Light%20with%20Cobwebs_edited.jpg

Swipe Left On Overused Romance Tropes

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Planning

Perhaps when they were fresh, new and were not knowingly damaging gender norms and relationship expectations were these romance tropes ever welcomed. It is time to shine the spotlight on some overused and tiresome romance heroine tropes that just need to be kicked out of fiction. Romance Readers Beware: There's some major upheaval being demanded!


Using Clumsiness as a Character Trait


What is it? - Often used to make the central female character more 'likable', she tends to trip over herself, fall into things and resemble the adorable Bambi-on-ice scene that is sure to capture all hearts. Why does it need to go? - Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with being clumsy or habitually having minor physical accidents, this characteristic is often painted as a 'major flaw'. The reason for this is that the character has no other flaws. Clumsiness is therefore used as a relatable trait which, instead of making her truly flawed, endears reader and other character to her. The truth is all characters should have a flaw - even the good ones we want our readers to love! And having the occasional trip or balancing-fail does not make a character flawed. It is the fictional equivalent of answering 'I work too hard sometimes' to the interview request to name a personal fault - it is a cringeworthy attempt at pretending a trait is pivotal. By all means, let a character be a bit clumsy. Just do not use it to manipulate fondness because readers are getting wise to the trope.



'I'm Not Like Other Girls'


What is it? - By comparing the female protagonist/love interest to other girls, drawing attention to how - by not being like the other girls - she is better and therefore special, deserving of the affection the writer plans to give her. Why does it need to go? - This trope buys into the damaging yet historically accurate entertainment depictions of females that have come before. Women were often said, and encouraged, to compete against others and put one another down to come out on top. A quick glance at 90s teen movies give numerous examples of girls sabotaging each other, displaying superficial and vicious tendencies along with no compassion or loyalty to one another. By saying 'she isn't like other girls', the writer implies that other girls are undeserving, less special, and essentially good to be forgotten. It also tells female readers that the standard traits of womanhood are something to be ashamed of or abandoned. The truth is, women should support one another, embrace as much or as little of 'being female' as they wish and should not be tarnished for their preferences - especially for the sake of someone else's romantic interests.



An Inner Beauty! - After Her Makeover


What is it? - Admittedly, this is more prominent in movies and TV, yet in recent years it has seeped into areas of the literature world. A female lead has a 'coming out' moment to those around her after a physical transformation, and the reader feels good that the wonderful heroine they admired from the start was finally being seen and appreciated for who they are. Why does it need to go? - Simple: A heroine who is only 'seen' after her physical beauty finally gets the attention of others does not help the on-going fight against valuing a woman based on her looks. Now, physical makeovers can be a real and positive thing, but a forward-thinking writer would avoid celebrating such a reaction from characters. Romance stories are rarely where you will find commentary of social issues, so unless the writer plans to highlight that women are more than just their looks or have our heroine appreciate those who always saw her beauty pre-makeover, it would be best forgotten.



Her Happiness Depends On A Man


What is it? - A female character whose happiness will only be achieved once they have the love and affection of a man. Why does it need to go? - Every main character in a story should have a major objective and several minor objectives to read as realistic beings. There is nothing wrong with a heroine achieving a large measure of happiness by finally 'getting her man', nor is it necessarily wrong (especially in a romance story) for it to be a focal point of the narrative. However, she must have other objectives that will impact her overall success, whether it is in her job, family dynamics, self-improvement, other relationships. By not doing this, a writer makes their female character 1-dimensional rather than multi-dimensional and is effectively telling their audience that having a romantic relationship is the only real sign of success and joy. Boo!



The Girl Who Doesn't Know She's Beautiful...Except The Writer Makes It Explicitly Clear She Is


What is it? - The female character is unaware that their physical appearance is flawless and is truly baffled when others react to her as the beauty she is. This is alongside blatant author descriptions which make it clear - through appealling adjectives or out-right stating - we have a stunning girl on our hands. Why does it need to go? - It is lovely knowing someone who is truly humble and modest, especially when they do not flaunt their enviable traits in our faces. However, the trope of the girl who seems incapable of noticing any positives in her physical appearance and is unable to fathom why every guy seems to fall for her or why girls seem to hate her for no reason eventually becomes tiresome. Is it false modesty, a warped view of beauty standards or self, or simply (and most likely) a way in which the author can have a stunning heroine without running the risk of alienating her from readers. Let's be clear: having a beautiful character is not wrong, nor is it outrageous that a good-looking girl pays little attention in her looks. However, providing less-biased descriptions, male characters who do not instantly want her hand in marriage, or (shocker!) a random physical flaw to humanise her a little more is a far less worrying depiction.



