with him a couple years later.) Maybe if she dumped him for his father’s murderer…

      • chacha1 Says:

        sounds like a good potential plot, there. :-)

        re: rapturous orgasms, maybe I should clarify to to virgin breaking-in sex scenes complete with agonizing pain due to hero’s huge, um, talent; and then magical rapturous orgasm. Maybe it’s just my experience, but agonizing pain has never been followed up by a rapturous orgasm!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        oh, I haven’t seen those– it’s always a little bit of discomfort followed by the heavens opening

  7. Tree of Knowledge Says:

    Your first and third hates seem to be major problems in sitcoms and dramas too. It’s been a couple of weeks since either Husband or I have yelled at the tv for that, but we’ve been watching more sci-fi and geeky stuff lately. So I also hate those in all narrative forms.

    Most of my romance reading has been paranormal of late, but I was a big fan of historical romances when I was younger.

    Hate: Thin plots that only exist to get you from one sex scene to the next. I love a good sex scene, but if the novel falls apart without them, it’s not very good. (Action movies and musicals are often guilty of the same thing but with songs and fights.)

    Love: A well-done Byronic hero.

    Hate: Rape as plot point (this is a big problem in fantasy too).

    Love: Honest characters.

    Hate: The spinster trope, whether she’s the heroine or the sad aunt.

    Love: A slow build up with lots of furtive glances and maneuvering just for a simple touch.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Rape as a plot point just sucks. Have you read Seanan McGuire’s post on that? She’s SO right. And there’s a great something tigerbeatdown post about that with Game of Thrones. Ridiculous.

      I kind of like the spinster trope (she’s 27 and happily on the shelf! Little does she know, but this season she will find love), but it’s important that it be a happy spinster, not a sad one, and love the slow build up with furtive glances and maneuvering just for a simple touch. :) I’m still on my regency kick if you can’t tell.

      • Tree of Knowledge Says:

        Happy spinsters are great. I just can’t think of a romance I’ve read where that happens. Mysteries, yes; romances, no. But my romance reading is limited. I got burnt out by all of the historical romance reading which contained way too many of my first and second hates. But I will take recommendations for happy spinster romances!

        And I have read Seanan McGuire’s post. It is great.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Several Heyer heroines are happily on-the-shelf (Frederica, for example!)… it’s a pretty common regency trope. Wealthy women could wait for true love depending on what their inheritance situation was like.

    • Leah Says:

      Rape (or sexual assault or even some mild forcing) is a huge turn off for me, such that I will often put down the book or turn off the movie. It’s a big part of why I can’t stand the musical Fantasticks, and I can’t believe people still stage that. I get that it’s supposed to be satirical and all, but I don’t trust the vast majority of people to be that analytical about their entertainment.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hm… the “rape” in the Fantasticks is only a fake attempted abduction planned by the dads that neither the ingenues knows about. There’s no actual coersion or anything involved, she doesn’t actually get abducted, it’s just the dads trying to trick their kids. (If the son were setting it up, that would be problematic, but it’s the dads stupidly trying to be matchmakers.) And the second half of the show teaches the dads that their behaviors in the first half were pretty silly, so it certainly isn’t condoning their behavior.

        (The Fantasticks is one of my favorite musicals because it’s so right about so many things about growing up… but only in the second half.)

      • Tree of Knowledge Says:

        I check for this before buying books now because it drives me crazy and I will stop reading or watching. I’ve read some wonderful books where characters recover from a rape, but that is the plot and it’s treated seriously (though still disturbing). Trivializing sexual assault is just not okay.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We check for it too. Thank goodness for those 1-star amazon reviews. I can’t believe authors still write this stuff and people still like to read books with it.

        Rape as MacGuffin or as character development is, as Seanan McGuire tells us, trite and lazy. Yes, there are probably some books in which it’s done well (not the type I read, because they’re not comedies), but it’s way way over-used as a plot device.

  8. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    Love, when female leads are good at a stereotypical male thing.

    Hate, when said lead is not believable, too mannish and I can’t relate to the character.

  9. CG Says:

    I’ve never read an honest-to-goodness romance novel, although I am a big fan of some other genre fiction (namely mysteries). I have always (apparently unfairly, since you all are smart people), dismissed them as dumb. If I were to read one as a gateway to the genre, which one would you recommend?

  10. Cloud Says:

    Hmmm, romance isn’t usually my thing, except when it is written by Jane Austen. Which would seem to imply that romance *could* be my thing if I’d give it a fair chance, huh? But I guess I’ve run across too many crappy ones with too many of your hate tropes….

    I did recently read a book called The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo (by Zen Cho) and it turned out to be a romance. I haven’t decided what I think, really, but I did enjoy the main character. Maybe I need to read it again to see if I want to recommend it on Tungsten Hippo. It is a novella, so qualifies.

    Also, I have to stick up for the complaint about having breasts that are too large. Fashion does indeed cycle through periods where it is next to impossible to find something fashionable and flattering. And then there is the t-shirt problem. I enjoy funny t-shirts, but mostly they don’t come in a cut that works on me. And don’t even get me started on the fact that it is next to impossible to find a good, comfortable bra in my size and when I find one it costs $80-$100 and I buy 4 anyway. Yes, I know, in the grand scheme of things, these are small problems. But I still whine about them from time to time….

