While I have my favorite romance tropes (forced proximity, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, grumpy vs sunshine), certain themes recur in my books as well. It’s not something I do intentionally or plan ahead. It just keeps happening and I’ve now written enough to notice a few trends.
It might seem counterintuitive, writing primarily a small assortment of favorite recurring romance themes. Except from those few themes extends endless possibilities. Don’t we all know people who have similar issues or character traits to other people you know? Yet, they all make different choices and behave differently.
At its core, romance really is about the journey of two or more characters from a place where they cannot find or keep true love, to a place where they can. Regardless of what might be happening externally with the plot (lost jobs, kidnappings, hockey games, skiing, unruly pets, etc.), the main thru-line is the character arc from unlovable to loved and capable of returning love in a healthy way.
This one journey is different for every character, no matter that they all end in the same place (Happy for now or happily ever after). So I can give ten characters similar issues, but for different reasons, and every journey will be unique. Thus, I’m okay with my penchant for recurring themes.
Lack of agency. Good lord these characters won’t take responsibility for their own lives or happiness. They tend to either float along in a life that’s anywhere from depressing to reasonably fine, or let other people push them in different directions.
I love watching these wishy-washy, spineless, or overly laid-back characters learn how to figure out what they want and go after it—whether that is love, orgasms, a new career or better job, a new lifestyle or home.
Fundamentally flawed and unlovable. No matter how confident they might seem on the surface, or in some parts of their lives, when it comes to love they’ve decided they’re not worthy. These characters truly believe, deep down, whether they admit or not (to themselves or anyone else), that they aren’t deserving of love.
Something wrong with them that makes them unworthy of having someone caring and supportive and loving who wants them to be happy. Somehow they have to learn they are worthy of being loved, sometimes because of, and not in spite of, their perceived flaws.
Screwed up priorities. This is what I call the “you can’t always get what you want, but you just might find, you get what you need” theme (Thanks, Mick). For whatever reason, these characters have a checklist of what they need in their lives and it’s ALL THE WRONG STUFF!
At some point they have to figure out they’ve got their priorities wrong and fix it. Often, true love is staring them in the face and they can’t see because it doesn’t look the way they expected or wanted.
Emotionally unavailable. Hello to all the people who only date casually, or have fuck buddies, or are currently celibate by choice. You’ve got your reasons. But at some point, characters who keep everyone at arms length need to work through their fear of getting hurt again—and whatever happened before—and let someone in. It’s scary, but it’s the only way they can find true love.
What themes resonate with you? Please do comment below.
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