An A – Z of romance tropes

It's fair to say that Simone Soltani, author of the unmissable, sweet and spicy brother's-best-friend Formula 1 sports romance, Cross the Line, knows a thing or two about tropes. Here's her alphabetical guide.

If there’s one thing a romance writer loves (even if they say they don’t) it’s a trope. Many of us utilize them to structure narratives in our books and build a basis for character relationships. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re using a trope until readers surprise us and say, “Ooh, I recognize this situation!” And what do you know? It’s a trope!

These commonly used plot devices, set-ups and character traits are sometimes looked down on but in romance, they can feel like a warm, familiar hug. For some readers, it’s a comfort to know what they can expect in a story, paired with the guaranteed 'happily ever after' standard of the genre. And for writers, tropes allow us to follow a sort of 'guideline' while still being able to let our creativity flourish. There are so many books that utilize the exact same tropes yet feel so different from one another. 

And in the genre of romance, there are plenty of tropes to go around. In fact, there are enough to go from A to Z. . .

A – Arranged marriage

In this situation, the two leads are convinced to marry each other for a reason that has nothing to do with love or attraction between them. Maybe it’s because of a business deal, or their families have set them up. They might be strangers, enemies, or simply have no interest in each other. But since this is romance, we can expect love to blossom within the bond of matrimony.

Book suggestion: Bride by Ali Hazelwood

Bonus A tropes: age gap; accidental pregnancy; amnesia.

B – Brother’s best friend (or sibling’s best friend)

Ah, the brother’s best friend trope, a personal favorite of mine. Such a favorite, in fact, that I wrote a book that includes it (see the book suggestion below). When your lead’s sibling has an attractive best friend, sparks might fly. This one plays well with the 'forbidden relationship' trope, as there could be tension regarding the sibling not wanting the lead and best friend to be together.

Cross the Line

by Simone Soltani

This brother’s best friend romance set in the world of Formula 1 is perfect for seasoned motorsport lovers and newcomers alike!

When Formula 1 driver Dev Anderson’s reputation is damaged, he needs someone to fix it. He has the perfect person in mind, but there are two little problems. One: she’s his best friend’s little sister. And two: he kissed her last year and hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since. But when it comes to love and F1, some lines are meant to be crossed. . .

Bonus B tropes: bodyguard; billionaire.

C – Celebrity 

In this trope, typically one of the leads is a celebrity (like a singer, actor, artist, well-known media personality, etc.) while the other lives a more normal (a.k.a. non-famous) life. Or maybe they’re both celebrities, learning to balance their demanding, public-facing careers with their love for each other. (Ooh, 'secret relationship' trope on top of that, anyone?). Either way, celebrity status is the star here.

Book suggestion: The Breakup Tour by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

Bonus C Tropes: childhood friends to lovers; cowboy.

D – Different worlds/experiences

When your leads come from drastically different backgrounds, you’ve got yourself a 'different worlds' trope. Think: a billionaire and a person who grew up working class; people from countries with vastly different cultures; a human who falls in love with a supernatural being. Watching them learn about the other and grow closer is this trope’s strong point.

Book suggestion: The Catch by Amy Lea

Bonus D tropes: damsel in distress.

E – Enemies to Lovers

One of the most well-known tropes out there, enemies to lovers has a few different definitions depending on who you ask. Either way, to go from considering someone an enemy to loving them is quite the journey. And that journey is exactly what lovers of this trope want to see!

Book suggestion: One For My Enemy by Olivie Blake

F – Friends to lovers

Sometimes, the best basis for love is friendship. In this trope, those years of friendship turn into something more.

Lovelight Farms

by B.K. Borison

This book has the power to transport you to not just a different location, but a different season – and you’ll never want to leave.

Lovelight Farms is a wholesome rom-com featuring a handsome, freckled data analyst, a messy, optimistic Christmas tree farm owner, and a small town with the best hazelnut lattes on the east coast. In an effort to save the Christmas tree farm she’s loved since she was a child, Stella enters a contest with insta-famous influencer Evelyn St. James. There’s just one problem: she lied on the application and said that she owns Lovelight Farms with her boyfriend. Only . . . there is no boyfriend. Enter best friend Luka Peters. Will their fake love affair save Lovelight Farms in time for Christmas?

F – Forbidden love

Okay there are so many amazing tropes that start with F that I had to include more than one! The forbidden love trope is a pretty self-explanatory one, but there can be a range of reasons why the relationship between the two leads is forbidden. Maybe their families are standing in the way because they don’t like each other. Or maybe there’s a no-fraternization clause at the company the two leads both work for. Whatever the reason, their love isn’t accepted by those around them.

How (Not) to Have an Arranged Marriage

by Amir Khan

This sweet, funny, and heartfelt romance presents a different angle to the forbidden love trope.

The golden child of his strict Pakistani parents, Yousef has his life planned out for him – medical degree, wife chosen by his family. . . and then he meets Jess. A fellow medical student, Jess presents a complication to the plan. Suddenly, Yousef finds himself torn between two worlds, keeping each a secret from the other. Then, as graduation looms, Yousef’s mother informs him that she’s started looking for his wife. . .

