Sunday, March 22, 2015

Embracing the Tropes - Love, Not Hate

Spring definitely begins in March here in Santa Fe. I spent a few hours sitting outside reading with my coffee in the sunshine this morning. Lovely!

This week at the bordello, we're discussing our favorite genre tropes. Since we get to pick the genre and I write in three at the moment, I'm talking about one from each. Also, since I'm the topic-kickoff girl, I'll take on the job of defining "Trope," for those who aren't familiar. Particularly because the way we discuss tropes in fiction writing doesn't exactly match the first definition of the word in most dictionaries. Basically a trope is a plot device. Many definitions add in a bit of a sneer, using words like "overused" and "cliché." Amusingly - at least to me - the purveyors of these discussions immediately move to subverting or avoiding tropes. This ignores this one simple rule:

Readers of genre fiction LOVE THEIR TROPES.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I'm going to.

1) This does not make them stupid.
2) This does not make them lazy readers (whatever the hell that means).
3) This does not mean the author is lazy (because, hoo boy, writing books is SO EASY).

A book that takes a beloved trope and runs with it in a fabulous way is a great treasure. Personally, I think all stories exploit tropes (because there are no new plots under the sun, right?). You could name me any book at all and I'll tell you what trope - or tropes - it uses. (GONE GIRL: unreliable narrator; HUNGER GAMES: the chosen one; etc.)

Okay, that's my soapbox. On to the lurv!


I'm going with the Fish-Out-of-Water trope for fantasy. This means a story where a person is plucked from their usual world and immersed in one alien to them. Often these are called "portal fantasies," because the protagonist much travel through some kind of portal to this other world. Oddly, it seems many portal fantasies these days are limited to books for YA and younger. My Covenant of Thorns trilogy is one of the few current adult ones that also includes romance. (Um, very adult. *cough*) I know this because we had a huge Twitter conversation about it - not started by me, but I got roped in, due to a mention of Covenant of Thorns - and most of the books we could think of were not at all recent.

Fantasy Romance

For this one I'm picking the Marriage-of-Convenience trope. This is a staple of romance novels for a very good reason. Two people are thrust into close proximity (lots of enforced situations can count as the "marriage") and must come to terms with each other. It's a classic because the conflict is inherent in the situation (something outside the couple forces them into the relationship) and because the emotional tension is easy to mine. Neither person is allowed to simply walk away when things get difficult. The problem with this trope outside of historical romances is that our modern world allows so much more freedom that it's difficult to come up with believable reasons for a Marriage of Convenience. But in fantasy - Aha! Because fantasy romance gives us room to build worlds and societies, it's a rich genre for playing with this trope. Which is what I did in THE MARK OF THE TALA.

Contemporary Erotic Romance

For erotic romance, my favorite trope is what we affectionately call dubcon, for dubious consent. This is not unlike the Marriage of Convenience and often requires a similarly deft hand and meticulous worldbuilding - even in a contemporary world. With dubcon, the protagonist is caught up in a bargain or situation that pushes them to explore sexual boundaries that they wouldn't have done in the normal course of their lives. This can range from extreme noncon abduction stories to mild dubcon where outside forces conspire to force the protagonist down a particular path. In my upcoming UNDER CONTRACT, the heroine is financially destitute and accepts a bargain from the hero where he pays her for BDSM sex. Again, this kind of trope creates delicious emotional and sexual tension - and keeps the hero and heroine from simply walking away when conflict arises.

I could probably make long lists of my favorite tropes, because there are tons out there. What's your favorite?


  1. Hard to pick a favourite, but I have a soft spot for a narrator with Amnesia, regardless of genre.

    BTW, I think Fish-out-of-Water can also be applied to a character thrust into an unfamiliar culture, no portal required. For instance, Andi in Mark of the Tala is a fish-out-of-water amongst her mother's people.

    1. Good point that the Fish Out of Water trope doesn't necessarily require a portal. Funny that MARK has *two* of my favorite tropes. :D