Thursday, October 1, 2020

When good tropes go bad by Courtney Maguire

Seems like this is the month for tropes. I promise I didn't plan it like that. I just realised that I assumed everyone would know what a trope is but I've seen some people asking questions about it. A trope is a common theme in a romance that usually forms the basis for the overarching story. Tropes are many and varied and can range from simple to complex. Some more popular tropes include second chance romance and enemies to lovers. So without much further ado, let's welcome Courtney as she takes us through some tropes, when they are good, and when they are not.

Kissing hand with frog ring - the princess and the frog

Tropes are the backbone of any good romance, so much so that social media promotion often consists of just a list. Enemies to lovers. Fake relationship. There’s only one bed. It’s the first thing savvy romance readers say when recommending a book to others and we all have our favorites.

But, what happens when they go wrong?

We’ve all experienced it. You snuggle down into your favorite chair with a cup of tea and the new forced proximity romance a friend recommended to you only to realize a few chapters in that the heroine is being held against her will by a mean-tempered alpha type and what you thought would be a sexy bedtime read turns into a nightmare.

Listen. I get it. Romance is fantasy and tropes exist to heighten that fantasy. But, what happens when they go too far and romanticize dangerous behaviors? For example:

Couple with wedding bouquet

Enemies to Lovers or the Actually Abusive Alpha
Enemies to lovers is my absolute favorite trope. I love everything about it. Give me all the bickering couples dripping with sexual tension. The more angst the better. In my opinion, a good enemies to lovers romance consists of two people who under normal circumstances might not even be friends finding a mutual understanding that leads to respect and eventually love. It should feel like the characters are walking a tightrope toward each other. Finding their way to each other is delicate and treacherous. One wrong step, and both characters fall.


Tension is one thing. Cruelty is another. The biggest mistake I see made with this trope is characters that are simply mean to each other. Petty arguments turn into deeply personal jabs, rivalries devolve into sabotage, and the turn toward romance somehow magically erases all the hurts that lead up to it. The hero is no longer a jerk, he’s ‘passionate.’ The heroine is no longer manipulative, she’s ‘driven.’ Mutually abusive behavior becomes romanticized because now they’re in love.

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert

Who Did it Well
One of my most recent enemies to lovers reads and one that, in my opinion, did everything right is Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert. It’s the story of two young men on a road trip to a gaming convention where they will compete against each other in a Magic the Gathering-style card game tournament. Alden is abrasive and unyielding while Conner is carefree and spontaneous. The first half of the book is these two getting on each other’s last nerve, but at no point is their bickering mean spirited. Alden isn’t great at reading social cues and Conner isn’t great at reading Alden. Even though they are in direct competition, they never once even consider sabotage and even help each other along the way. Gradual understanding leads to respect and romance, resulting in a sweet happy ending.

Workplace Romance or a Quick Trip to HR
Workplace romances can be scintillating. Longing looks over the edge of a cubicle. Flirting over stale breakroom coffee. The company policy taboo. Maybe even a company trip with a shared hotel room and *gasp* only one bed. Sounds like an exciting setup to me.


Workplace romances must be handled delicately, especially when involving a power imbalance. The CEO and the secretary sounds hot but what happens when the secretary has second thoughts about their relationship? Or the CEO’s advances become aggressive and start happening at work? If she refuses, is her job at risk? Add a controlling, Alpha-type hero and what you have is a recipe for sexual harassment. Workplace sexual harassment is no joke and something that most women, and likely some men, will encounter at some point in their working life. Thanks to movements like #metoo, people are speaking up more than ever before, but it is still often tolerated or ignored out of fear of losing jobs or opportunities. If the power imbalance of the working relationship is mirrored in the romantic one, I find myself questioning consent. And that’s just icky.

Salt and Stilettos by Janet Walden-West

Who Did it Well
Salt + Stilettos by Janet Walden-West is the story of a Miami image consultant, Brett, and her client. Chef William Te’o. Brett is tasked with whipping the awkward but brilliant Will into shape as the face of his new restaurant. Brett largely wears the pants in their working relationship, but as their relationship grows into something more personal, they find themselves on more even footing. Their relationship is built on mutual respect and, even when their professional relationship complicated things, I felt that either would be free to walk away from the romantic relationship without jeopardizing the working one.

Beauty and the Beast or Stockholm Syndrome Survivor
Fairytale retellings--Beauty and the Beast in particular--are all the rage right now and for good reason. Who doesn’t love a dose of childhood nostalgia aged up for adult consumption? Mystery, magic, and a grumpy hero with a secret soft underbelly? Yes, please! Not to mention, it’s packed with tropes--forced proximity and enemies to lovers to name the most obvious--that will make any romance lover swoon.


When you strip Beauty and the Beast down to its basic concepts, what you are left with is an abductee falling for her abductor. This is a recipe for trouble in the modern romance and loyal retellings often fall into the trap. A common girl kidnapped by a fairy prince, for example. Romanticizing Stockholm Syndrome is icky at best and dangerous at worst, especially when marketed to young people. Kidnapping isn’t romantic, it’s a felony.

Neauregard and the Beast by Evie Drae

Who Did it Well
Beauregard and the Beast by Evie Drae is the story of Bo Wilkins who finds himself working as a live-in assistant to Adam “The Beast” Littrell, an MMA fighter with a rough reputation. It doesn’t take long for Bo to see Adam’s soft side and their working relationship blooms into a sweet romance. Beauregard and the Beast hits all the story beats you’d expect from a Beauty and the Beast retelling MINUS the kidnapping. Bo, though hesitant at times, is working for Adam of his own free will and their relationship develops naturally without any of the consent issues found in the original.

Tropes are a wonderful tool both for writing and talking about romance, but just like any tool can be dangerous if not wielded properly. Have you ever seen a good trope go bad? Let me know in the comments. And until we meet again, please trope responsibly.

What an interesting look at both sides of the trope coin. And now, let's check out one of Courtney's latest releases.

Bloodlaced by Courtney Maguire blurb

Bloodlaced by Courtney Maguire
Purchase link: Amazon

About the author

Courtney Maguire

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