On Writing

150 Romance novel tropes

Tropes are everywhere. In Shakespeare, Austen, everyday language and your favourite TV shows. Tropes are common situations in narratives that help structure a story. ‘Enemies to Lovers’ is a very popular trope which can be found in The Taming of the Shrew, Pride and Prejudice, The Hating Game, and You’ve got Mail. Tropes are commonly used story devices that we all recognise on some level.

Even though the term trope can be used in a derogatory way to imply that the author is resorting to cliche, they are still to be found at the heart of every story. Moreover, multiple tropes can exist in one story. If we look at the romance specific tropes in You’ve got Mail, there are lots to be found:

  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Pen pals/ secret identity
  • Work adversaries
  • Rich vs poor/ unequal social status
  • Opposites attract

You can read about more of the general tropes found in You’ve Got Mail here.

The 12 most popular tropes in romance novels

Here are the twelve most popular tropes used in romance novels. Bear in mind some tropes are loved by some and loathed by others. Tropes also come in and out of fashion. Virgin falling for alpha male Arab Sheikh who forces himself on her, used to be very popular. Not so much now. Having said that, there’s now the explosion of the ‘dark’ romance genre, where everything from kidnap and forced marriage, to bullying and aggressive/ violent sex is explored.

  • Friends to lovers
  • Enemies to lovers
  • Forbidden love
  • Secret identity/billionaire/royal
  • Stuck together – ‘trapped in an elevator’
  • Best friend’s brother/sister
  • Second chance
  • Soul mates
  • Fake relationship
  • Wedding fever – runaway brides/jilted/best men/wedding planners
  • Amnesia/mistaken identity
  • Holiday romances/flings

How can tropes go wrong?

The first issue with tropes is when they are used with a heavy hand. So, if we have the ‘friends to lovers’ trope with no explanation as to why they are friends and what makes their relationship a success, then simply calling them ‘friends’ then having them get drunk and make out isn’t going to cut it. They have to have more to their relationship than the one point connection of a trope.

If you have the trope of continual ‘will they, won’t they’ sexual tension between your characters, then the longer it is eked out, the more annoyed your reader is likely to be. When I was writing Highland Games, the first sex scene didn’t happen until ninety percent through. At the time of writing, I was nervous about writing my first sex scene and felt that I had to fall in love with Rory before he could have sex with Zoe/me… My alpha reader was literally screaming at me down the phone to make things happen between them. Rest assured, nookie was brought forward considerably in subsequent drafts.

Other issues surround the tropes themselves. After Fifty Shades of Grey exploded into the houses of pretty much everyone on the planet, the market boomed with the Billionaire alpha male dom/virgin female sub-trope. This may float many people’s boats, but it’s not my cup of tea, and when I accidentally read a well-reviewed book that had a female ‘liking’ pain and humiliation at the hands of a jealous misogynist who controlled every aspect of her life, it affected me in a really bad way. This is a shame, as I’ve read some excellent BDSM books such as The Naughty Pine, which show BDSM in a truly consensual way and that made sense to the vanilla ice cream that is me…

As sexual politics and society changes, so do tropes. In today’s society it’s okay to write a female heroine who initiates sex without her being viewed as some kind of unstable jezebel. However as we move (hopefully) forward, I still find myself accidentally handling a trope in a way that offends even my own sensibilities. Just as I was in the planning stages of Musical Games, I read a fantastic blog entitled ‘Ten romance tropes that need to die already’. I saw a scene I had imagined between Sam and Jamie in a whole new way, and as such have changed it.

How to use tropes

Tropes should serve your story, not the other way around. What is most important in your story are your characters, the relationship between them, and the ‘journey’ they go on. Tropes work best when you don’t notice them, or can subvert them in some way. Imagine if Ana was the billionairess alpha dom in Fifty Shades of Grey, and Christian the poor virginal sub. Thinking of it in those terms makes that particular trope even more unpleasant to me. An example that would work in my world would be to use the ‘May to December’ age gap trope but have the man the younger party. I actually have a book in my head (currently about book fifteen), which explores this issue, using the example of a male friend of mine who is in a long-term relationship with his best friend’s mum. Yep! You read that right. I know someone in a very loving, and very sexual relationship with his best mate’s mother… How’s about that for an interesting take on a trope?

Tropes used in my books

When I first started writing romance, I had no idea what a ‘trope’ was. I started writing about specific people in specific situations. It was only after my first beta readers came back that I learned this new word, and which ones I had inadvertently used. I’m still not sure of all the tropes that are in Highland Games, but have identified the following:

Enemies to lovers

Fish out of water

Opposites attract


Sworn off relationships

Forbidden love

Oblivious to love

Unrequited love

Trapped in an elevator

Alpha hero

Work colleagues

Dark secret

Emotional scars


Rejected as unworthy by parents and former lovers

Damsel in distress

Dude in distress


Different worlds

Secret identity

Sunny vs grumpy

Phew! I am gobsmacked by this now that I’ve written it out. Obviously some are bigger than others, but these are all tropes that people will recognise on some level.

