Jennifer Lyon

Monday, February 22nd, 2016
Romancing the Trope

It’s Business Monday! If you’d like to see previous Business Monday posts, here are the links:

Creating A Business Plan Part 1 Intro and Reviewing 2015 (Post Date 1/18/16)

Creating A Business Plan Part 2 Goals for 2016 (Post Date 1/25/16)

Creating A Business Plan Part 3 How I developed my project maps (Post Date 2/1/16)

Networking Tips (Post Date 2/15/16)

Today I’m going to share with you all my fairly comprehensive  handout, plus notes to clarify points for this blog, that I used in the past when I gave a workshop on Romancing the Trope. Tropes have tremendous emotional power that readers connect with when they are skillfully utilized. In my original handout and workshop I have three parts, Conception, Execution and Marketing. Due to space limitations, I eliminated the marketing section. I’ll do that one in another blog. Please note that I designed this handout for the workshop, and added in some notes for this blog, so please don’t copy and share without permission.

Tropes, for the purposes of the workshop and blog, are recognizable themes used over and over because they hook readers. There’s a list of some popular romance tropes at the end of this blog, however some quick examples are: Billionaires, cowboys, secret babies, tortured heroes, best friend’s little sister and fish out of water are all themes/archetypes that are commonly called tropes.

I will be using examples from two of my books, HER TEMPORARY HERO by Jennifer Apodaca and THE PLUS ONE CHRONICLES by Jennifer Lyon as examples.

Romancing the Trope Handout

By Jennifer Apodaca / Jennifer Lyon


This is the stage where we come up with the idea. No matter what your process is—a plotter who does a fifty page outline or a pantzer who comes up with an opening scene and dives right in—identifying your tropes at this stage will help you focus the book. You want to know your tropes before you start because:

 Tropes are your hooks. 

In the HER TEMPORARY HERO my three main tropes are:

–Marriage of Convenience

–Baby on Doorstep

–Tortured Alpha Hero

I worked all three tropes into the opening set up when Logan Knight, a former Marine struggling with PTSD, comes home to his ranch to find a beautiful woman and baby hiding in his house. In that scene I reveal:

–Logan’s trigger for his PTSD is children, especially babies. He can’t ever have a real marriage and family because of that. TORTURED ALPHA HERO trope—former Marine hits the Alpha portion of that.

–He needs a wife by his thirtieth birthday to secure his land—land that he plans to build Camp Warrior Recovery for Veterans struggling with PTSD on. (MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE)

–Becky, the heroine, is desperate, on the run from an ex and needs a temporary hero to save her baby. (BABY ON DOORSTEP)

Choosing and Layering Tropes Gives Your Book Wider Appeal.

Layering tropes just means using more than one, and making them work together to deepen the story, widen the appeal and create conflict. In HER TEMPORARY HERO, a woman trying to protect her baby creates immediately sympathy for her, that’s the appeal. And for the conflict–Logan has PTSD triggered by children and finds a baby in his house. Instant conflict, what is Logan going to do? Throw out a woman and child? Not if he’s a hero of a romance book, and that creates conflict. How can he help this woman and child, and not destroy himself in the process? See how the tropes are working together?

For a bigger book like the THE PLUS ONE CHRONICLES Trilogy, I took it a step farther by choosing tropes and weaving them together in a way that creates a more complex storyline.

— Redemption is the over-arching trope running through all three books. The hero, Sloane Michaels must make a choice between Love and Vengeance, one will destroy him and one will save him. It’s an age-old trope, but very powerful and hooks readers.

More specific tropes in the books are:

–Revenge/Vengeance: The hero begins the story with a goal of vengeance, one that has driven every decision he’s made for years. He needs vengeance to forgive himself. I chose this trope because it’s timeless—stories of vengeance have been around as far back as the old testament. And because it forces my hero to keep a secret from the heroine, making it more compelling and interesting.

–Billionaire Alpha. Sloane is an ex UFC fighter who began a company and became a self-made billionaire. Wealth and power have always fascinated readers and people in general. Billionaires are a huge now, and I chose this trope/archetype because it worked really well for Sloane as it ties in with his goal for vengeance. This is the key to layering—make your tropes work together.

–Beauty and Beast. My heroine Kat is physically scarred on her leg, and has panic attacks—all from an attack that she really can’t remember. A physically and emotionally scarred heroine, especially one like Kat who is determined to overcome and get stronger, is a huge hook—she creates empathy in readers. Her ex-fiance sees her as scarred and broken, while Sloane sees her beauty and strength. It also plays off Sloane’s trope of revenge—while Sloane’s trope is violence based in seeking revenge, Kat’s trope as “Beast” comes from scars she got as a victim of violence. This puts my hero and heroine on opposite sides of the concept of violence—creating more conflict in the story.