In One Way Or Another, She Needs Rescued


What is it? - Our female hero is less of a real hero as she requires a man to step in and rescue her from some negative situation. Why does it need to go? - We don't have a special name for it for nothing: The Damsel In Distress trope may well be the oldest on this list. This could be in the form of physical danger - think tied up on the train tracks - or mental or emotional. The real danger here is portraying a female who needs saving when she does not seem capable of saving anyone in return. A good story will give characters strengths and weaknesses, hopefully which balance themselves out as if our damsel is rescued by her love interest from a burning building, she can return the favour by saving him from a personal issue he is suffering from. Including a larger cast of characters in this 'saving' venture can make relationship dynamics more interesting. A character who always needs saving and others who only save makes for a very monotonous affair.



Only She Can 'Save' Him, And She'll Put Up With Questionable Behaviour To Do It


What is it? - Our heart-of-gold heroine comes across a troubled, possibly reckless love interest and she is the only person capable of saving him from his demons - and if she experiences abuse or other damaging responses, that's okay because she's doing a good thing. Why does it need to go? - Dipping back into reality, many men and women find themselves staying in damaging situations out of some sense of responsibility for another's well-being. Whilst it is always worth considering how we can help; it should never come at the cost of risking ourselves. The issue with this trope is that it romanticises behaviour which may be abusive, dangerous, and essentially wrong. Readers can be impressionable, and those not immediately disturbed by what the heroine is willing to put up with may think putting themselves at risk is a sign of true love. It is not, and we should instead show characters having enough self-respect to step back.



She's Caught Between 2 Different but Attractive Men


What is it? - Our poor heroine is torn! In front of her are two very different yet somehow equally attractive romantic interests who both want her to choose him. Why does it need to go? - Quite frankly, it is simply just overdone. Pitting two men, who typically look nothing like one another and stem from two polarising backgrounds, against one another for the love of a confused girl has been the basis of many a young adult and romance novel. Once tantalisingly scandalous and a great way to get readers involved (who would they choose themselves?), it carries with is a yawn-worthy tag and, in some cases, objectifies men as dispensable and only written as one-dimensional love interests.

Confess!

Did any guilty stories come to mind as you read this list? Chances are a few did! However, it is important to note that such tales have proved themselves appealing at times and we cannot just dismiss that fact. Sometimes, readers simply want to indulge in a guilty pleasure and romance fiction is a common genre for indulging in content we know should not correlate to the real world. Does this excuse each trope? The answer is down to you.


Perhaps when they were fresh, new and were not knowingly damaging gender norms and relationship expectations were these romance tropes ever welcomed. It is time to shine the spotlight on some overused and tiresome romance heroine tropes that just need to be kicked out of fiction. Romance Readers Beware: There's some major upheaval being demanded!


Using Clumsiness as a Character Trait


What is it? - Often used to make the central female character more 'likable', she tends to trip over herself, fall into things and resemble the adorable Bambi-on-ice scene that is sure to capture all hearts. Why does it need to go? - Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with being clumsy or habitually having minor physical accidents, this characteristic is often painted as a 'major flaw'. The reason for this is that the character has no other flaws. Clumsiness is therefore used as a relatable trait which, instead of making her truly flawed, endears reader and other character to her. The truth is all characters should have a flaw - even the good ones we want our readers to love! And having the occasional trip or balancing-fail does not make a character flawed. It is the fictional equivalent of answering 'I work too hard sometimes' to the interview request to name a personal fault - it is a cringeworthy attempt at pretending a trait is pivotal. By all means, let a character be a bit clumsy. Just do not use it to manipulate fondness because readers are getting wise to the trope.



'I'm Not Like Other Girls'


What is it? - By comparing the female protagonist/love interest to other girls, drawing attention to how - by not being like the other girls - she is better and therefore special, deserving of the affection the writer plans to give her. Why does it need to go? - This trope buys into the damaging yet historically accurate entertainment depictions of females that have come before. Women were often said, and encouraged, to compete against others and put one another down to come out on top. A quick glance at 90s teen movies give numerous examples of girls sabotaging each other, displaying superficial and vicious tendencies along with no compassion or loyalty to one another. By saying 'she isn't like other girls', the writer implies that other girls are undeserving, less special, and essentially good to be forgotten. It also tells female readers that the standard traits of womanhood are something to be ashamed of or abandoned. The truth is, women should support one another, embrace as much or as little of 'being female' as they wish and should not be tarnished for their preferences - especially for the sake of someone else's romantic interests.



