You say trope like it’s a bad thing..
- a : a word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech
b : a common or overused theme or device : cliché <the usual horror movie tropes>
- : a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages
Why do writers love tropes? Because they work. Even when they’re tired and overworked, they are distilled code, and we can automatically decode all the bigger references and pieces there. Until we can’t—we just can’t take any more. (We need another Superman movie? Really?)
Take the romance novel genre. Arguably the most successful literary genre in the past hundred years, it has spawned untold numbers of subgenres from historical to paranormal to contemporary to erotic and everything in between as long as there is a happily-ever-after. The audience is reportedly insatiable, with readers commonly churning through a book a day.
I’ve heard a lot of theories, from biology (women get turned on between their ears, while men focus a bit further south) to sociology (the patriarchal system is depressing, so romance novels provide a coping mechanism) to anthropology (society has evolved into social misogyny that approves the message in romance novels).
But here’s a thought. Maybe romance as a genre is popular because it’s just that good.
Even if, as Sturgeons’ law tells us, “90% of everything is crud”, that still leaves vast treasures in the top 10%. Of course, that bottom 90% used to be hidden by the traditional publishing industry which kept its finger in the proverbial dyke. With electronic publishing, floodgates opened to an ocean of romance novels at every level of quality.
And maybe that’s the answer. Like restaurants, demand can be at a variety of levels from budget-priced fast serve to the most refined gourmet palate. As long as it meets the basic requirements of the genre—that happily-ever-after—romance novelists can laugh all the way to the bank, and romance fans will never go hungry.
Hey! (I thought you were going to talk about tropes?)
Well, yes. Yes I was. Because just like we can count on hearing “Would you like fries with that?” at a fast food restaurant, we can expect certain recurring tropes from romance novels. (See how I brought us back on task, boys and girls? That’s because I’m a professional writer. Don’t try this at home.) For example, take a look at Sandy Curtis’ contemporary romance, The Marriage Merger.
In reviewing The Marriage Merger by best-selling Australian writer Sandy Curtis, I noticed the ways she used some of the genre’s more common tropes. Sandy doesn’t waste time in letting readers know where the book is heading. From the first words— “SEXY. Undeniably sexy.”—we know that beautiful Jenna Martin is attracted to drop-panties sexy Braden Fleetwood, her brother’s boss. Thanks to some meddling by her brother, pediatric therapist Jenna ends up living in Braden’s home, caring for his injured and traumatized niece. Predictably, the two come up with reasons why their mutual attraction shouldn’t be consummated, and spend the next fifteen-thousand words thinking about the sex they’re not having. In trope-terms, that means the story is the following: [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!]
Once upon an extruded book product (formula romance), a man and a woman meet cute. But although they each see the other as sexually desirable, they have both been damaged by love. After panting about it for a while, they start to wonder if intimate healing would help. But that’s going to have to wait for at least twelve-thousand more words because his adorable little niece has been traumatized in the accident that killed her father and left her mother an emotional wreck. So the woman becomes the child’s magical nanny, sensing exactly what it’s going to take to help the child not only walk again, but (probably) also talk.
Of course, while all that’s going on, the man—who is actually a billionaire boss with apparently a one-hour work week—keeps reminding himself that he has been damaged by love and certainly doesn’t want what the girl or any other woman has to offer. Instead, he’s looking for a marriage merger (arranged marriage, NOT to be confused with a marriage of convenience which would, of course, mean the couple’s immediate and passionate attachment could be consummated at earliest convenience) with a heartless, money-grubbing but coolly beautiful bitch. (No, that sentence is too long even for me to get through it.) Luckily, the man only distrusts women because of the actions of one bad woman, and thus his attitude problems can be cured by the love of a good woman.
Since all men are rapists, he often is so overcome with desire for the woman that he will attempt to make love to her without her consent. (This also leads to strange neurological conditions in which his eyes change color and her blood makes noises.)
“Steel-grey eyes now turned brilliant blue with raging desire. Before she could reply, before she could shake herself free from the power of his onslaught, his lips took hers with a hunger that was echoed in the strength of his arms as they pulled her greedily against his lean body. Her first stunned reaction was to fight him, to push against his chest with determined hands. But he held her fast, and the raging passion in his kiss made the blood sing in her veins. Her resistance crumbled, her body melted into his, her hands sliding up to capture his head.”
Luckily, that gives her the chance to submit to his power onslaughting ways and get what she wants without having to feel guilty that she had intended to avoid this, both because of her past romantic damage and the fact that she’s actually his employee.
Despite his onslaughting, however, their unresolved sexual tension continues for several more chapters. Showers are involved. Will they or won’t they? They will. They do. Although the man is not a virgin (he’s pretty much been a randy horn dog who bonks anything that moves), she has so little sexual experience—and certainly none recently—as to be almost a virgin (Can too. Shut up.) But once her glittery hoo-ha gets the job done, he realizes that he will never again have satisfying sex with any other woman. This is lucky, because blinded by the glittering of said hoo-ha, they forgot about using protection. Since one time is enough, she is of course, pregnant.
He cannot spit it out, so she believes he doesn’t love her and leaves. He is miserable (courtesy of the glittery hoo-ha), finally realizing that he must follow her and complete the ritual grovel—“His grey eyes were bright with pleading, his hands reaching out to her, then lowering hesitantly.” After his excellent grovel, of course, they live Happily-Ever-After.
My only complaint about The Marriage Merger is that dominance outside the bedroom just isn’t sexy in this day and age. So next time, billionaire boss, ask her permission before commencing with any power onslaughtage. And, unless you want to make some lawyers very happy, please don’t onslaught your employee.
So: a formula? Yes. A required happily-ever-after ending? Of course. But worth the read? Yes, if contemporary romance is your thing. This is a three+-star formula romance in the capable hands of a good writer. The characters have flaws, quirks, and a sense of humor. The sexual tension is well done, and the sex is steamy but this side of erotic. The writing is crisp, well-edited, and never loses sight of that happily-ever-after target. All in all, a sweet story where the ending delivers just what readers expect.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
He wants a solution.
Jenna Martin knows a great body when she sees one. After all, bodies are her business. And Braden Fleetwood has the sexiest body she’s seen in a long time.
But one disastrous love affair was enough. She doesn’t need to fall for someone like him.
Braden has always been in control, building up his business empire, protecting his sister, taking pride in his strong-minded niece; but now he is frustrated beyond measure, helpless to restore the shattered lives of the only people he has allowed himself to love.
What he doesn’t want is the woman he needs.
Can they both learn that healing isn’t always physical?
Book Title: The Marriage Merger
Author: Sandy Curtis
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 155 pages
Publisher: Ormiston Press (April 15, 2015)
Contact and Buy Links:
Sandy Curtis writes contemporary romance for Ormiston Press’s Lavish Novels line, and is also the author of seven romantic thrillers published in Australia and Germany, two of which have been finalists in the Romantic Book of the Year Award.
Sandy has presented many writing workshops including 10 days teaching creative writing at the University of Southern Queensland McGregor Summer Schools, given library talks, and been a panellist at writers’ festivals.
In 2010 she was awarded the Regional Arts Australia Volunteer Award for Sustained Contribution to the arts in regional Queensland, and in December 2012 she was selected by the Queensland Writers Centre to receive the Johnno Award for outstanding contributions to writing in Queensland.