List of 150 Romance Tropes

writing tropes

Rather than list these romance tropes alphabetically, I’ve tried to organise them into groups with similar themes. Many are applicable to several groups, and some are so iconic they need to stand on their own.


Friends to lovers

Best friend’s sibling

Best friend’s lover

Best friend’s ex

Fake relationship

Marriage pact

Innocent cohabitation

Pen pals 

Matchmaker/ matchmaker gone wrong


Enemies to lovers

Old enemies – from school/work/anything


Nobody thinks it will work


Bully turned nice guy


Not good enough for him/her (pov of anyone)

Pen pals

Sworn off a relationship


Parent with new love – kids want them to get together or don’t want them to

Step siblings



Parent and child’s carer/teacher/nanny

Sibling’s ex


Love interest reminds of estranged family member

Sudden/unexpected baby (can be coupled with fling/one night stand)

Forbidden love/star-crossed lovers

Blind to love

Everyone can see it (fits well with friends to lovers)

Oblivious to love

Last to know

Fall in love with the wrong person

Pen pals 

Sworn off a relationship


Changing sexual preferences. This may be seen as very contentious but in real life, these situations do occur.

Secrets, disguises, surprises

Secret baby

Sudden/unexpected baby

Secret admirer


Secret royal/billionaire/boss

Mistaken identity

Two person love triangle (mistaken identity) eg superman

Is it all as it seems?

Undercover love

Secret/lost heir

Unrequited love

Mistaken declaration of love leads to love/can be coupled with marriage of honour

Virgin/unexpected virgin

Rags to riches

Reality TV show

Fling/one night stand (can lead to unexpected baby)



Arranged marriage

Altar diplomacy (arranged for political reasons)

Honorable marriage (typical of historical novels)

Marriage before romance

Vegas/drunk marriage

Jilted bride

Runaway bride

In love with best man/chief bridesmaid/groom/ etc

Double-in-law marriage

Marriage pact

Mistaken declaration of love leads to love

Forced Proximity

‘Trapped in an elevator’ – two people who barely know each other, or don’t like each other are forced together into a relatively small space.


Innocent cohabitation

Three’s a crowd

Love triangle/imaginary love triangle

Two person love triangle (mistaken identity) eg superman

If I can’t have you, nobody will

Unrequited love

Matchmaker gone wrong

One true love/Here we go again

Destined to be together/one true love/soulmate/fate

Love at first sight/‘insta love’

Love potion


Star-crossed lovers

Age gap (‘May to December’)

Good people have good sex – anything prior to this relationship is not good for some reason

Long distance relationship

Second chance romance/first love

You’ve changed/on the rocks – couple then have to find their way back to each other

Belated love epiphany

Star-crossed lovers

Return to hometown/reunion romance

The one that got away

All grown up

Sworn off a relationship

Working with the ex


Beauty and the Beast

Playboy/rake in love

Sleeps with everyone but you

Loveable rogue

Fall in love with the wrong person

Beauty and the Beast

Ugly duckling – beautiful all along



Antihero /All girls want bad boys/ Alpha hero

Bully turned nice guy

Not good enough for him/her (pov of anyone)

Open your eyes!

Sorry, I’m taken

Unattainable love interest/one -sided

Dating the wrong person/fall in love with the wrong person

Unrequited love

Sworn off a relationship

Fling/one night stand (can lead to unexpected baby)

Grow a pair

Afraid to commit

Can’t spit it out/Say I love you or how they feel

Lovers in denial

All grown up


Men in uniform

Billionaire/rock star/actor/performer/celebrity/cowboy/military/law enforcement/athlete/etc





Office romance/work colleagues/boss/employee

Working with the ex

Dark past

Dark secret

Emotional scars

Broken in some way

Rejected as unworthy by parents, friends or former lovers


Break up to save him/her


Damsel/dude in distress



Too dumb to live (protagonist – usually female – makes stupid decisions designed to land her in trouble so the hero can save her)


Road trip


Opposites attract

Sunny vs grumpy/ spontaneous vs serious/messy vs neat etc

Rich vs poor

Physically very different – huge guy/tiny girl and the opposite

Love interest has profession protagonist hates

Want different things – eg one wants true love, the other a fling/one wants city life, the other country

Age gap (‘May to December’)

Social inferior/different social class/different worlds

Bonus extras (can go anywhere)



Blind date

Fairytale retelling/eg Cinderella story/Beauty and the Beast

Fish out of water

Road trip

Time travel

So there you go. One hundred and fifty romance tropes for you to get stuck into. If you want a copy of this list then we have a print out available to download for free here.

Want to read more about romance tropes?

If you want to disappear down a rabbit hole for several hours, then finally come up for air, wide eyed and dribbling, check out this list of romance tropes from TV Tropes.

Indie romance author Victorine Lieske has written a very comprehensive list of tropes in alphabetical order that you can find here

Reedsy is a great resource for writers with a wealth of articles. Here is one from them about romance tropes.

So, let me know. What romance tropes are your favourites? Which ones did I miss out? Can you spot any others in any of my books? Let me know your thoughts and comments via email or social media!

Evie X