Bonus F tropes: forced proximity; fake dating; fairytale; fated mates (there are so many!)

G – Grumpy/Sunshine 

This is a character personality trait trope as opposed to a plot-forward one, where (you guessed it) one character is a bit of a grump while the other is the bright, bubbly embodiment of sunshine. This 'opposites attract' combo can bring about hilarity and tenderness as the grump melts under the warmth of the sunshine character.

When Grumpy Met Sunshine

by Charlotte Stein

Hilarious, quirky, and undeniably steamy, this grumpy/sunshine romance proves just what a perfect match that pairing is.

Ex-footballer Alfie Harding gets pushed into selling his memoirs, despite his reluctance to reveal anything about his past or his emotions. In steps ghostwriter Mabel Willicker, skilled in bantering and bickering her way into extracting details from Alfie for his biography. When their professional partnership is misconstrued as romance, they play along to feed the public's hunger for a fairy-tale-like story. But eventually they must decide: is it all really fake?

H – Holiday romance 

Holidays – whether that’s Christmas, Hannukah, Eid, Diwali, and so many more – can be such a magical time, and the perfect opportunity for romance to sparkle. 

Book suggestion: Wrapped With a Beau by Lillie Vale

I – Insta-love

Not everyone believes in love at first sight, but if that’s something that you like the sound of, this trope is for you. Whether it’s the first look or the first interaction, you can expect these leads to start falling for each other – hard and fast.

Book suggestion: One Day in December by Josie Silver

J – Jilted bride

Being left by your fiancé right before your wedding day sounds like it should be the start to a horror movie, but romance authors have found a way to take this traumatic moment and turn it into the start of a brand-new love story. We love to take something sad and build to a happily ever after!

Book suggestion: Funny Story by Emily Henry

K – Knife to the throat

Okay, hear me out! I swear it’s a trope, especially in fantasy books. It’s when one of the leads, usually in an enemies to lovers situation, grabs the other and puts a knife to their throat before making some sort of threat that they absolutely do not make good on. Bonus points if after they drop the knife there’s a kiss.

Book suggestion: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

L – Love triangle

If you have not one, but two people pursuing you and you’re having a tough time deciding between them, congratulations, you’ve found yourself in a love triangle. The push and pull of the main character trying to decide who they want to be with is what makes this trope a romance classic.

Book suggestion: Writers & Lovers by Lily King

M – Mistaken identity

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? Or mistaken a stranger for someone you thought you knew? Well, it happens pretty often here in romance land and can lead to plenty of shenanigans (the funny kind *and* the sexy kind).

The Blonde Identity

by Ally Carter

This mistaken identity, amnesia, fake marriage (whew!) romance will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time asking, “Is she really who she says she is?”

She only knows three things for certain: 1. She has a splitting headache. 2. The hottest guy she has (probably) ever seen is standing over her, telling her to run. And, oh yeah . . . 3. People keep trying to kill her. She doesn’t know why. But when she sees footage of herself fighting off a dozen men there’s only one explanation: she’s a spy! Except she’s not, according to Mr. Hot Guy. . .

Bonus M tropes: marriage of convenience; marriage pact; mafia boss.

N – Nanny

This one typically goes hand in hand with the 'single parent/guardian' trope, where someone raising a young child on their own hires a nanny to help them care for the child. In the case where the nanny lives with the family (hello, 'forced proximity' trope!) there are plenty of opportunities for the leads to grow closer – and bring on some heated moments.

Book suggestion: The Nanny by Lana Ferguson

Bonus N tropes: neighbours.

O – Opposites attract

There can be an appeal to someone who’s your complete opposite in little ways. Maybe they’re an extrovert who helps your introverted-self come out of your shell. Or maybe they’re the bad boy in your small town and you’re the good girl who’s always watched him from afar, wishing you could be a little bolder. Whatever the differences, these characters fit together like lock and key.

Book suggestion: The Love Code by Susannah Nix

Bonus O tropes: only one bed; one-night stand.

P – Partners in crime

Thinking about committing a crime, heist, or general misdeed? Better find yourself a partner. Even better if it leads to love, just like it does in this trope.

Book suggestion: Partners in Crime by Alisha Rai

Bonus P tropes: pen pals.

Q – Quirky Lead

Some leads march to the beat of their own drummer, not caring if others will judge them for it. They live their lives exactly the way they want to. And to some people, they’re deemed a bit odd – or quirky – for it. Maybe it’s the way they dress, their interests, or the wacky situations they keep finding themselves in. Either way, it can be fun to read about a lead who’s a little outside the box, and the love they find because they dare to be exactly who they are.

