Hello, I’m Mary K Gowdy, the poet behind the soon-to-be-published chapbook Sensuality..
There’s a BookTuber I really like called Jordan Harvey. She does in-depth reviews about books, movies, and TV shows where she analyzes what works and what doesn’t. A few weeks ago, she did a video discussing romance in YA fiction. She said she'd love for other YouTubers to respond to it, and I thought “Well, I have a YouTube channel. Why don't I do a video about this?”
I'll be focusing more on romance in general, not necessarily in YA. This video will be divided into three sections: tropes I hate, tropes I love, and tropes I want to see more of.
Let's start with the romantic tropes I hate:
I'm going to first go quickly over some that Jordan mentioned in her video and that have been talked to death everywhere else:
Miscommunication For No Reason
Now that's out of the way, moving on.
The “Will They or Won't They” Lasting Too Long
I'm okay with this trope but as it goes on for too long I lose interest. I think this trope shouldn't be in play any longer than 60% of the running time of the series. And in TV, I prefer it take no longer than one season for the characters to get together. And the couples that are will-they-or-won’t-they the longest often are some of the most dysfunctional characters when they eventually do get together.
Can't kiss our have sex for a magical reason (because someone's gonna die)
For one this gives the characters an excuse to narrate constantly about their sexual angst the whole fucking series (and of course it doesn't get resolved till the very end). Reading this gets really annoying really fast (scratch that—it was never not annoying).
And second, it perpetuates the idea in our culture that something bad is going to happen if you have sex, and I don't think that's a good message to send to teenagers.
The Unwelcomed Sacrifice
This is when a character decides to sacrifice themselves for their loved one when it's obvious the loved one doesn't want them to do that (they may have even explicitly said so).
Often, this trope is a man sacrificing himself for a woman, which is kind of sexist because the man thinks he knows what's best for the woman and is then lauded as a hero for his actions.
And this trope just generates unnecessary drama between the couple.
I think it's fine if the characters are described sexually and if their relationship has a physical aspect. In fact, I like reading about that stuff just like most people.
But I don't like objectification. I would rather no objectification of either sex over equal objectification of both sexes. Objectification of women in media causes so many body image issues. I want to lessen that pressure on women to have the perfect body—not put more of it on men.
If the point of view is from a character who would normally objectify the sex they're attracted to, that's another story. But if your story is told from an omniscient third person narrator (and you’re a man), you got no excuse.
Those are some tropes I hate, so now I want to move the discussion to some I love.
Now, of course healthy relationships are at the top of the list. No explanation needed for that.
Hate to Love
Jordan mentioned this one in her video, and I love it for much of the same reasons. Flirtatious bickering always makes for good comedy, and that just makes you want to see the characters together more.
What's tricky is transitioning the characters to the couple stage without losing that back and forth but also not having them fight all the time. But when it's done well, that's where it's at.
Now or Never
This is when the characters kiss or confess their love for each other when they think they're about to die.
There's already so much intensity at a moment like this, and a declaration of love just amps up the drama. And it gives you something to be happy about right before the tragedy strikes, ripping your heart out.
Characters Acting in Embarrassing Ways Around their Crush
It's a really cute trope and makes for some great comedy. It's very relatable too. People tend to be idiots when it comes to romance and so not smooth.
Having to Choose Between Love and the Greater Good
This is probably my favorite romance trope ever. I love the drama, the twists, the tears, the anguish, the philosophical implications. I eat it all up. It's such a terrible choice, but I love it when characters go through terrible things. I'm cruel that way.
(Bonus points if the love interest has turned evil of their own will or not of their own will, and then the hero has to fight against them—and possibly kill them.)
(And bonus points if they actually do it. I'm so mean.)
Finally I want discussed tropes I’d like to see more of:
Relationships Not Working Out
Statistically, most relationships end, but in books—especially YA—characters will stay together forever (or get married and whatever at the end of the series). And a lot of the times, it's their first relationship. Finding a life partner is not that easy. And not every relationship is meant to last.
By this trope, I don't mean someone dies. I want to see more relationships end because the characters decide it isn't working anymore.
Then, my final point isn't exactly a romantic trope.
More focus given to non-romantic relationships—especially friendships
Too often, romance overshadows all the protagonist’s other relationships.
I think the main reason this bothers me is because I see it somewhat reflected in reality. Our society tends to idolize romantic relationships over friendships. Like, we have a whole genre dedicated to romance. Where's the friendship genre at?
Friendships are important and can be fulfilling too. There's space for both types of relationships in our lives, so I want to see fiction reflect that.
Those are my thoughts on romantic tropes, and I'd love to hear yours in the comments. And thanks to Jordan Harvey for starting this discussion.
Don't forget that my chapbook Sensuality. is going to be released later THIS MONTH. You can find out more about it here. Also, I make videos and blog posts about writing and poetry. So subscribe or sign up for my email list if you don't want to miss any of that.
Thanks for watching.