Any person who gets far enough into being a passionate consumer of fiction is familiar with certain tropes that are common in their genre of choice. Whether they make the reader laugh or groan, literary tropes are a staple of the craft.
Online communities provide spaces to discuss said tropes. “Booktube” and “Booktok” are full of lists of book recommendations based on the tropes they feature.
Some have even turned to psychoanalyzing people based on what their favorite trope is, which can be hilarious or feel like a personal attack. There’s even a Buzzfeed quiz that reveals what trope fits you best.
There’s a trope for every kind of reader, and it can be a good way of finding books and other media to enjoy. Love enemies to lovers? There’s bound to be a list out there somewhere with book recommendations that will be perfect. Forced proximity? There’s a list. Only one bed? List.
What is the best trope of them all? Obviously, it depends on the reader, but it can be fun to talk about why one trope is favorable to another. And some, like the very nerdy English majors featured below, can have pretty elaborate explanations.
Right person, wrong time: tragic yet beautiful
There are many tropes that readers may gravitate to more than others. Readers may prefer a romance between enemies to lovers or a slow-burn arc between best friends. Some may prefer when a group of characters comes together as a found family. The trope that will always have my heart, though, is the right person at the wrong time.
This may not be everyone’s favorite trope because it typically means the death of a character. Nevertheless, I most enjoy reading a book with this specific cliche.
The first couple that comes to mind who exemplify this trope is Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar from Leigh Bardugo’s “Six of Crows” duology. Not only are they enemies to lovers, but they also fall within the right person, wrong time category.
For those following the “Shadow and Bone” TV show, the next two paragraphs spoil some major plot points about Zenik and Helvar.
Zenik and Helvar’s story spans the course of the two books and is filled with betrayal, distrust and hate. Once the two have finally torn down the walls they built between each other and commit to one another, the book concludes with the gut-wrenching loss of Helvar.
Zenik and Helvar’s story is tragic yet beautiful. “Six of Crows” is a fantastic duology as evidenced by the tears staining the books’ pages, and many readers think of all of the possibilities the couple could have had if both had survived. The book series shows why this trope is so memorable. It is because readers mourn with the character that lives.
Another perspective of the right person wrong, time is Ead and Sabran from Samantha Shannon’s “Priory of the Orange Tree,” but their story is more complex than Zenik and Helvar.
Sabran IX is queen of Inys and the head of House Berethnet. Ead is one of her maidens who takes care of Sabran’s every need, but she is also a secret mage promised to protect Sabran. Over the course of the story, Sabran has a falling out with her marriage, and she relies heavily on Ead after the loss.
At the end of the war that takes place in the book, Sabran and Ead both live, but Sabran must remain queen and Ead has to return to her own country to run the secret religious order she is a part of. They promise each other that they will return to each other in 10 years and that they can be together again then.
That is the perfect example of the right person, wrong time, when someone wants to be with the other so badly but it’s not the right time to do so. It is the most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching thing that can happen to two people.
Whether a character dies within this category or two living people just cannot end up together, I think that this complex type of romance is really what sets one book apart from another.
The idea of the right person but wrong time is one of the most beautiful and tragic things to read about. It is a rare trope to have in a story, but once I stumble upon it, I will always hold the book close to my heart.
Friends to lovers: Just let people be happy
Listen, when I read something for fun, I want to actually have fun and be happy while reading. This is why the best trope is friends to lovers — bonus points if they were childhood friends. There is simply no other trope that can make me grin ear to ear in quite the same way. It’s almost always executed in a way that is wholesome and just incredibly cute.
I do get the appeal of a trope like enemies to lovers or right person, wrong time, but more often than not, those stories either have a more-than-healthy serving of angst or just make me cry. I get very emotionally invested in the fiction that I consume, and I can only handle the sad and complicated stuff up to a point.
Friends to lovers is the way to go. For one, it is by nature a slow burn, which addresses my anxieties about how well the two characters know each other. After all, Romeo and Juliet knew each other for less than 24 hours before getting married, not to mention they were literal children. I like to imagine that things would have ended differently if they had chilled for a second before jumping into a lifelong commitment.
If lovers are friends first, however, I can be comforted by the fact that they have a foundation of trust and understanding of each other.
The trope is fundamentally about how relationships grow and change. Even some of the most fundamental relationships in our lives — parental, sibling, and yes, platonic — don’t maintain the same dynamics. Parents become not just authority figures but friends. Siblings drift apart as they get older. For better or worse, our relationships are constantly evolving and changing, becoming closer or more distant.
Friends to lovers is a trope that explores this aspect of human relationships. It invites the audience to think about how much they’ve grown and changed with the people in their lives. I almost always walk away with a better appreciation for the people that mean the most to me because they’ve been with me through all of my periods of growth and change, and I have in turn, been witness to theirs.
Take, for example, one of my favorite friends to lovers stories: Leigh Bardugo’s “Grisha” trilogy.
The protagonist and the main romantic lead have been best friends since they were young, and they’ve remained close even throughout their tumultuous childhoods. Their relationship is fairly stagnant in the beginning, despite the protagonist’s romantic interest in her friend. It is only after the two are separated early on in the first book, “Shadow and Bone,” that they both begin to realize just how much the other person means to them.
There’s something to be said about the way this relationship points to how circumstances can force change in the nature of a relationship. At the same time, it shows how important it is to stop and appreciate the relationships that we have.
Friends to lovers is an underappreciated trope. It’s not as angsty as enemies to lovers or as heartbreaking as right person wrong time, but it is fun and cute and has the potential to deeply impact the way audiences view their relationships.