I’m a fussy reader. I choose my M/M romances, both to review and read, carefully. If I venture outside my comfort zone (where comfort stands, trendily, for D&G – Dark and Gritty), it’s usually because I allow myself to be seduced by a specific author, subgenre or trope.
Some tropes I don’t particularly care for. For example, the Insta Love theme, with no romantic build up or a decent back-story, rubs me the wrong way. Similarly, the Rescue Me (because I’m a highly incompetent fu**wit) motif doesn’t float my boat, either. Interestingly, I don’t mind the Help Me Heal (because I’m broken and damaged) kind of trope. The Age Gap and Forbidden Love themes can be a bit hit-and-miss with me. I perceive the Fake Boyfriends trope as a guilty pleasure, but when written right, it can be a riot.
The tropes I enjoy most play on strong emotions and utilise angst. I crave anguish, pure and undiluted, in my books. Nesting in me there is this, somewhat masochistic, desire to have my heart mercilessly torn out and ground into pathetic little pieces. Shred me, dammit, and make it hurt. Only then, put me back together by the time I hit the last page, and leave me sighing contentedly with slightly dampened lashes.
Here goes. My five favourite classic tropes, often found in M/M romances.
Who doesn’t like a bromance? The best relationships are the ones build on friendship. The foundations are already laid – trust, fondness, effortless camaraderie. This trope offers a great deal of potential for humour through friendly banter and familiarity.
Typically, one character is a bit slow on the uptake. Clueless and oblivious, he doesn’t realise the other has developed feelings beyond friendship, although the torch his friend has been carrying is three times the size of the Olympic’s. Initially, he doesn’t, or thinks he doesn’t (duh!), reciprocate. The unrequited love related suffering, coupled often with miscommunication, is great enough to make both the character and the reader gravely miserable and anxious, before the air starts sizzling and the attraction demands mutual acknowledgment. The hesitation to act on it and take the plunge stems from the fears of wrecking the friendship to the point of no return. Eventually, the resistance is futile – the coffee is smelt, the risks are taken and the pants are dropped.
Once the relationship becomes sexually charged and the intimacy is involved, the characters enter the uncharted territory. The comfortable ease becomes strained awkwardness, and things are no longer simple. Sh** gets complicated and that’s the interesting part for me.
It’s not easy to write a compelling, heart-wrenching and endearing bromance with some depth to it. What grabs my attention, is the shift in the dynamics between the characters – I want to see how their relationship changes, when it ceases being merely platonic, how that affects their interactions and where it leads. Ultimately, this trope is about realising that sometimes happiness might be right in front of us, but we’re too engrossed in the very process of searching for it, to notice.
Nunzio & Michael (Sutphin Boulevard by S. Hassell)
Griff & Dante (Hot Head by D. Suede)
Nick & Kelly (The Sidewinder Series by A. Roux)
Taylor & Will (Dangerous Ground by J. Lanyon)
Hobbs & Calvin (The THIRDS Series by C. Cochet)
I strongly subscribe to the Strength lies in differences philosophy. My own relationship could be classed as a bi-national, bi-cultural and bi-lingual hybrid, and I can say with a vague air of authority that it definitely keeps things from becoming dull. One of the reasons why this trope appeals to me is because – please excuse the lingo resembling Equality Is Us leaflet – it promotes and embraces diversity.
I refer to the word background here in the broadest possible sense, meaning differences of status, ethnicity, race and culture. While I’m not a massive fan of the wealthy man vs. poor man dichotomy, because it’s rather trite, clichéd and one-dimensional, I’m quite fond of the city boy vs. country boy theme. I especially enjoy the Love over the Class Divide (doesn’t it sound like a rather hazardous sex position?) theme, as it carries an equally huge capacity for humour, as it does for drama. The tropes playing on those differences frequently incorporate the topics of discrimination, prejudice, and intolerance. They may also explore the strain of facing animosity or disdain from the partner’s friends or family and struggling with a feeling of inadequacy and inferiority.
The way the characters deal with their differences is the most compelling part for me. Does it tear them apart or make them stronger as a couple? Is it enriching or detrimental to their relationship? Essentially, this trope is about discovering if people can be different, yet compatible at the same time. It poses an interesting question: Are love and acceptance strong enough to overcome dissimilarities and bias?
Seb & Dex (Heart by G. Leigh)
Ray & David (Sunset Park by S. Hassell)
James & Cal; Spencer & Nick (The Market Garden Series by L.A. Witt & A. Voinov)
Josiah, Mateo & Tristan (The Broken Pieces Series by R. Hart)
Nichol & Cam (Scrap Metal by H. Fox)
This is an interesting one, which works a treat especially within the law enforcement environment, with their added pressures and prejudices. Typically, we’ve got this tough, cool dude, straight acting and straight looking. His outlook on life is of a traditional variety and due to family or work related issues, he’s deeply closeted. Initially, he’s not fully embracing his same-sex inclinations, although he is fully aware of those desires and usually has acted on them in the past.
Next thing he knows, he meets someone challenging and after his failed attempts to downplay the significance of this casual, (at first), arrangement, he falls in love. The sexy times are always incredibly hot, and the passion – undeniable. After a while, his partner gets sick and tired of the constant sneaking about and being kept a dirty secret on the side. This situation generates multiple conflicts and trust issues, as well as a lot of hurt and resentment. Often the tension is so great, that it breaks the couple up. At this stage, the angst and drama are practically dripping from the pages at an alarming rate, just like raspberry coulis from a decent panna cotta, both phenomena equally delicious.
