by Mary Jo
Years ago I read about a study that looked at the difference between meeting someone and having a crazed affair that burns out quickly, and passions that becomes life-long true love. Their conclusion: there IS no difference at the beginning.
A romance is about the courtship, the developing relationship, and a romance writer's job is to make that relationship believable so that when readers close the book, they can smile and know the couple is together forever.
There are a number of popular tropes that can be used to build relationships. Perhaps the most common is lightning bolt physical attraction--usually when the hero sees the heroine and thinks she's the hottest carbon-based life form on Planet Earth. (The heroine can be equally thunder-struck, of course, but it's more romantic when the hero is the one doing the running. <G>)
This makes sense men are usually so visual. A historical romance writer friend once said she makes her heroines gorgeous because men see better than they think. <G>
How that fierce attraction plays out in any given story varies greatly and can go from traditional Regency gentility with emotions tightly buttoned under civilized exteriors to the far more graphic reactions of the super hot books, with most romances falling in between.
When I make one of my heroines gorgeous, I usually also give her a lot of the grief and victimization that beautiful women often endure. Personally, I think it's more fun to have an average looking heroine who become increasingly beautiful to the hero. THAT'S romantic! And vice versa as Mr. Average becomes more and more fascinating to his lady.
Everyday people morphing into love segues into another trope, the friends-to-lovers romance. Word Wench Anne Gracie is particularly good at this, and two of her Chance Sisters Quartet feature this dynamic: The Winter Bride and The Summer Bride..
It's can be delightful to watch two characters who are non-romantic friends start seeing each other in a new light. I particularly like in The Summer Bride when Flynn is knocked endwise by realizing Daisy? DAISY?!!!!
In my books I lean more toward the thunderbolt meeting, though not necessarily because the heroine is gorgeous. For my heroes, it's more apt to be a trait that's harder to define, like warmth, intelligence, or empathy, though they aren't really doing analysis when the lightning strikes. They just think she's THE ONE and they'll worry about why later.
Yet though I'm not usually inclined to write friends-to-lovers stories, in fact my upcoming book, Once a Rebel, is exactly that. The protagonists were neighbors in childhood who rode horses, played in the mud, and got into mischief together. Then they went in different directions and didn't meet up again for many years. Callie thinks of Gordon as a beloved brother; his view of her has changed. <G>
Another popular trope is the beloved Marriage of Convenience, which even has its own abbreviation as MOC. These work particularly well in historicals where there can be powerful social and economic reasons to marry for convenience. Because MOCs are so popular, there are a fair number of them in contemporary romance. They may require more suspension of disbelief in a contemporary, but once that's in place, they can be great fun.
The dynamic of the MOC is two people who might be virtual strangers being locked together in the most intimate of relationships. At the least, there is wariness, and there may be downright hostility if one or both feels trapped into the marriage. The fascination is in how they come to know, trust, and care for each other.
Marriages of Convenience are WAY popular--Jo Beverley once said she was addicted to the form, and I can think of half a dozen of them off hand, from her first Rogue books to her most recent romance, The Viscount Needs a Wife. I'm pretty sure there are lots more. <G>
I've done several MOCs myself, of which the first, originally called The Would-Be Widow and now available as The Bargain, has had enduring popularity and been reissued numerous times. (The plot the heroine marrying a dying man in order to get her inheritance without being stuck with a husband, and then he hasn't the grace to die for her.)
One of the things that got me thinking about how courtships develop was recently seeing the movie Southside with You, which depicts the first date of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, who is his mentor at the law firm where he is interning. She insists it's not a date; he says it isn't until she says it is.
They start with a visit to an art museum, move to a picnic in the park, progress to a community meeting in the neighborhood where he had worked as an organizer, and finally ends with a sweet kiss over ice cream cones at a Baskin-Robbins. I've read that the events are 90% accurate, which is pretty good for a docudrama.
I like that the movie is so low key and realistic. He's clearly interested in her, while she's wary. As a young black woman in the white male legal profession, she's worked hard to get to where she is, and she doesn't want to blow it by getting distracted by a smooth talkin' brother. But she does kind of like him….
In the course of their hours together, they learn more about each other: what they care about, what they dream about, what troubles them. Just like a date with someone who might be important in real life.
So--are there any particular tropes here that you particularly like? Some that I've missed? What are some of your favorite romances of that type?