Book suggestion: Mrs. Nash’s Ashes by Sarah Adler

R – Rivals to lovers

This is one that is often used interchangeably with the 'enemies to lovers' trope, but I like to think they’re different. For this, the two leads are typically pitted against each other, going head-to-head to beat the other in a shared competition of some sort. Think: coworkers vying for the same promotion; business rivals trying to win out over the other for a lucrative contract; two athletes determined to be the best in their shared sport.

Lavash at First Sight

by Taleen Voskuni

Make sure you have a snack before diving into this one – the food descriptions will make you hungry, but you won’t want to put the book down long enough to eat!

When Ellie’s lovingly overbearing parents plead with her to attend PakCon – a food packaging conference in Chicago – to help promote their company and vie to win the conference’s Superstars award (landing them a free Superbowl ad), she’s eager for the distraction from her recent rather public dumping. There she meets Vanya, the daughter of their greatest rivals, fellow competitor for the award and annoyingly witty and brilliant.

Bonus R ropes: roommates to lovers; royalty; runaway bride.

S – Sports

Athletes are really having their moment in romance right now. Hockey seems to be the dominating sport, but football (or soccer for any Americans out there), baseball, and Formula 1 are coming up hot these days. These are people who have worked hard, put their bodies on the line, and sacrificed to achieve their sporting dreams. Sometimes that means they’ve put love on the back burner, but this is romance, baby – love’s about to hit a homerun.

Book suggestion: The Prospects by KT Hoffman

Bonus S tropes: secret baby; second chance; small town.

T – Time Travel

While the idea of being dropped in a different decade or century personally scares me a bit, I love to read about characters who find themselves in a different time period than the one they come from, whether it be the distant past or far into the future. 

One Last Stop

by Casey McQuiston

This queer time-travel romance will make you wish you could keep reliving the book over and over again.

August doesn't believe in magic and cinematic love stories, and she's sure her move to New York will prove her right. But then, on the train, she meets Jane. Instantly charmed by her swoopy hair and soft smile, August's subway crush becomes the best part of her day. There's just one problem: Jane is displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. 

U – Unrequited love

Sometimes, we fall in love with people who don’t love us back. . . at least, not at first. In this trope, we see one of our leads pining over the other, wishing that they’ll finally pay attention and see them for the prize they are. And one day, that wish comes true.

Book suggestion: How to Save a Life by Eva Carter

V – Vegas marriage 

“Oops, we accidentally got married after a wild night out in Las Vegas!” The chaos and fun of this trope is truly unmatched. Watching the characters come to terms with being newlyweds and whether or not to stay married? It’s too good to pass up.


by J.F. Murray

Sexy and fun, this romance full of chaotic choices and swoon-worthy moments will make you want to book a flight to Vegas ASAP. 

Kate has her life all plotted out, starting with her dream wedding to her dream man. But that all goes out the window when Kate finds herself accidentally hitched to her ex-boyfriend, Trevor, after a wild night out in Vegas. She wants an annulment – immediately. But Trevor won’t sign the papers until Kate agrees to go on three last dates with him. . .

W – Workplace romance

Co-workers, boss/employee, two people paired up to work on a project together. . . this one covers a few different scenarios and can play into several other tropes. There’s the forced proximity of being in the same office, or forbidden love if the HR department doesn’t allow employees to date – and that’s what makes this set-up so alluring to plenty of readers.

The Roughest Draft

by Emily Wibberley

If you’re a fan of characters with bad blood between them who are forced to work together, this one is for you!

After the wild success of their co-written book, followed by a dramatic falling out, Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen swear they’ll never write another book together again. Problem is, they still have one due on contract. Forced to reunite to finish the manuscript, the pair attempts to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. But it’s hard to write a romantic novel together when that hatred – and maybe something else entirely – for each other still runs deep. While passion and prose push them closer together, Katrina and Nathan learn that relationships, like writing, sometimes take a few rough drafts before you get it right.

X – Ex-partner reunion

Okay, bear with me here. I couldn’t come up with something exactly starting with the letter X, but I figured this was close enough! This is the 'second chance' trope by another name, where we see two people who used to be together find their way back to each other. The one who got away doesn’t have to stay gone forever. . .

Book suggestion: The Partner Plot by Kristina Forest

Y – (it’s always been) You

Another one where I’m fudging the rules a little, but getting down to the last few letters of the alphabet means we’ve reached 'desperate measures' territory. (Did you know that’s also a trope?) In this trope, one of the leads has always (or at least for a very long time) had feelings for the other, even if they never acted on those feelings. Other love interests may have come and gone, but it’s always been this one person for them.

Book suggestion: Beach Read by Emily Henry

Z – Zaddy

I. . .okay. I know this is definitely a stretch, especially since it might not be a common word in everyone’s lexicon, but has it listed so I’m rocking with it. For those who don’t know, 'zaddy' is slang for a hot man, usually an older man. Think: a silver fox with off the charts charisma.

Book suggestion: You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

And there you have it! Twenty-six tropes (well, twenty-seven, because I have too many F favorites) for twenty-six letters. Maybe your favorites are on here too, or maybe you’ve found a new one to explore. Thankfully, romance has a little something for everyone.