The Most Popular Romance Tropes and How to Execute Them

Now that you know that, the next questions are, what are the best selling tropes in romance? What books are using them successfully? And, what are tips to making your favorite trope work for you as an author?

Woman with a purse standing in front of a book shelf that is organized by color from red to brown.
Tropes are in every book

Enemies-to-Lovers Trope

What is it?

Here, the main couple that gets together starts out as enemies and then fall in love. Enemies is a broad definition for their relationship. This could be sports rivals, work nemesis, contracted to kill-each other, and so many other options. The general idea is that tension is built over time due to the main characters being at odds with each other. Eventually, that tension comes to a head when the couple either realizes they must work together or that they actually like each other.

Best-selling books with enemies-to-lovers:

Book Lovers by Emily Henry- Rival authors from different genres challenge each other to write each other’s genre. When the they find out they have more common than they thought, love ensues and plenty of banter because…Emily Henry.

Enemies-to-lovers trope-Book Lovers by Emily Henry

The Hating Game By Sally Thorne- Office rivals compete for the same job in a publishing company merger. An unexpected illness brings them together and to a better understanding of each other.  

Enemies-to-lovers trope-The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
What are tips for making enemies-to-lovers work in your book?

Enemies-to-lovers is for people who love their characters with a little bit of grit. There’s no denying this trope has spread like wildfire thanks to online communities like TikTok, but how do you make it work within your book without writing to the trope or without it feeling forced?

  • Give your characters rich backstories. In other words, make them their own people.
  • Make their rivalry based on more than a misunderstanding. To make readers believe they could be enemies, there needs to be more than perceived dirty looks between the characters.
  • Their rivalry needs to be established outside of their heads. They need to have a known distaste for each other within their inner circles.
  • Use the rivalry to build tension, but plant the idea there is a romantic possibility.
  • Show trust building, before flipping the switch.

Friends-to-Lovers Trope

What is it?

This trope revolves around the main characters having an established friendship before they explore romantic possibilities with each other. Like all other tropes, this situation can run the gambit from childhood friends to work friends and beyond. It revolves around the idea that the characters are well suited for each other, but typically don’t want to ruin the friendship they’ve cultivated.

Best-selling books with friends-to-lovers

The Cheat Sheet by Sarah Adams-The main characters are friends from high school that never happened to be single at the same time. Together through thick and thin, neither one wants to pursue love and rock the boat, potentially ruin something that has been so stable for them.

Friends-to-lovers trope-The Cheat Sheet by Sarah Adams

Lovelight Farms by BK Borison- The heroine owns a Christmas tree farm and enters a contest to help save her farm. However, she lied on her application saying she was dating her real-life friend. She enlists him to fake date (see next trope) to help her win the contest. Spending so much time together lights the spark between them and inspires them to try to be more than friends.

Friends-to-lovers trope-Lovelight Farms by BK Borison
Tips for making friends-to-lovers work for your book

Friends to lovers is designed for our golden retriever romance readers. If you love, love with little tension and low stakes friends-to-lovers is for you. Not only do you get your HEA, you get your warm fuzzies along the way.

  • Establish a friendship without a romantic background first.
  • One or both characters should have romantic leanings from the start.
  • Have the characters start spending more time together. Maybe they were long distance and now they’re not. Maybe they have to work toward a goal together. Pick a reason, but time together is key.
  • Don’t forget to add a few hurtles. It shouldn’t be too easy for them to come together. Readers still want a little conflict, remember too easy can be boring.
  • Work in some tension between the characters. Love and friendship work great together, but neither is free of tension or conflict. Don’t be afraid to let them work for it.

Fake Dating Trope

What is it?

This is different that the other two because the pre-established relationship between the characters doesn’t have to exist. In the fake dating trope, characters pretend to date one another to accomplish separate goals that could be reached by partnering up. This is romance, so that means that usually over the course of dating one or both of the characters find they have real feelings and a real relationship evolves.

Best-selling books with fake dating

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn (Bridgerton)-A debutante and a duke pair up to help each other in the marriage market. He wants to be left alone and she wants to attract more suitors. However, spending so much time together results in some societal line crossing that can’t go ignored and the two of them must marry.

Fake Dating Trope-The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert- After a video of a security guard rescuing a teacher goes viral, our hero begs our heroine to fake date for publicity. He has a charity that could use the publicity. And her? She’s over love, doesn’t need it. As the book rolls on it turns out love isn’t as repugnant as she thought and they take their on-screen romance off-screen.

Fake Dating Trope- Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Tips for making fake dating work for your book

Fake dating is a tried and true trope. It’s an easy favorite and can incorporate friends-to-lover or enemies-to-lovers. Okay… before I get ahead of myself. Here are the tips:

  • Both parties must benefit from the situation. This is a must for this trope. When you drag one party along it holds less interest and is harder to get the reader invested in.
  • There must be external forces that care about the fake dating. Without this, it’s just two people pretending people care who they’re with.
  • Set a clock on the performance. Good fake dating has a time limit.
  • Create an exit plan between the characters. The characters need to have a plan to get out to keep up the façade.
  • When transitioning them from fake dating to real dating, utilize fake dates that are unnecessary. Usually those willing to fake date aren’t usually keen to open up about it becoming real so let it be gradual.

Mixing Tropes

Can you? Yes.

Should you? Definitely.

Will you? Yeah, whether you mean to or not.

    Like I said at the start, you can’t avoid tropes because they’re part of every genre. It’s how we tell stories and there are only so many options for theming when storytelling. You can intentionally mix tropes as I hinted at with fake dating. Or you could let your story evolve and develop tropes further in editing. You may even disassemble tropes that are not working for your story.

    My recommendation if you want to write to a trope is to only write to one or two. If you’re sure enemies-to-lovers is for you and you love fake dating, stop there. That doesn’t mean other tropes won’t appear and be developed, but focusing on working in too many themes starts to read like mad libs. Readers know when you’re pandering for sales and reads disingenuous. Your job as a romance writer is to write a story about love that resonates. It’s not your job to choose what tropes are popular or to guess what readers want to read.

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