Retro Reads is a series of posts highlighting the best, most interesting, and most hilarious trends of the fiction of yesteryear.
A trope is a common theme or plot device used in creative works like novels and movies – and boy howdy, do we like them in romance. Tvtropes.com lists “virtually all tropes concerning romantic love” and even has a separate page with examples of romance novel tropes. Romance readers and bloggers have gone so far as to develop our own shorthand lingo for discussing tropes. For example, if you especially enjoy a particular plot, it is your “catnip”.
Some examples of common romance tropes include:
- Amnesia (hero or heroine)
- Secret Baby
- Friends to Lovers (similar to Boy/girl Next Door)
- Insta-love/lust (this pops up in paranormal romances often)
- Marriage of Convenience (very common in historicals)
- Billionaire hero
- Motorcycle Club hero (this one is newly popular in the past few years)
As you might expect, the titles and covers that these tropes produce are, by turns, hilarious, inspired, and confusing. Many romance novels combine tropes, like the well-known-in-the-romance-community classic, Pregnesia by Carly Cassidy. (Read a review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books here).
I haven’t read Pregnesia, but the description isn’t nearly as wild as the title, which makes me wonder if the title was chosen in seriousness or if it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek.
Former navy SEAL Lucas Washington was an expert at tackling impossible missions. But when a striking–and very pregnant–woman turned up in a car he was repossessing, suddenly he was in over his head. Shaken and bruised, she couldn’t remember what had happened to her or why she was terrified of going to the police. Lucas made it clear he could be trusted, and vowed to protect her until she was safe. Hours turned to days as they searched for clues to her hidden past. Then a family came to claim her, and a happy ending seemed imminent. But had he just delivered his Jane Doe to safety…or into the hands of a killer?
Many of these tropes have serious issues for some modern romance readers, especially tropes that were prevalent in the early days of romance. “Reluctant Virgin Heroine”, which was once de rigour, almost required, can now read like rape given our current acknowledgment that clear consent is necessary for consensual sexual intimacy. That being said, there is an argument to be made that “reluctant consent” was a necessary plot device at a certain time in order for women to be shown enjoying sex. Indeed, if romance heroines of the 70s hadn’t overwhelmingly been reluctant virgins, the books that came before the modern crop of romance fiction might never have been published.
There is also something to be said for the fact that romance novels are fiction, and authors and readers often use books to explore themes and relationships that ARE problematic in real life, but still merit discussion. Motorcycle club romances are a great example of this for me, some of which have a focus on rigid social hierarchy in which a biker’s “old lady” must do what she is told and violence is often the answer to conflict. To me, reading one of these books can be an almost anthropological experience.
One thing that bothers many readers when they start an MC romance are the terms used for women. In a club, women who are married or permanently attached to men are called “old ladies” or “property.” Some of them even wear vests that clearly say, “Property of (man’s name).” That’s appalling to the average modern woman, and I was horrified by it myself.
But the women I’ve talked to in clubs feel differently. What isn’t immediately clear to outsiders (“citizens”) is that when a woman puts on a property patch, her man is taking one hundred percent responsibility for her actions. That requires complete trust—and it isn’t given lightly.