An Inner Beauty! - After Her Makeover


What is it? - Admittedly, this is more prominent in movies and TV, yet in recent years it has seeped into areas of the literature world. A female lead has a 'coming out' moment to those around her after a physical transformation, and the reader feels good that the wonderful heroine they admired from the start was finally being seen and appreciated for who they are. Why does it need to go? - Simple: A heroine who is only 'seen' after her physical beauty finally gets the attention of others does not help the on-going fight against valuing a woman based on her looks. Now, physical makeovers can be a real and positive thing, but a forward-thinking writer would avoid celebrating such a reaction from characters. Romance stories are rarely where you will find commentary of social issues, so unless the writer plans to highlight that women are more than just their looks or have our heroine appreciate those who always saw her beauty pre-makeover, it would be best forgotten.



Her Happiness Depends On A Man


What is it? - A female character whose happiness will only be achieved once they have the love and affection of a man. Why does it need to go? - Every main character in a story should have a major objective and several minor objectives to read as realistic beings. There is nothing wrong with a heroine achieving a large measure of happiness by finally 'getting her man', nor is it necessarily wrong (especially in a romance story) for it to be a focal point of the narrative. However, she must have other objectives that will impact her overall success, whether it is in her job, family dynamics, self-improvement, other relationships. By not doing this, a writer makes their female character 1-dimensional rather than multi-dimensional and is effectively telling their audience that having a romantic relationship is the only real sign of success and joy. Boo!



The Girl Who Doesn't Know She's Beautiful...Except The Writer Makes It Explicitly Clear She Is


What is it? - The female character is unaware that their physical appearance is flawless and is truly baffled when others react to her as the beauty she is. This is alongside blatant author descriptions which make it clear - through appealling adjectives or out-right stating - we have a stunning girl on our hands. Why does it need to go? - It is lovely knowing someone who is truly humble and modest, especially when they do not flaunt their enviable traits in our faces. However, the trope of the girl who seems incapable of noticing any positives in her physical appearance and is unable to fathom why every guy seems to fall for her or why girls seem to hate her for no reason eventually becomes tiresome. Is it false modesty, a warped view of beauty standards or self, or simply (and most likely) a way in which the author can have a stunning heroine without running the risk of alienating her from readers. Let's be clear: having a beautiful character is not wrong, nor is it outrageous that a good-looking girl pays little attention in her looks. However, providing less-biased descriptions, male characters who do not instantly want her hand in marriage, or (shocker!) a random physical flaw to humanise her a little more is a far less worrying depiction.



In One Way Or Another, She Needs Rescued


What is it? - Our female hero is less of a real hero as she requires a man to step in and rescue her from some negative situation. Why does it need to go? - We don't have a special name for it for nothing: The Damsel In Distress trope may well be the oldest on this list. This could be in the form of physical danger - think tied up on the train tracks - or mental or emotional. The real danger here is portraying a female who needs saving when she does not seem capable of saving anyone in return. A good story will give characters strengths and weaknesses, hopefully which balance themselves out as if our damsel is rescued by her love interest from a burning building, she can return the favour by saving him from a personal issue he is suffering from. Including a larger cast of characters in this 'saving' venture can make relationship dynamics more interesting. A character who always needs saving and others who only save makes for a very monotonous affair.



Only She Can 'Save' Him, And She'll Put Up With Questionable Behaviour To Do It


What is it? - Our heart-of-gold heroine comes across a troubled, possibly reckless love interest and she is the only person capable of saving him from his demons - and if she experiences abuse or other damaging responses, that's okay because she's doing a good thing. Why does it need to go? - Dipping back into reality, many men and women find themselves staying in damaging situations out of some sense of responsibility for another's well-being. Whilst it is always worth considering how we can help; it should never come at the cost of risking ourselves. The issue with this trope is that it romanticises behaviour which may be abusive, dangerous, and essentially wrong. Readers can be impressionable, and those not immediately disturbed by what the heroine is willing to put up with may think putting themselves at risk is a sign of true love. It is not, and we should instead show characters having enough self-respect to step back.



She's Caught Between 2 Different but Attractive Men


What is it? - Our poor heroine is torn! In front of her are two very different yet somehow equally attractive romantic interests who both want her to choose him. Why does it need to go? - Quite frankly, it is simply just overdone. Pitting two men, who typically look nothing like one another and stem from two polarising backgrounds, against one another for the love of a confused girl has been the basis of many a young adult and romance novel. Once tantalisingly scandalous and a great way to get readers involved (who would they choose themselves?), it carries with is a yawn-worthy tag and, in some cases, objectifies men as dispensable and only written as one-dimensional love interests.

Confess!

Did any guilty stories come to mind as you read this list? Chances are a few did! However, it is important to note that such tales have proved themselves appealing at times and we cannot just dismiss that fact. Sometimes, readers simply want to indulge in a guilty pleasure and romance fiction is a common genre for indulging in content we know should not correlate to the real world. Does this excuse each trope? The answer is down to you.


  • Instagram

Want tips like these sent straight to your feed?

Connect on Instagram!

Latest Articles