Fluff, Angst, and Spicy: Ranking All The Literary Tropes
BY KÉRA MATTHEWS '24
Let’s get things straight: literary tropes are the backbone of the book community. Whether you’re a fantasy fall girlie, a hopeless romance reader, or a sci-fi stan, you know that tropes offer charm to any storyline. Unfortunately, they can’t all slay. So today, I’ll analyze ten familiar tropes and judge your lousy taste in literature. Or, if you agree with me, your impeccable taste in literature.
A foreword: Tropes 10–6 range from bad–OK, and 5–1 range from good–superior)
10. Bully Romance
Tell me why we romanticize such a common trauma that’s marred so many childhoods. Silence? That’s what I thought. Now, there’s a spectrum of ways that this is executed, so if the “bullying” doesn’t actually cause any real harm, then maybe it’s acceptable. Still, there’s a big difference between reciprocated hate and straight-up treating someone like scum, only to justify it by calling it a “crush.” And the bar is on the ground if the other person involved is willing to go the extra mile by dating them.
9. Miscommunication Trope
I want to ask all authors a question: why can’t we be happy? This trope isn’t dead-last because it can work in special situations, like if one character cuts another character’s hair too short and their bickering adds to the story’s humor. Aside from that, this trope is often just proof of the “Third Act Syndrome,” which is where an author extends their story by including unnecessary conflict. It’s a no from me.
8. Forbidden Love
This is the start of the “permissible, I guess” tropes. Forbidden love has so many sub-genres, some that I even love, but as a whole, the line between legal and illegal is so faint that it’s hard to classify this any higher than I would like.
Examples of acceptable forbidden love: movies like The Notebook (parental disapproval reaffirming true love) a fantasy/royal setting with either a bodyguard/servant X royal relationship, and rivals living in two separate worlds.
Examples of unacceptable forbidden love: teacher X student, any form of incest—be it a step or not. Even if there are some good tropes (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), it’s hard to forget about these ones that spread harmful messages about relationships.
Examples of questionable forbidden love: age gap. If it’s legal and not constantly mentioned in the story, then fine. But if it’s mentioned more than once, like in 1984, or if it’s extralegal, you can sign me out.
7. Grumpy X Sunshine
This trope has a lighthearted “opposites attract”' dynamic, where someone who sees the glass half-full manages to connect with someone who sees the glass half empty. I love when people with two different perspectives on life get together (and we need more of the girl being the grumpy one, just for the sake of breaking stereotypes). But grumpy shouldn’t mean that the person pulls a reverse bully romance where they attack everyone except for the main character. No bullying allowed!
The enemies-to-lovers trope is overrated. There, I said it. If it wasn’t so abused in the media, then it’d be so much better. With its popularity, the book industry loves to label any romance book with this trope, even when the characters clearly aren’t enemies, they’re only enemies for a chapter, or only one character hates the other. It’s incredibly misleading and makes me so frustrated because there are really good ones out there (like when both characters butt heads and the tension builds for at least the first half of the book), but there the saturation of so many books as enemies-to-lovers really undoes its effects. But academic rivals to lovers? It hits every single time. More, please!
5. Fake Dating
What makes this so good is that it often starts off as a friendship, and if it doesn’t, then the characters become friends during their mutual agreement to temporarily date. The pacing of books with this trope is stellar too; the romantic development hits right where it should (unlike enemies-to-lovers). Their friendly banter and fun acting exercises make for a more entertaining story, and the transition from faking to not faking is perfectly gradual, making for an even stronger story. I only wish that we could see more sides to it; now, it’s so predictable that every romance book with it follows the exact same plot.
There’s a difference between basic friends-to-lovers and friends-to-lovers with a little sweetness to it. Don’t get me wrong—I love my basic friends-to-lovers. But anyone can become friends, so it’s all about developing that friendship in a way that’ll get readers to root for them to turn their friendship to love, along with maintaining our attention as the characters learn about each other over the course of the book. The balance is a tough one to master. It’s definitely over-hated, but I can see why people may find it “cookie-cutter”.
3. Found Family
This is absolutely no lower than the top three. It’s versatile, but not inconsistent. It doesn’t always include romance, but regardless of Cupid’s presence, it always elicits so many emotions. It’s best as a series, which gives us the time to really see their relationships develop, so you might have prep yourself for the long haul. It’s always worth it, though. Every. Single. Time. I love the message that families don’t always need to be biological——they can be just as strong, or even stronger, than a family related through blood because of the conflicts they overcome together.
2. Second Chance
Hear me out. Sure, this might be a little complicated, but that’s what makes it so good. It’s rawer than a lot of the others on here, and, like the found family trope, it’s versatile. It’s a healthy way to depict flawed characters and enlighten others about humanity. It’s emotional, beautiful, and gut-wrenching in a way that we, as readers, can read about the process of learning from and/or forgiving those mistakes. That being said, if you don’t like the “forgive and forget” concept, second chance romance don’t always mean that a character is flawed—sometimes, it’s a story where outside forces pull two people apart, and, even then, that depiction is equally effective.
Honorable Mention of a trope that I love: THE LETTERS TROPE. Writing, and by hand, is just about the most heartfelt, romantic way to portray love, and that’s a fact.
Honorable Mention of a trope that I hate: Insta-love. I forgot about it, but it goes without saying that it’s simply horrible. What’s the point of the book if the most entertaining aspect ends so soon?
1. Childhood Friends (to strangers) to Lovers
You need to stop sleeping on this trope. The storyline is fresh every time I read a new book that features it: the chemistry is already built in, and because they already share an intertwined history from the get-go, the stellar chemistry never lacks. Childhood friends-to-lovers is realistic (unless it’s an amnesia/strangers situation), which gives me, Miss Delusional, so much hope :). Instead of miscommunication (barf), childhood-friends-to-lovers relies on the unspoken and how fear keeps two very deeply in-love characters from being vulnerable not just with each other, but also themselves.
All in all, tropes are subjective. But not here, because I’m right. In all seriousness, it’s often a matter of how cliché, fake, or sappy you want them to be! The bottom line is that it vivifies storytelling, and the concept will always be *chef’s kiss*.