You say trope like it’s a bad thing..
What’s a trope?
- 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
Despite the erroneous definitions already published here, TROPE on the interwebs really refers to an often overused plot device. It can also be described as another variation on the same theme. TV shows, movies, comics, games, anime’, & books are full of tropes & many rabid fan-sites now name & track said tropes with a self-explanatory title for each one.
Not all tropes are bad, until Hollywood gets stuck on one.
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, but they WILL turn ugly if cheated of their rightful HEA. It won’t be pretty.
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 my review (here) of author Cindy Dorminy’s In A Jam. She presented a romance that ticked off all the tropes yet also managed to be funny and entertaining. I decided to go back and look at her earlier release, Left Hanging, to see how she approached a by-the-book romance.
As a nurse and single mom, Darla Battle hides her loneliness behind a smile. But when she discovers that the new cute doctor everyone is talking about is her daughter’s father, she knows she needs to keep her distance from the man who abandoned her and their child, Stella.
When Theo Edwards returns to Nashville to finish his medical training, he never expects to run into Darla, a girl he spent one night with seven years ago. For reasons he can’t fathom, her attitude toward him is frosty, but he still hopes to ignite the spark they once felt.
Once Darla realizes Theo doesn’t know he’s Stella’s father, she has no idea how to tell him the truth. And the longer she waits, the more difficult it becomes. When the situation spins out of control, can the two come together for the sake of their daughter? Or is forgiveness out of reach.
In reviewing Left Hanging, author Cindy Dorminy’s first novel, I noticed the ways she used some of the genre’s more common tropes. She doesn’t waste time in letting readers know where the book is heading. From the first paragraph, we know that shy nursing student Darla is attracted to pre-med frat boy Theo. Together they escape a typical frat party to play games. No, not those kind of games. Assigning each other nicknames of Romeo and Juliet, they play childhood games like tic-tac-toe and hangman. Okay, you’re right. Then they play those other kinds of games. Only, the building catches fire and somehow they’re separated before ever learning each other’s real names.
So basically, we have that staple of every romance novel ever. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl have a misunderstanding and fate separates them.
Are you ready for more romance trope-ing? Here we go (with standard romance tropes marked in pink)! [WARNING: SPOILER ALERT—they do!]
Once upon an extruded book product (formula romance), a man and a woman meet cute. 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 forget about using protection. Or telling each other their names. In addition, the law of inverse fertility kicks in. He’s been told he can’t father a child? She’s alone in the world and struggling? Since one time is enough, (especially if the woman is an orphan and/or a teenager) she is of course, pregnant.
But although they are instantly in lust, having them get married and live happily ever after wouldn’t even get us past chapter one. Instead, they part, both damaged by love. But through a convoluted series of misunderstandings that leave you wondering how they get dressed in the morning, let alone hold down professional jobs, she bravely raises the cutest child ever born, while he of course shacks up with her ex-roommate (which he totally doesn’t enjoy because he’s already been glittery hoo-had).
Fast forward seven years, and they meet again. Now mama is a nurse (with the required posse of gay best friend and snarky girlfriend), and daddy is the new doctor at her hospital. After panting about it for a while, they start to wonder if intimate healing would help. Their unresolved sexual tension continues for several more chapters. Showers are involved. Will they or won’t they? They will. They do. Although he is not a virgin (along with a daughter, they also share a former roommate), she has so little sexual experience—and certainly none recently—as to be almost a virgin. (Can too. Shut up.)
He cannot spit it out, so she believes he doesn’t love her and they part. He is miserable (courtesy of the glittery hoo-ha), finally realizing that he must follow her and complete the ritual grovel—“There were so many times I wanted to hold you until you cried yourself to sleep, but I was too hurt and stubborn.” (Said no actual guy ever.) [SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve never in your life read a romance novel and don’t want to know how this one ends, skip to next paragraph.] After his excellent grovel, of course, they live Happily-Ever-After.
Altogether, this is a totally satisfying romance which hits all the tropes, allows you to like both main characters, and even throws in an adorable child whose life is in danger. My only real complaint about Left Hanging is that the story, which head-hops between the two leads, is told in a first-person present voice that actually sounds pretty much the same for both Daria and Theo. I know they are a doctor and a nurse, both intellectually challenging and high stress roles, but it makes them sound a bit like middle school girls. (Theo is especially needy.)
So: a formula? Yes. A required HEA 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 there, and the sex is behind closed doors but this side of steamy. The writing is 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 to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
NOTE from Barb: One of the things I love about reviewing is seeing how writers grow and change with each new book. I especially love the differences between Cindy Dorminy’s books. In her latest release, In A Jam, she has a unique and funny voice for her main character which shows a confident, responsive development from her earlier book. I completely recommend both reads.