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Transgressive Romance 101: Popular Dark Romance Tropes

In previous post, I focused on defining Dark Romance and Transgressive Romance. In that post I had a brief on Dark Romance tropes and I thought we can go more in depth with this topic with examples. I think in order to craft a compelling and marketable dark romance novel, it is essential to understand and analyze the popular tropes within the genre. Tropes are recurring themes, plot devices, or character archetypes that are commonly used in dark romance novels. By analyzing these tropes, you can gain insight into what readers expect and enjoy in this genre, and use them to create a captivating story that resonates with your target audience. Famous dark romance tropes are:

In this regard I will focus on developing more about Transgressive Romance as well. In which I believe the tropes will be:

They sound similar. I know. Let's begin comparing them at the end.

What does trope mean?

In literary terms, a trope refers to a commonly used or recognizable theme, motif, or convention in storytelling. Tropes can encompass various elements such as character types, plot devices, themes, or narrative structures that are frequently employed and easily identifiable in literature, film, or other forms of storytelling. While some tropes can become clichés if overused, others serve as storytelling tools that authors use to convey certain ideas, create familiarity, or engage with audience expectations. Tropes can be specific to genres, creating a shorthand for conveying information or emotions within a particular narrative context.

Trope 1: Enemies to Lovers

  • Characters: The "Enemies to Lovers" trope typically involves two characters who begin the story as adversaries, often holding animosity or conflict towards each other. These characters might have opposing goals, conflicting beliefs, or a history of antagonism that sets the stage for their tumultuous relationship.

  • Setting: The setting in "Enemies to Lovers" stories can vary widely, ranging from contemporary urban environments to historical or fantastical worlds. The choice of setting often contributes to the challenges the characters face in overcoming their initial enmity and navigating their evolving emotions.

  • Theme: At its core, the theme revolves around transformation and the idea that intense conflict can pave the way for unexpected romantic connections. The narrative explores the journey from hostility or rivalry to a profound emotional connection, challenging characters to confront their preconceptions and biases.

  • Motifs: Common motifs within this trope include moments of tension, heated arguments, and instances where characters are forced to collaborate despite their initial differences. The narrative may also incorporate themes of personal growth, redemption, and the breaking down of emotional barriers.

Classic Examples:

"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë:

  • Character: Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw

  • Setting: The bleak moors of Yorkshire, particularly Wuthering Heights

  • Theme: Revenge, obsession, and destructive passion

  • Motifs: Haunting consequences of unbridled emotions, the impact of the supernatural, and the enduring nature of true love.

Modern Example:

"The Cruel Prince" by Holly Black:

  • Character: Jude Duarte and Cardan Greenbriar

  • Setting: The treacherous faerie court, with its political intrigues and magical perils

  • Theme: Betrayal, power struggles, and the complexities of love

  • Motifs: Faerie magic, political machinations, and the blurred lines between enemies and lovers in a world of cunning deception.

Trope 2: Dark and Tortured Heroes

  • Characters: The "Dark and Tortured Heroes" trope features protagonists who possess complex and troubled pasts, often haunted by personal demons or traumatic experiences. These heroes may exhibit brooding personalities, intense emotional struggles, and a reluctance to open up to others.

  • Setting: The setting for stories with dark and tortured heroes can vary widely, encompassing diverse genres such as romance, fantasy, or suspense. Frequently, the setting mirrors the internal turmoil of the hero, providing a backdrop that intensifies the emotional atmosphere.

  • Theme: The central theme revolves around redemption, resilience, and the healing power of love. The narrative often explores the hero's journey to overcome their inner darkness, confronting personal traumas, and finding solace in the connection with the story's heroine or through personal growth.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include the hero's internal struggles, self-sacrifice, and the heroine's role in helping the hero confront and heal from past wounds. Symbolism tied to darkness, isolation, and emotional turmoil may be prevalent throughout the narrative.

Classic Examples:

"The Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux:

  • Character: Erik, the Phantom.

  • Setting: Paris Opera House.

  • Theme: Love and the pursuit of acceptance.

  • Motifs: Masked identity, tragic past, and the Phantom's search for understanding.