–Amnesia Kat can’t fully recall the attack, but only has flashes that make her believe her ex fiancé isn’t telling the truth about what happened that night. This creates anxiety in her, ramps up the tension in the story as we realize that remembering may put her in danger. This trope invokes Sloane’s Alpha protective tendency.

Losing a mentor/death This trope helped create a much BIGGER FEEL to the story than what a category length book usually allows for. It’s another timeless theme that invokes a strong emotional reaction. A final reason I chose this is that Drake, Sloane’s mentor’s is trying to stay alive long enough to keep Sloane from making the wrong choice between love and vengeance, which ties back into the over-arching trope/theme of redemption, and it also creates a ticking clock in the plot.

If you’re writing a category length romance, you’ll need to choose more traditional, romance-themed tropes to tightly focus on the hero and heroine’s love story. But if you are writing a bigger romance, you can bring in tropes that ramp up emotion and stakes while still supporting the romance.

Summary: Knowing your tropes gives you the hooks to capture reader’s attention, and layering tropes will add depth and widen the appeal to a larger reading audience.


For tropes to have maximum impact, they need to be more than the external plot. What is your character’s greatest fear and why? (Their greatest fear, by the way, is often their Internal Conflict, which is key when developing characters and motivation. However I’m keeping it simple for the purposes of this workshop/blog)


Heroine: Becky lost her father, brother, home and way of life to a house fire when she was six. Her greatest internal desire is a family, and greatest fear is losing her family.

Hero: Logan spent his first eight years with his mom, when his rich and powerful father suddenly decided he needed a son and fought for custody. Logan’s mother gave up the fight, choosing her career as a singer over her son. After that, Logan never really fit anywhere. His greatest secret desire is to be loved enough to fight for and his greatest fear is abandonment.

Now we use these two tropes; marriage-of-convenience with a baby-on-the-doorstep to:

Tempt them with their greatest, possibly secret or unrecognized, desires:

–Becky: Family

–Logan: To be loved enough to stay

And terrify them with their greatest fears:

–Becky: Losing her family.

–Logan: Abandonment, not being loved enough, and now is he so damaged by PTSD, that he can’t be loved?

False Moment when it might all work out:

–Becky tells Logan she loves him attaining her family

–Logan wants to try, believing that he might really be enough to be loved. He’s hopeful and just when he’s ready to commit, he’s called away to work.

Black Moment: It should involve one or more tropes. The secret is revealed and destroys everything kind of moment. I won’t reveal the black moment here and ruin HER TEMPORARY HERO for anyone who hasn’t read it. But I’ll say that it involves the marriage of convenience and baby on doorstep tropes:

–Becky comes face to face with losing her family again, and is worse off than when the book opens.

–Logan is faced with his greatest fear of abandonment and forced into action.

Payoff Bring it all together in a Happily Ever After. Payoff Scenes are the Reader’s Reward—that sigh moment when all the strife and pain is worth it. I have two notes on payoff scenes:

–Don’t make the trip from Black Moment to Happily Ever After too easy. Part of the payoff is that the character earns their HEAMake them have to work for it, sacrifice something important to get the real prize.

–If you set up a trope in the book, make sure it has a payoff.   When we set up a trope in a book, we make a promise to our readers to see it through.  I’m going to go back here to THE PLUS ONE CHRONICLES as an example. I set up a trope of Losing a mentor/death. I did NOT want to see that through. I fought writing that scene all the way to last moment…right until one morning while cooking breakfast I told my husband: “I’m not going to put Drake’s (the mentor’s) final scene in the book. It’s too much. Too hard. I’ll just allude to it later.”

My husband stopped what he was doing and gave me some of the best advice of my career: “That’s the coward’s way out. You got this far along and now you’re going to pull your punch at the last minute? That’s cheating your readers and not fair.”

I listened to him and made myself  follow through on what was essentially an implied promise to my readers and I’m so very glad I did. So remember,  Don’t pull your punches and don’t cheat your readers.


–It’s the same thing, except you’re working with more tropes and emotions. Same concept just more layers.

Summary: For maximum impact, tropes need to be more than an external plot—tie them to your characters greatest internal desires and fears that lead to the black moment and be sure you deliver the payoff scenes, they are the reader’s reward.

