I love so many types of romance novels that I didn’t believe I had a favorite romance trope. There are too many to choose from including: Friends to Lovers, Soul Mate/Fated Love, Second Chance at Love/Reunited Lovers, Love Triangle, Sexy Billionaire, Secret Baby, Enemies to Lovers, Fake Romance/Marriage of Convenience, Sassy Heroine, Opposites Attract, Forbidden Love, etc.
To make things more complicated, most authors—including myself—use two or more tropes in one book!
Since I was asked to choose one, I have to admit that my all-time, favorite trope is Forbidden Love aka Star-Crossed Lovers. I have a lot of reasons for my choice, but they all stem back to one book: Wuthering Heights.
When I found that book in High School, I read it in one sitting. I remember sitting on the couch, during a snow storm, with a cup of hot chocolate. It’s hard to explain the emotional and physical changes I went through while reading that book. But I do know that when I sat down I was a fifteen-year-old girl. When I got up, I was a young woman. Wuthering Heights showed me that books could carry far more emotions in a far more satisfying manner than I’d ever realized.
I then went on to find other books with that same type of emotional resonance, and came up with a too-short list. Not long after that, with the help of a friendly librarian, I discovered Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss. While that was more of an enemies-to-friends/marriage-of-convenience book, it became a full-blown Star-Crossed Lovers story at the black moment. That was my first true romance novel and from that moment I was hooked.
What is it about this trope that draws me close every time I write a new book?
Since loving a trope is an emotional response, it’s hard to put into words. So, to answer that question, I broke the trope down into its emotional components. I thought by analyzing it, I could explain it.
First, the Star-Crossed Lovers trope comes in two forms: HEA and Tragedy. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick with the HEA stories.
Second, the nature of the Star-Crossed Lovers trope is conflict. Conflict between parents and friends (and others close to the lovers), between the lovers and society’s expectations, and between the lovers themselves. This trope is based on the idea that because of who the lovers are—whether it be by birth or class or race or politics or anything else—they can never be together. In fact, if they do end up together, bad things will happen to those they love as well as to the outside world. This idea that the lovers truly believe their love will destroy instead of heal is inherently filled with tension.
Third, because the conflict is so embedded in the lovers’ beliefs of themselves and the world around them, the reader is left with a true sense that there will be no HEA. There can’t be.
This third point is the one that keeps me coming back to this trope. In a novel, the protagonist has to change in order to win her happily ever after. She has to prove to herself, and to the world, that she’s changed and is worthy of winning true love. But in a true Star-Crossed Lovers story, there can be no HEA unless the lovers not only change themselves, but also change those around them. That’s a lot to ask from two people who are being kept apart. Especially when the lovers know that if they stay together, there’s a good chance the world around them will be destroyed. Or so they believe.
The key to making a Star-Crossed Lovers work lies in the strength and bravery of the lovers. They not only have to allow love to act as a positive motivator to change, they have to become self-aware enough to use that positive motivator on others. Often, if the lovers can prove to one person—a friend, parent, random secondary character who tells the world—then the lovers’ world slowly falls in line. Yet with so many obstacles in their way, including the fact that the lovers have to grow and change enough to become brave enough, a happily ever after feels like a miracle. At least to those of us in the real world.
We all know how hard it is to make changes in our lives. We all know how useless it can be to change those around us. We all know how impossible it seems to change the world. So what are the chances that two young lovers will have the strength and courage to change themselves and go on to change their world? From my perspective, the chances seem pretty slim.
That’s why I love this trope so much. It requires two equally strong people who risk everything to love one another. Then risk their own future to love—and eventually affect—those around them. From the beginning of a story like this, the reader knows it’s an impossible task. But that impossibility makes the hard-won happily ever after that much sweeter. This tension between what seems impossible and what is finally won is an emotional hit I crave whether I’m writing or reading. And considering the popularity of star-crossed lovers books, movies, and TV shows, I’m not the only one. J