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You too would probably like Frederica, by Georgette Heyer. (Because it’s awesome!)

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yes, Georgette Heyer, for when you run out of Jane Austen books. I can’t guarantee you will never run out of Georgette Heyer books, but it will take longer, even if you just read her romances.

        Regency romances are different from modern romances because marriage is much more of a a life-or-death issue and there is a very short time window for women: hold out too long for someone good and you might be out on the streets. So it’s like a suspenseful thriller about people who are stuck in the house most of the day. (Wait, I’m not making that sound good.)

        I agree, Frederica is in my top three (and I’ve read most of them). It has great characters, character development, kids, a big dog, science, and adventure.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        And not *all* of Heyer’s romances are good… but most of them are. For a heuristic, the ones that start with a woman’s name are generally her best. (Frederica, Venetia, the Grand Sophy, etc.)

  11. Sapience Says:

    Love: feminist heroes, even if they don’t start off that way. Men who are more interested in helping women do what they want/need to do than in protecting them.

    Hate: Overprotective heroes, who try and keep doing their love interests from doing anything interesting (Willing to make allowances if over the course of the novel, he learns the error of his ways, repents, and agrees to be her adventuring partner for the rest of their lives.) Double Hate: Overprotective heroes who go into overdrive protectiveness if a woman is pregnant, and refuse to let her get out of bed.

    Love: man falling for woman (and woman for man) when they are both working so hard not to fall in love with anyone.

  12. J Liedl Says:

    Hate: Secret baby stories where they had a one-night stand and now she’s either well along in the pregnancy when he discovers this or has already borne the child.

    Love: Heroes who recognize and appreciate smart people around them, including (especially), the heroine!

    Hate: Where the heroine is instantly and totally transformed with one haircut and a change in the colour palette of her wardrobe.

    Love: Snarky or sarcastic leads who can also be genuine.

  13. Rosa Says:

    My recent pet peeve is modern settings where the plot does not take into account the fact that these people have cell phones. CALL to say you will be late! SEND A TEXT. Take a picture of the dude you suspect is stalking you and send it to your friend! Check your phone and see if someone called while you were in the closet making out with that dude. USE YOUR PHONE. I know you have one!

    I did notice on a recent reread that in Bet Me the hero uses his cell phone appropriately at least once – they have just escaped a horrible dinner party and realize they need to tell his sister in law something, and instead of going back the hero calls her. But it’s rare enough I notice it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a benefit to regencies! But it is crazy how very many movie plots would fall apart given cellphones.

      • Rosa Says:

        I do get tired of regencies sometimes – I like hotter, more explicit sex and the regencies that have that tend to be full of anachronistic language & other things I share on your peeve list. Other kinds of historicals are pretty thin on the ground these days (plus I just can’t do Americana set in the South or West because of the way they treat slavery and Native people. Remember back in the ’90s there was a brief outbreak of Colonial era historicals? That was nice.)

        The current takeover by paranormals means I keep running into a magical version of the cell phone issue, only it’s even worse – honey you are PSYCHIC. PAY ATTENTION. Or ask your damn familiar or whatever. Superpowers ruin lots of standard plots.

        So I end up trolling the contemporaries and being sad until I find an author I hadn’t read before who did historicals right. Like Balogh, who I discovered pretty recently and we talked about on your other post. Reading Grace Burrowes right now, on either a rec here or some other site.

  14. Louisa Says:

    This is an excellent list, as I’m currently doing research to write a series of Regency Romance novels. Good to know what readers think, and also know that I agree with a lot of what you don’t like about the genre! Here’s hoping I can do something different with it. :)

    Thanks for posting!

  15. Rosaetta Says:

    I love it when characters get together and really like each other. One plot I’m growing to hate is when a hero gets a heroine pregnant in High School and she’s still hung up on him years later. I’ve stopped reading a romantic suspense writer because this one is in almost all of her books.

  16. sskskso Says:

    When characters are forced into a relationship (not a forced sexual or romantic relationship because that’s awful, but like they both have guardianship of the same dog or house or something) and through working together they come to love each other.
    For some reason if this trope is canon and related to a plot that isn’t about their romance love it but if the trope is in say a fanfic and the characters get transplanted into another universe (say Mugglifying all the witches and wizards or moving everyone in Les Misérables to a modern day apartment) I dislike it. Not sure why.

  17. katie KofeMug Says:

    ITA about the elongated misunderstanding – yuck!
    No one has mentioned Farce, Romps, and Humor?! I’m thinking of Barbara Metzger / Joan Smith / Lynn Messina type Romances. Love to Laugh when reading about Love!
    Also love TwoFers. Enjoy the old skool style of more than one romance in a book IF they’re given equal time & both fully developed.
    Being an old biddy, I do love those spinster, widow, & mature women discovering aging isn’t the end of romance.
    Thanks for the thots

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