As I said when I wrote my T5W list of things I’m a Grinch about, I have far too many opinions about romantic subplots. So this post is what I think about common tropes in romantic subplots in YA and adult SFF. I will not be talking about the adult contemporary romance genre (what people usually think about when you say “romance”), as I don’t read it.
This is probably the most hated trope in YA. Unlike love triangles, I don’t see many people defending it. That’s because it’s often a symptom of bad writing.
But this trope is so hated that “has instalove” is conflated with “badly-written”. So, if two characters fall in love quickly, it has to be an unrealistic book.
And that’s just not how it works.
Yes, I’ve read my fair share of books with terrible, forced, “I just saw you and I will give my life for you” insta-romance. But just because those books used this trope as a cop-out, it doesn’t mean that this trope is bad. I’ve seen people say that it’s just unrealistic, and that’s not true, because I know IRL situations that would have been considered instalove – yes, some people can fall in love in just a few days. Hours, sometimes.
Instalove doesn’t always mean “rushed”.
Some books that get this trope right: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson.
If you’re talking about YA tropes, you can’t not talk about love triangles. They became insanely popular after Twilight and The Hunger Games, and there has been a certain period of time in which basically every single YA book had one. Because of this, many readers are sick of them. I am too – of some of them.
A love triangle usually means more romance, which is not the direction I want books to take, most of the time. But do I hate triangles? No, not all of them. Sometimes they make sense for the story. Sometimes they don’t – and when they don’t, they’re one of the most annoying tropes ever.
And the combination girl+male best friend+mysterious boy needs to disappear, it has been done too many times. I always end up hating the best friend. And please: no pentagons (yes, I’m talking about Cassandra Clare).
Some books that get this trope right: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge, The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.
Friends to lovers
Unpopular opinions, I love them. I really don’t like this trope. No, there’s nothing wrong with it, and yes, some writers do it well – I loved some books with it – but most of the time it’s just so boring and why did you need to ruin a good friendship for this?
Writers: not every m/f friendship needs to become a romance.
My main problem with it – if boredom itself is not enough – is that there’s not enough conflict (they have always liked each other, now they love each other, why can’t they get together at the beginning of the book?) and you usually need conflict to write a story. So authors add love triangles, miscommunication and “forbidden love for ridiculous (or no) reason” plotlines. All three of them are annoying if they’re not handled really well. Which they usually aren’t.
Some books that get this trope right: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera, How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake.
Enemies to lovers
I have mixed feelings on this, mostly because many people don’t mean what I mean with “enemies to lovers”. I like enemies to lovers when the characters are actual enemies. Not people who dislike each other for petty reasons or reluctant allies. I mean, that can be interesting too, but I usually don’t care.
Why? The conflict. There’s so much to explore, and the story can go into messed up territory so quickly and I’m always here for that. At least it won’t be boring. And if it’s enemies to enemies with benefits? Even better! No, I actually don’t like romance, I’m here for the pain.
Give me all the villain ships.
Some books that get this trope right: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (villain ship). Also, Ninefox Gambit has an enemies-to-enemies/very-reluctant-allies-with-benefits in the past and it’s terribly toxic and I love it.
Romance makes you human
It doesn’t. This is a trope I usually find in AI romances, in which the human characters start questioning whether the AI deserves some kind of rights only when they notice they can fall in love. I really don’t like it.
Some books that get this trope right: All Systems Red by Martha Wells, because it avoids it.
Romance cures mental illness
This trope can die.
Mental ilnesses do not work like that. Not every book with mentally ill characters needs to have a romantic arc that has usually some very unfortunate implications.
Some books that get this trope right: I can say that Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is probably the book that avoids this the most (but it does have a romance) so it’s the best I’ve found so far.
Another unpopular opinion! I usually don’t like this. Why? Because the reason the characters can’t get together is very often forced and most of the time it’s just lazy writing.
Especially when there is a curse involved. “This character has been cursed so they can’t feel romantic love/fall in love” it’s one of my least favorite tropes. It’s lazy and it reminds me that some people think I’m some abomination – I’m aro, I’ve never had a crush, and it’s not a curse.
Some books that get this trope right: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. One of the two main characters thinks she can’t love or be loved because of her glass heart, and she thinks this is true for every kind of love, not only romantic love. This way, the trope feels less like a lazy plot device and more like an exploration of the consequences of abuse.
What do you think of these tropes? It’s there any common romance trope you love or hate that it’s not on the list?