Happily ever after. That’s the classic trope, isn’t it? That’s what everyone says, whether good or bad, that romances lead up to—the entire point of the story, in fact. To a certain extent, that is true, but romances are so much more than that. What, then, are the fantasies that we as an audience look to? What is are the fantasies, or tropes, that make our readers satisfied?
Some people disdain tropes, saying that they are better writers than those silly old formulas. I don’t think that’s true. Tropes give a writer a baseline, but they also tell the audience what to expect. Enemies-to-lovers? Forbidden Love? Trapped in the same space (one of my personal favorites)? Each one of those sets expectations, and for the writer, a certain set of ground rules of where to go with their story. That isn’t to say that the writer can’t expand on the trope, and all good writers will, but it lets the reader know that this is the sort of story they are settling into.
It also tells readers what stories to avoid. I’m not a fan of the fake relationship trope and am unlikely to read a story with that setup. I may have missed out on good stories because of it, but that particular set of circumstances doesn’t float my boat. Or where the couple are a bunch of constant snarky one-liner snapping characters. I like a good, strong hero and heroine but when every line is supposed to be funny, it gets old. Others love it.
So how does a writer both fulfill that expectation and yet work on subverting them in a way so the trope feels fresh and brings eager readers to the author? It’s not so easy. That’s the mark of a good writer—when the reader knows the trope and comes out feeling fulfilled and satisfied. Unique characters, unusual settings, great themes all help, but mostly it’s about the emotional payoff of the story. To reference an old classic, when I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time I was so invested in Lizzy and Darcy that I cheered when she told Lady Catherine de Bourgh off and yet was still nervous that perhaps she and Darcy would not find their way back to each other. When they did, I was satisfied. There are many tropes in that story yet none of them feel stale.
As a writer I want to give my readers what they want but also don’t want to give them what they expect. I want to always have a little bit of a surprise while staying true to the best sentiment there is – that there can be true love and these people have found it. If the journey takes some unexpected turns to get there, so much the better.