Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tried and True? Favorite Romance Novel Plots by Alison Henderson

“The course of true love never did run smooth.” ~ William Shakespeare

This quote got me thinking – which is the point of these quotes, after all. One of our main jobs as romance writers is to make sure Shakespeare’s axiom lives and breathes in our stories. If the course of our lovers’ true love ran smooth, who would want to read the book? We have to constantly figure out new ways to torture our characters and keep them apart.

Or do we?

One of the biggest complaints about romance novels by non-romance-novel-readers is that they’re all the same; they’re too predictable. We all know this is baloney. The number of individual treatments of the same broad themes is limited only by the number of romance writers. We could each write a story based on the same basic plot, and each story would be unique. Just look at what the Roses of Prose can do to a Christmas story starting with the same first line!.

That being said, there are a number of popular, tried-and-true romance plots that have stood the test of time. I came across this list on a loop many years ago.

  1. Secret Baby
  2. Cinderella (rags to riches)
  3. Opposites Attract
  4. Bodyguard
  5. Second Chance/ First Love Rekindled
  6. Reunion
  7. Stranded
  8. Love Triangle
  9. Marriage of Convenience
  10. Beauty and the Beast
  11. Sleeping Beauty/Ugly Duckling
  12. Amnesia
  13. Fish Out of Water
  14. Blackmail/Revenge
  15. Forbidden Love
  16. Mentor/Protégé (boss/employee)
  17. Princess/Pauper; King/Beggar Maid
  18. Bad Boy/Good Girl (or vice versa)
  19. Best Friends
  20. The Road to Adventure

Nearly every romance novel I can think of is some version of one or more of these basic plots. When I look at my own published books I can see that Harvest of Dreams is basically a Bodyguard story. A Man Like That is a Bad Boy/Good Girl. The Treasure of Como Bluff is a Fish Out of Water. And Unwritten Rules is another Bodyguard story.

Certain tropes resonate with us while others leave us flat. For example, I’d be very surprised if I ever wrote a Blackmail/Revenge or Mentor/Protégé story. They just don’t push my buttons. Which are your favorites to read? To write?



Leah St. James said...

My favorites to read are Cinderella (probably a remnant of too much childhood daydreaming) and the marriage of convenience angle. Interestingly, I haven't written either of those! I think my first book is the fish out of water. I can't quite define the others! Fun post, Alison!

Jannine Gallant said...

I think all my suspense books are basically bodyguards, but I have a few second chance or best friends ones. Funny how we tend to gravitate toward the same themes over and over. Maybe we should pick a trope instead of a first line for next year's Christmas stories just to show how many different stories can be written using these old tried and true plot devices!

Margo Hoornstra said...

It seems I tend to prefer the second chance, first love, best friends kind of stories. Tried to do a love triangle once. It wasn't me. Nice angle on the quote, Alison. Interesting.

Katie O'Sullivan said...

I've read before that there are a finite number of plots but an infinite number of ways to bring them to life. I love your summary list, as each definition is broad yet specific. Nice post!

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, I love Cinderella and Marriage of Convenience plots, too. I'm not sure why I haven't written any yet. Maybe one day ...

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, that is a really fun idea for our Christmas stories - shake things up a little.

Alison Henderson said...

Margo, this list shows just how universal, yet personal, romantic fantasy can be. Some themes really strike a chord and others just don't.

Alison Henderson said...

Hi Katie! That's the fun of these tropes. They can produce an infinite variety of stories.

Jana Richards said...

In historicals, I like the marriage of convenience trope. In contemporaries, I enjoy reading the the bodyguard, second chance or friends to lovers story. The marriage of convenience trope is difficult to do in a contemporary setting. I'm attempting a marriage of convenience/friends to lovers story in one of my WIPs at the moment. Not sure I've hit the right note with it yet. Still working on it!

Barbara Edwards said...

I love marriage of convenience, then the secret baby, although I don't write either. LOL

Alison Henderson said...

Jana, I applaud you for trying the Marriage of Convenience in a modern contemporary. I remember a few from several years ago, but it is definitely hard to pull off.

Alison Henderson said...

Barb, it's funny how we don't always write some of our favorite tropes to read. I'm the same way.

Leah St. James said...

I love Jannine's idea for this year's holiday stories, too!

Diane Burton said...

I,too, like Jannine's idea for this year's holiday stories.

I tend to write Road to Adventure stories. Sometimes I include a secondary trope--just to keep things different. :)