The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Genre and Trope and Stuff


As we saw last week, the romance genre is big business.

If you want to break into the romance genre then it is a good idea to know the general tropes. You goal is to write a novel that will meet your readers’ expectations. Remember that romance readers are very knowledgeable. They are also a tight knit community of readers who share the books they love with their friends. There’s a negative side to that knowledge and community as well. If you don’t give them what they expect, in a bad way, they will tell their friends. So give them what they want.

How do you come up with an idea for a romance that meets your readers expectations? Use tropes. A trope is a common device for storytelling, and every romance reader knows them. There are generally three sub-categories for romance tropes: Situational, Character, and Sexual.


  • Accidental Pregnancy
  • Accidental Wedding
  • Arranged Marriage
  • Boardroom Romance
  • Blackmail
  • Revenge
  • Marriage of Convenience
  • Baby on the Doorstep
  • Emotional Rebirth
  • Bait and Switch
  • Reunited Lovers
  • The Bet
  • Secret Baby
  • Fake Engagement/Fake Marriage
  • Amnesia
  • Mistaken Identity
  • Redemption
  • Secret Romance
  • Cinderella
  • Stranded
  • Forced Proximity
  • Charity Auction
  • Road Trip
  • Endangered Reputation


  • Boss/Employee
  • Friends to Lovers
  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Matchmaker
  • Tycoon/Billionaire
  • Reunited Lovers
  • Bride
  • Sheikh
  • Cowboy
  • Bad Girl/Rich Boy
  • Love Triangle
  • Different Worlds
  • Older Brother’s Best Friend/Best Friend’s Little Sister/variations
  • Ugly Duckling
  • Troubled Marriage
  • Long Lost Love
  • The One Who Got Away
  • Girl/Boy Next Door
  • Right Under Your Nose
  • Nanny/Governess
  • Caretaker
  • Protector/Woman in Jeopardy
  • Tortured Hero
  • Reformed Player/Rake
  • Athlete/Sports
  • Spinster
  • Spy
  • Highwayman/Outlaw
  • Orphan
  • Fallen Woman/Courtesan


  • Fling
  • One Night Stand
  • Wrong Bed
  • Intimate Strangers
  • Friends With Benefits

Yes, these are tried and true storytelling devices. Your job as a writer is to take the tried and true and put some fresh new twist on it. If you follow the general guideline that your primary character is someone readers can identify with, the love interest is charming, and the relationship seems impossible until the two characters fall in love and the book ends happily, you can write just about anything else you want.

Romance as a genre is wide open. Readers are voracious and always on the hunt for new authors, and new series. The potential to earn a great living is at hand. But you have to work at it.

Next time: more on the genre specific

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Genre and Trope and Stuff


We’re focusing on the romance genre this week. If you write urban fantasy or another genre, don’t be dismayed. Ideally, there are things you can glean for yourself even in a discussion about the romance genre.

Miscellaneous goodies:

  • In 2013, romance sales were $1.08 billion
  • The audience for romance is 84% female, 16% male
  • Romance sales are approximately 13% of all books sold
  • In 2014, Romance sales equated to 24% of all Adult Fiction Sales
  • 50% of all mass market paperbacks are romance
  • Romance is the largest selling genre of Adult Fiction Sales
  • Romance readers know what encapsulates the central story so you can’t fool them
  • Romance readers like variety so writers have a lot to play with around the central story requirement
  • Most romance readers are educated
  • Most work full-time jobs
  • Most are married
  • Most read voraciously

What makes it a romance?

There are romantic elements in many fiction books and everything from crime stories to westerns can have romantic elements, but this does not make them romance novels. In romance novels, the primary focus of the story is the romantic relationship and everything that happens in the book including the plot, the conflict, and the setting, drives the romantic relationship.

In romance novels, generally, the primary character is someone that readers can identify with. The love interest is charming. The relationship seems impossible, but the story has a believable plot filled with emotional tension until the two characters fall in love and the book ends happily. Most romances are heterosexual based stories, but there is also a market for LBGTQI romances.

Note that Erotica is NOT the same thing as romance, though there is erotic romance. Erotica is about exploring sexual situations for the emotional, social, psychological, and physical issues and is often more about power or image or social standing and/or acceptance. Erotica is not about the relationship.

Distinction within the romance genre:

  • Category romance (series romances)
  • Mainstream (single titles)



  • Contemporary
  • Historical
  • Gothic
  • Inspirational (faith-based)
  • Regency
  • Romantic comedy
  • Romantic suspense
  • Paranormal
  • Western
  • Etc…

More genre-specific goodies next week!