List of Some Tropes:

  1. Accidental Pregnancy: forces hero/heroine to face their fears.
  2. Amnesia: hero or heroine has lost their memory temporarily or permanently.
  3. Baby on Doorstep
  4. Bait and Switch (Hero or Heroine form relationship with one person to get the attention of another but falls for the bait in the end).
  5. Beauty and the Beast: hero or heroine is physically marred.
  6. Best Friends Little Sister
  7. Betrayal: Heroine has intentionally hurt the hero or made a mistake in the past that has hurt the hero or vice versa.
  8. Blackmail
  9. Boss/Employee
  10. Business competitors: hero and heroine compete for high business stakes only one can win.
  11. Cinderella: rags to riches story.
  12. Class: a class difference sets a couple apart.
  13. Different Worlds/Across the Tracks
  14. Enemies to Lovers: Hatred turns to love
  15. Family feud: e.g. Romeo and Juliet.
  16. Fish out of Water (Big city person in small town, or visa versa)
  17. Friends to Lovers: a hero and heroine’s friendship becomes more.
  18. Kidnapping: hero kidnaps heroine or heroine kidnaps hero.
  19. Marriage of convenience: arranged/forced marriage.
  20. Masquerade: hero, heroine or both pretend to be someone else.
  21. Matchmaker
  22. Mistaken Identity: hero or heroine isn’t who he/she appears to be.
  23. One Night Stand:
  24. Opposites attract: good girl/bad boy or bad girl/good boy.
  25. Revenge: Often at the price of love
  26. Reunited Lovers
  27. Secret Baby: heroine falls pregnant but doesn’t tell hero about it.
  28. Secret: hero or heroine keeps a dark secret.
  29. Stranded: hero and heroine are forced together.
  30. Twins: hero or heroine has “evil” twin, hero or heroine masquerade as twin etc.

**list compiled from and various other sources.

As always I welcome questions or comments!



8 comments to “Romancing the Trope”

  1. Silver James
    February 22nd, 2016 at 9:29 am · Link

    I am sooooo copying and printing that list of tropes! What a great “dictionary” for use in my Harlequin Red Dirt books!

    I sometimes get tickled (and ticked) when writers claim that tropes are the easy way out, overused, and only suitable for category romance–as they look down their noses. Had a big discussion with a guy who wrote westerns about that. He did NOT appreciate all the tropes I pointed out in his books, and I didn’t even have to read them. They were evident in his back cover copy. Ha! Tropes make the world go round. Look at Shakespeare!

    Thanks so much for this very clear-cut explanation of tropes and how to incorporate them. I’m loving this series, Jen! <3 <3 <3

  2. B.E. Sanderson
    February 22nd, 2016 at 11:06 am · Link

    Interesting topic. Not necessarily my thing, or so I thought, but I guess I do use tropes in my writing. When I read #16, my first thought was ‘that’s Dennis from Accidental Death’. Big city detective in a small town. LOL There are tropes for a reason, folks. =o)

    Thanks for this, Jenn. I’m really enjoying this whole business series.

  3. Jenn
    February 22nd, 2016 at 12:26 pm · Link

    Silver, I once had some of that attitude toward tropes until I stopped being a moron and studied them. It was an eye opening experience. As you pointed out, tropes are in most fiction. I stuck to mostly romance tropes for this blog, but the exist in mysteries (although fish out of water is a big one there, among others) thrillers, suspense.

    I’d love to have been there when you pointed out the tropes in his book!

    I’m looking forward to your blog next week!

  4. Jenn
    February 22nd, 2016 at 12:31 pm · Link

    B.E., yep, you have tropes in yours too, which you already recognized :-)

    And thank you on the business series! Hope you got a lot of editing done this weekend.

  5. Niki Daninger
    February 22nd, 2016 at 1:09 pm · Link

    Happy, happy – I think I need to take a minute and identify the tropes I’ve used. Might help me up the tension at the end. I know how things are gonna work out but making sure all the layers are present can’t hurt!

    Personally, I think tropes have a bad reputation because too many people are out there TRYING to snag readers with popular ones. They turn into cliches. The simple truth is, every story has at least one trope. It may not be one listed above, it may be one that is common only in certain genres but they are in every story.

    Thanks for sharing this and loved the worksheet!

  6. Jenn
    February 22nd, 2016 at 2:45 pm · Link

    Niki, I’m glad you found it useful!

    I agree on the bad rap. Many people call them formulaic, which is really more about the skill and intent o the writer than the trope. Nothing is really new, it’s all about how we twist things to make it fresh.

    All that said, readers also want/crave enough familiarity to be able to relate to the characters too.

  7. Viki S.
    February 22nd, 2016 at 4:48 pm · Link

    I love this post. I never got the trope thing until a couple years ago ;). I too am going to copy your list ;).

    Thank you.

    Have a great week!

  8. Jenn
    February 22nd, 2016 at 6:17 pm · Link

    Viki, I’m glad you liked the post, thank you!

Comments are closed.