Three of the Most Challenging Romance Tropes and How to Tackle Them

In addition to talking about tips for pulling off these tropes, I’m adding a new category. This week we will look at what makes these tropes challenging. This will let you know up front if you’re falling into common pitfalls of the trope.

Stack of books with baby's breath flowers resting on top
Challenging romance tropes

Marriage of Convenience

What is it?

Marriage of convenience is a step up from last week’s fake dating trope. In these stories, the main couple marries each other for a host of reasons. The point is that it’s beneficial for them to marry over just dating. Like fake dating, a marriage of convenience is usually done to serve the heroes of the story and has a deadline for divorce or separation.

To start, marriage of convenience lovers are looking for higher stakes and love that wasn’t supposed to be there. Lovers of this trope are ready for a little bit of humor with their love because let’s face it, this is an extreme idea. However, what tends to come with extreme ideas tends to be a little humor and lots of heat. 

Best-selling books with marriage of convenience:

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare: The Duke of Asbury needs an heir, but his poor attitude and facial scar scare off all potential wives. Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter, is as good as any bride when she shows up at his house wearing a wedding dress. Mistake or not, he wants to marry her.

The Duchess Deal By Tessa Dare

Terms and Conditions by Lauren Asher: In book 2 in the Dreamland Series, the oldest son, Declan, is being strong-armed into marriage by his deceased grandfather. Consequently, after he scares off yet another contracted bride, his assistant Iris steps up to the plate.

Terms and Conditions by Lauren Asher
What makes marriage of convenience challenging?

It has to be believable that fake dating wouldn’t work and marriage is the only option. In The Duchess Deal, societal norms won’t allow the duke to accept an heir outside of marriage. They pose a challenge because the set-up needs to make the reader believe it’s the only real option.

Furthermore, they are challenging because the characters have to fall in love thinking the other person may want out. It’s a lot of internal dilemmas rather than external forces.

What are tips for making a marriage of convenience work in your book?
  • Spend time on the set-up. Marriage is a step further than fake dating. Even within historical romance, there is a level of dating. Make sure your characters must get married and for a good reason. The will of a deceased relative won’t always be enough. Knowing WHY your characters have to get married is part of the excitement.
  • Build in a small level of disappointment or internal conflict at the decision. Though both characters will go through with the marriage, they’re both giving up prospects of a “love match” as well. Remember they don’t have to dislike the other person, but they’re losing something too. At least they think they are.
  • Try pairing this with the forced proximity trope, and think beyond living together. Naturally, the married couple will live together. With a successful marriage of convenience book, the proximity is meant to build tension. That tension will later be used to bring the couple together.

Second Chance

What is it?

A second-chance romance is what it sounds like. The characters have either been together before or are together and their relationship has hit a point of seemingly no return. The characters are either together and want out or have been apart and reencounter each other.

Readers of this trope are looking for redemption and effort. They want to see their characters grow and transform with each other. These readers don’t want accidental love. They want a love that is fought for and hard-won.

Best-selling books with the second chance trope:

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams: Professional baseball star, Gavin, get kicked out when his wife decides their marriage isn’t what she was hoping for. When his big-wig friends hear of his situation, they band together to help him win her back through romance novels.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

The Mistake by Elle Kennedy: When hockey stud and playboy John Logan meets a girl he can’t get out of his head he panics. His charm doesn’t work on her after he sticks his foot in his mouth and hurts her feelings. Determined to not let her slip through his fingers twice he recruits the help of his teammates to help her see that he’s serious.

The Mistake by Elle Kennedy
What makes a second chance challenging?

This trope is one of the harder ones to pull off because it involves two parts that both have to be believable. First, readers have to understand why the characters aren’t together. Their breakup or near breakup has to be valid. Second, their coming together has to be inevitable and make more sense than their breakup.

Tips for making second chance work for your book:
  • Plot ahead of time. Second-chance romances have a lot of moving parts and require knowing how two stories are going to unfold in (typically) less than 400 pages.
  • Dig into the why of the characters. This is a given for all genres, but as the author, you really need to know why your character or characters wanted out. What was missing that wasn’t worth the hassle?
  • Don’t get too lost in the breakup. The breakup matters a lot. But don’t get too lost in it. Remember that second-chance romances are about growth and, of course, the happily ever after. These are the ultimate love conquers all stories.

Slow Burn

What is it?

Slow burn is a trope and tactic for romance authors. Slow burn is a trope where loads of tension is built between love interests. Depending on the book, the tension can be built over chapters or even books within a series. The more brooding, thinking, and time spent together without acting on their feelings, the better. When the feelings are acted on it can either be sweet and unexpected, think brushing of their hands, or it can be intense and passionate, think hot elevator kissing.

Readers of slow-burn romances want heat! Not only do they want their romances to be hard-won, but they also want them to be intense. They want to be kept on the edge of their seat, flipping pages until the love interests finally get together.

Best-selling books with a slow burn:

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas (Spoiler alert!): The second book in the popular A Court of Thorns and Roses series, most of this book is spent focusing on the aftermath of Feyre’s ordeal in the first book. The tension between Feyre and Rhys builds as they recover from traumatic events and train together for an imminent war. This doesn’t reach a romantic boiling point for about 70% of the book.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Not your typical romance, Kaz and Inez are the fan favorite with their tension built up over years of working together and two books. Furthermore, their traumatic pasts make it nearly impossible to let each other in, yet the temptation is palpable as they execute the biggest heist anyone has seen.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
What makes slow burn challenging?

Easy answer, the pacing. Pacing a slow-burn romance and building enough tension that your readers both care about the couple and have patience is a skill. Authors get excited when writing a romance and are eager for their characters to just get together already, but writing this trope requires patience. Making the readers want to keep turning pages without annoying them with a merry-go-round of triviality poses a challenge to any author.  

Tips for making slow burn work for your book
  • Make readers aware of possible interest in each other from the beginning. This doesn’t have to be obvious. It could be in the way they describe each other, interact, or in the way others view their relationship. However give hints to the reader that this could be something.
  • Highlight other parts of the story. I know I just said to let readers in on it, but that doesn’t mean giving it away. But there needs to be something else in the story that keeps your readers turning pages. Keep in mind, that 300 pages of internal monologue is going to bore anyone. What else in the story makes your characters stay away from each other?
  • Build opportunities for missed opportunities. The “almost” is what the reader wants. Will they, won’t they? Create scenes where the characters almost get together and then can’t for whatever reason. Remember your reader wants to be on the edge of their seat.

Are challenging tropes worth the hassle?

Of course. Readers love these tropes and for good reason. Note that tackling challenging tropes and pushing your writing to a new level shows in how readers enjoy these book. Because these tropes require extra time and digging from the author, they can be more developed. In turn, the reader feel more immersed in the story.

With any trope, more development is better for the reader. Taking on a more challenging trope could be the catalyst to learning more about writing and storytelling, which will always benefit your audience.

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