The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Genre and Trope and Stuff

Sometimes I am a dumbass. I know you find it hard to believe, but it is true. Some of my professed dumbassedness is self-inflicted. I go against my gut, or more often, my schedule, and I get myself dug deep into some pit of Hell I don’t want to be in. This happens with good intentions initially (admittedly it happens much less often these days because an abundant amount of dumbassedness had magically transformed into hardassedness) because I want to do something a little different, or help someone.

But it sometimes happens and I accept a freelance project that I don’t really want.

That’s a lie.

I did want it. I just didn’t spend enough time in the pre-editing phase to accurately judge how much time and work this monster, uh, I mean, manuscript, would actually take. If I had, I might had passed on it. Usually, I am a pretty good judge of my time. I know that I can edit a generally well-polished manuscript at so many pages per hour. Before I accept a freelance job, I read through the story, usually focusing on the beginning and the ending, with some skim through the middle. I can usually tell what kind of edit needs to happen, and how long it will take, and how much it will cost (the author or publishing house).

But sometimes, the writer has polished the beginning, and worked on their ending, but left everything else alone. There are hidden demons lurking in the depths just waiting to jump out scare the crap out of me as an editor. My mouth will start speaking of its own accord, “How the (censored-bleep-censored) fix that?”

And that is how I got stuck slogging through a Hellish middle of a weirdly mixed-genre story.

What started out as a particular genre story, say for example a historical romance, took a turn for the worse and rode the rails to genre Hell. It only matters because if you tell your reader that you are giving them a particular genre, a romance for example, but somewhere along the middle it turns into a YA-thriller-with-only-a-minor-love-interest-and-no-real-romance…it’s can be a problem. Your reader bought your book expecting a romance and they will be very unhappy that they didn’t get what they paid for.

Wouldn’t you be?

So, over the next unspecified block of time, I am going to focus on genre-specific information. I am sure I will digress with other topics as I am prone to do. Hopefully, these posts will be helpful to all. I do believe that a well-crafted story is a well-crafted story regardless of genre, so even though I may write something focused on mystery, there will hopefully be something that can apply to everyone.



The Writer’s Bag of Tricks


Last week we considered the question of What If with regard to creating complex characters. I thought it would be good to push the Muse a bit more and continue with the What If conceptidea to help us brainstorm our book ideas. You can use What If to create characters and plot. You can also use What If to work through motivation issues. You can use What if to help figure out setting. You can use the What If concept for most things, actually.

So, let’s say we have our dichotomous character (see last week’s post for details) and we want to create a story premise that we can use to figure out our plot and outline.

What does the character’s dichotomous contradiction suggest with regards to what could happen? What if your character is a computer hacker with a conscience because their parents were activists for race equality, and the repercussions of the activism had affected our character in both positive and negative ways? And what if our hacker got a job at a big corporation, and discovered some information that put the security of the nation at risk? And what if part of that threat involved putting a certain group of people in peril and the only way to know when and where a bomb would go off would be to hack into a government database, held by the corporation, which was illegal? And what if our hacker found the information, but then got arrested for the security breach? You can use the complex characterizations to create your plot just by asking what if.

What would motivate your character through the conflict? What if our hacker was in love with someone who was in the group targeted by the corporation? What if hacking into the government database went against what our hacker believed in, but if they didn’t find the information the love interest would die? What if love was enough to push your character into action? What if it wasn’t? What if the information would also redeem the hackers parents who were on a terrorism watch list because of their activism? What if the character knew the parents were innocent and the information could change their lives? What if the parents were guilty? You can use the dichotomous characterizations to work out the motivation. Do you see how it works?

What kinds of things would trip this character up? Ask what if questions and come up with things that would create conflict for our hacker. This is a good exercise to get the brainstorming muse rolling.

What emotions could be evoked by your dichotomous character that you could use to come up with a universal premise? Think about all the potential emotions that arise while asking what if.

If you take the time to work through these questions in detail, you will, very quickly, come up with your plot, character, conflict, and theme, by the way, also known as the story premise (See 11/25/15 post for more information on premise). The premise will help keep your story on track as you plot it, help you with pitching your story to publishers, editors, and agents, and help you with marketing your book as back cover copy when you publish it.

It’s a simple concept, putting dichotomous things together. Taking a few extra minutes asking What If about all those contradictions will help you formulate an interesting premise. It is a priceless practice for brainstorming your novel ideas.