“When books are your life – or in my case, your job – you get pretty good at guessing where a story is going. The tropes, the archetypes, the common plot twists all start to organize themselves into a catalogue inside your brain, divided by category and genre.”
Those are the first words in my new book, Book Lovers, thought by the main character, Nora, though frankly, it’s no mystery where they originated. Books really are my life. When I’m not writing them, I’m reading them, or editing them, or culling them from my shelves and making little stacks to shell out for my friends.
If I’m watching a show or a film, I’m guessing where a certain plotline might go, or rewriting the dialogue in my head without meaning to. And on those rare occasions when I’m doing neither, when I’m fully immersed and my work brain has shut off, it’s because I am so wholly in love with the writing that I forget it’s there.
What are tropes?
Romance writers and readers, especially, have perfected this art of the cozy, familiar read, and that’s all down to the use of tropes, a kind of codified shorthand for the sort of book you’re picking up. Friends-to-lovers, loathe-to-love, sunshine/grump, slow burn, soul mates, second chance, fake dating, there’s only one bed in this hotel room and now we have to share it, marriage of convenience – all of those tried-and-true formulas you see pop up time and again in romance have names, and thus romance readers know exactly where to look to find their next favorite read.
Sometimes romance novels get dismissed because of their reliance on these tropes, but I think that’s missing the point. We don’t rely on these tropes out of laziness; we use and reuse and tilt them this way and that because we love them. The same way that you’re not always wearing a sweatsuit because you’re melting into your sofa with a tub of ice cream out of depression; sometimes you’re wearing a sweatsuit and melting into your sofa with a tub of ice cream because nothing in the world sounds better than exactly that.
Romance tropes are about comfort, familiarity, joy. When I wrote Book Lovers, I set out to make my trope-iest book yet, because I was writing from within a pandemic and I wanted to absolutely stuff this book with the sorts of things I love in stories. I wanted it to feel like that favorite old sweatshirt, the one a friend leant you in college and you’ll never throw away, no matter how many small tears and mysterious stains it accumulates, because you know you’ll never find anything worn to such perfect buttery softness again.
There are work nemeses who get off on the wrong foot. There’s a Big City Woman shipped off to an extended visit to a tiny town in the mountains. There are high heels sticking in mud and kisses in rain, and a banding together of locals to save a dying business, and yes, a few turns and surprises. In short, it is exactly the book I needed when I wrote it: three-hundred plus pages of comfort and for that, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the tropes.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry is out May 12, 2022 (Penguin, PB £8.99) and available from Amazon.