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Romance Novel Cliches: Storylines to Avoid

Marianne is a writer from the United Kingdon who secretly enjoys watching soap operas.

Romance novel authors have a habit of relying on the same tired tropes, but that doesn't mean you have to.

Romance novel authors have a habit of relying on the same tired tropes, but that doesn't mean you have to.

I've noticed that the plots of many romance novels seem to be almost the same. To save you the bother of having to read too many yourself, here is a summary of one of the most common plots.

If you ever write a romance novel, please avoid these cliches. Or if you use some of them, try to make the plot a bit more interesting.

A perfect cliche setting for a romanic trip, on the beach with the sun going down.

A perfect cliche setting for a romanic trip, on the beach with the sun going down.

The Attractive Heroine Who Doesn't Know It.

Our heroine is a nice wholesome girl. She is very attractive, but she is unaware of this. She doesn't think she will ever meet anyone. She is quite innocent—a "girl next door" type. Maybe she has had one or two boyfriends before. They were probably nice guys, but they didn't excite her. If she isn't a virgin, she has only had a few partners. One night stands are definitely not her thing.

The Heroine's Career

She may or may not have a job. If she does have a job, it will probably be in something stereotypically girly, like fashion, childcare, cake baking or wedding planning. If her boss is female, the boss is probably very bitchy and difficult.

Our heroine will probably be willing to give her job up at any moment to be with her man, or else she will find some convenient way to continue her career—perhaps he'll give her her dream job at his firm, or she will set up her own cake-baking business.

A girl next door

A girl next door

Our Heroine's Past

She might have had something bad happen in her past that makes her wary and distrusting. It will be something bad that someone else did though. She has always been kind, loving and nice. The bad thing might be that a stranger murdered her brother, or her mother couldn't cope with looking her after very well. When we discover what the bad thing that happened is, we will end up admiring her bravery, and so will her man.

Heroine's Friends and Family

If our female heroine is lucky, she probably has one or two friends or perhaps even a group. These friends mostly exist to provide advice on the relationship. They don't have much else to talk about, except possibly handbags or dresses. They all love our heroine because everyone does (except perhaps her bitchy boss, or any rivals for her man).

She might have a small family too, perhaps a brother who she confides in about her relationship, or a happily married sister with 2 kids who she is a little bit jealous of (only in a nice way, because our heroine is a lovely person).

If one of our heroine's friend is single, they might also find love with one of the background characters, perhaps either the heroine's brother or the love interest's best friend.

Our Male Lead

Our bachelor is devastatingly handsome, of course. Everyone fancies him. He probably looks like a male model and works out at the gym. He has had girlfriends before, but never anyone he *truly* loved.

The handsome pensive CEO

The handsome pensive CEO

He Is Wealthy

Our bachelor is very very rich. He is probably the boss or CEO of a company. It is never really explained what the company does, but he works hard there. Luckily despite how hard he works, he is able to drop everything when he feels like it, so he can spend money and time on the girl. He will take the girl shopping and buy her lots of lovely things (name checking all the big brands and shops)

He Has Been Hurt in the Past

Unfortunately this poor man has been burnt in the past. All the previous women he has been involved with were shallow bimbos only interested in his looks and money. His girlfriend or wife probably cheated on him. This means that when he meet our heroine he isn't very friendly. After they spend time together he starts to realise how much he likes her. To show her this he takes on the most wonderful date ever, and then doesn't contact her for five months, before suddenly showing up with no notice at her work in a helicopter to whisk her away for a week. This is all part of his allure.

A helicopter ride! How thrilling.

A helicopter ride! How thrilling.

He Can Be Intimidating

Because he has been hurt in the past he can appear intimidating. He is a powerful CEO, and our heroine notices some of his staff seem intimidated by him. However we slowly learn he is just misunderstood. He has never done anything really bad, it is just he has been so badly hurt he doesn't let people see his emotion.

He secretly has a soft side. He just needs our heroine to help him open up, and realise the error of his ways. Midway through the book she might suddenly discover a fact about him that reveals his soft side, perhaps he has a disabled brother who he takes care of, or volunteers at a soup kitchen weekly.

His Friends

He is usually a lonely figure because he works so much he doesn't have time for friends. He might have one buddy from back in school who he goes out for a pint with now and then. It might be that it is this friend who tells our heroine about his soft side.

Rival Love Interests

If there are any rival love interests, they are horrible, mean, slutty, bitchy people who no one likes. Even if our bachelor does not see this at the beginning he will realise this during the book.

The Typical Plot

They meet and there is an instant spark.

She isn't sure about him though; he is far too handsome and powerful for her.

They go on a date. It is amazing—the most romantic date ever.

He ignores her for a long time because he likes her so much.

They go on another date. He pulls out all the stops: romantic helicopter ride, walk on the beach, champagne, flowers.

There is a misunderstanding.

She keeps daydreaming about him, but tries to move on.

By some random coincidence of fate the misunderstanding is resolved.

They get together and live happily ever after. She doesn't have to worry about money anymore because he is rich. Not that money matters to her, but she still enjoys it.

Alternative Storylines

  • Controversial, but perhaps he already has a girlfriend! But not to worry, it's alright our heroine can be guilt free as his girlfriend isn't very nice and only interested in his money. She is cheating on him anyway.
  • Alternatively perhaps he is a handsome widower. His young wife tragically died and he can't imagine ever loving again. He might have a small child who is very cute, and instantly gets on with our heroine.
  • If he isn't the boss or CEO of a company, he is probably trying to hide his wealth because he is worried about gold diggers. He might even have a normal boring job, or even appear to be almost penniless, but if that is the case it will turn out his family is loaded; or he is really artistic and will be able to sell his work for millions.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it okay to have the heroine of my romance novel be 15 years older than the hero - say a 40-year heroine and a 25-year old hero?

Answer: Yes, why not? It's a bit different than the standard older man and young woman you find more often in romance stories. I know a couple who have that age gap in real life with the woman the older one, and the relationship works for them.

© 2018 Anna Sherret


Anusha Jain from Delhi, India on January 10, 2018:

LoL. As a romance junkie, I can definitely relate to this stuff. A lot of times, you wanna read all the same stuff, and yet you want the author to be creative... maybe it's too much to ask for, as the plots are actually so beat. But some authors do not disappoint. They somehow manage to give those stupid smiles on our faces, with some really witty dialogue, great twists and satisfying endings we crave for.

Awesome writing, it was funny and entertaining :)