What I find most intriguing about this trope are the reasons behind the character’s eventual decision to come out, the circumstances leading directly to the big ta-dah and how it affects his partner and their relationship. Moreover, this theme is sometimes accompanied by a fascinating insight on how the characters discover their sexuality, how they perceive it and come to terms with it.
Jake & Adrien (The Adrien English Series by J. Lanyon)
Ash & Cael (The THIRDS Series by C. Cochet)
Jory & Sam (The Matter of Time Series by M. Calmes)
Mac & Tony (The Life Lessons Series by K. Harper)
Evan & Matt (The Faith, Love & Devotion Series by T. Michaels)
Fierce emotions, like instantaneous mutual animosity or strong dislike, are fuel for romance. As far as this trope goes, I don’t require the guys to be arch-enemies per se. It’s more about them being on the opposite sides of a conflict or experiencing a major personality clash. All is laced – needless to say – with an intense physical attraction. The sparkling chemistry is too powerful to be denied or resisted. However, it doesn’t mean the poor bastards won’t attempt holding back – gah! The initial antipathy, hostility or rivalry between the characters makes them, and consequently the reader, stiff (in more ways than one) with unresolved sexual tension and antici…pation.
Eventually, the friction is defused through a bout or ten of hot, angry and raw hate-sex, bringing about all kinds of fireworks. This arrangement usually continues for a while, kept on the down low and perceived by both characters, rather naively, as a casual thing of no emotional importance. A lot of fronting accompanies some downright stinking dismissive attitudes. This trope holds a special appeal to me, in particular, in the military or the law enforcement setting. Due to the nature of the circumstances, secrecy and skulking around is necessary, creating additional suspense. Inevitably, the characters are forced to man up, often by external circumstances, and face reality, by admitting that the sex has led to more and the dreaded feelings are now involved. Hallelujah. Phew.
What I find particularly touching, is the development of the emotional bond and trust over time. I love the transformation from just indulging in meaningless sex, however great, to being in a tender, committed, loving and supportive relationship.
Zane & Ty (The Cut and Run Series by A. Roux & M. Urban)
Dan & Vadim (The Special Forces Series by A. Voinov)
Jack & D (Zero at the Bone by J. Seville)
Prophet & Tommy (The Hell or High Water Series by S.E. Jakes)
Sloane & Dex (The THIRDS Series by C. Cochet)
Love is often complicated and difficult. However, it’s even more of a complex minefield the second time round, when after a relationship riddled with obstacles and a (preferably dramatic) breakup, the ex-lovers meet again.
Seemingly, the past is all water over the dam. The wounds have closed and the scars have formed; both men have moved on. But in truth the affection, attraction and longing still remain dormant. Even though the trust had been pulverised and under the surface, a powerful concoction of hurt, anger, regret and doubts is bubbling away, the romance prevails. The lovers are finally reunited (aaand cue the applause.)
The way I see it, it’s a romance reader’s paradise. The strong connection, combined with the emotional build up – the anxieties, blame, guilt, past mistakes, and misunderstandings, become a top-notch catalyst for angst.
Moreover, there’s something undeniably moving and incredibly romantic about seizing the chance one thought long gone and irretrievable. The decision of making yourself vulnerable again to the very person who was supposed to catch you, but ultimately failed and broke your heart in the process, is a courageous one and not taken lightly. If it’s still in your mind, it is worth taking the risk, as Paul Coelho said. People only tend to invest their efforts into restoring something they perceive as valuable and extraordinary (unless, naturally, they are emotional idiots, saints, masochists or all of the above.) An HEA delivered after such a heart-wrenching bittersweet journey leaves me drained, yet satisfied. Puffy eyelids, smudged mascara, and a glass of wine are obligatory. An easy winner.
Elliot & Tucker (The All’s Fair Series by J. Lanyon)
Hsin & Boyd (ICoS by S. Hassell & A. Lin)
Christopher & J. X. (Somebody Killed His Editor by J. Lanyon)
Chris & Justin (Ex Equals by L.A. Witt)
Tim & Vincent (The Trouble with Hexes by A. Amara)
The tropes are significant in romances, methinks, possibly to a greater degree than in other genres. In the grand scheme of things, a good trope or a combination of tropes is not guaranteed to make a book a success. It’s not a magic bullet but a tool, only one amongst an array of ingredients. If the other components of this recipe are not up to par – the plot weak, the characters flat, the dialogue fake and the writing mediocre, even the most elaborate trope won’t save the cake. The truth, just like the emperor’s naked butt, will shine through. And this, for once, won’t be a good thing – however I like my sweet buns.
A bilingual Londoner Kasia BB is a literary/medical translator and a proofreader. An avid reader, reviewer and book blogger, she’s currently working on her debut M/M fantasy novel, filled with the shenanigans of assassins and sexy elves. She has a mild coffee and lemon tart addiction, coupled with a slight obsession of all things paranormal. She is a lover of MMA, nature and the great outdoors. She can be found on her website, Twitter, or on Goodreads.