Modern Example:

"A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah J. Maas:

  • Character: Rhysand.

  • Setting: Fantasy world.

  • Theme: Healing and empowerment.

  • Motifs: Dark fae lore, internal struggles, and the heroine's transformative impact.

Trope 3: Forced Proximity

  • Characters: The "Forced Proximity" trope involves two characters who are compelled to spend time together due to external circumstances. Whether it's a natural disaster, confinement, or a shared goal, these characters find themselves in close quarters, leading to heightened tension and potential romantic entanglements.

  • Setting: The setting in forced proximity stories often plays a crucial role. It can range from confined spaces like cabins, islands, or locked rooms to larger environments affected by external factors such as weather, travel mishaps, or unforeseen events. The confined setting intensifies the characters' interactions.

  • Theme: The central theme revolves around the characters navigating their forced closeness and the impact it has on their relationship. This trope often explores how the characters' initial discomfort or irritation transforms into camaraderie, friendship, or even romance as they face challenges together.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include shared adversity, reliance on each other for survival, and the gradual breaking down of emotional barriers. The forced proximity creates situations where characters must confront their differences, leading to personal growth and a deepening connection.

Classic Examples:

"Tess of the d'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy:

  • Character: Tess and Q

  • Setting: The oppressive Victorian society and rural landscapes

  • Theme: Sexual coercion, societal judgment, and the tragic consequences of a forbidden love affair.

  • Motifs: Symbolic landscapes, societal oppression, and the exploration of moral ambiguity.

Modern Example:

"The Duke and I" by Julia Quinn:

  • Character: Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset

  • Setting: Regency-era London

  • Theme: Marriage of convenience, societal pressures, and the emotional complexities that arise in a relationship built on proximity.

  • Motifs: Ballroom scenes and social events, the intricate dance of courtship, and the unexpected emotional depth that develops in close quarters.

Trope 4: Redemption and Healing

  • Characters: The "Redemption and Healing" trope typically centers around characters who have experienced past traumas, made regrettable choices, or are burdened by personal guilt. The narrative revolves around their journey toward redemption and emotional healing.

  • Setting: The setting for redemption and healing stories can vary widely, encompassing genres from romance to drama. Often, the setting is chosen to mirror the internal struggles of the characters, providing a backdrop that contributes to the process of redemption and healing.

  • Theme: The central theme focuses on transformation, forgiveness, and the possibility of personal renewal. Characters grapple with their past mistakes, confront inner demons, and embark on a path toward redemption through acts of self-improvement, atonement, or seeking forgiveness from others.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include moments of self-reflection, symbolic gestures of redemption, and the gradual healing of emotional wounds. The narrative may also explore the impact of the characters' past actions on their relationships with others and the broader community.

Classic Examples:

"Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell:

  • Character: Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler

  • Setting: The post-Civil War South

  • Theme: Redemption, resilience, and the transformative power of personal growth amidst societal and personal challenges.

  • Motifs: The scars of war, the changing Southern landscape, and the internal struggles of the characters seeking redemption.

Modern Example:

"It Ends with Us" by Colleen Hoover:

  • Character: Lily and Atlas

  • Setting: Contemporary Boston

  • Theme: Overcoming trauma, personal accountability, and the healing process in the face of challenging relationships.

  • Motifs: Lily's journal entries, the impact of childhood experiences on adult relationships, and the complexities of forgiveness and growth.

Trope 5: Alpha Male/Bad Boy

  • Characters: The "Alpha Male/Bad Boy" trope typically features a male character with dominant and assertive traits, often portrayed as confident, self-assured, and possessing an edgy or rebellious persona. This character archetype exudes a magnetic charm that attracts the romantic interest, setting the stage for a dynamic and intense relationship.

  • Setting: The setting for stories with alpha male or bad boy characters can vary widely, spanning genres such as romance, contemporary fiction, or even fantasy. The choice of setting often complements the character's persona, emphasizing their bold and sometimes rebellious nature.

  • Theme: The central theme revolves around the allure of a strong and confident male character who, despite external rough edges, reveals a softer side in the context of a romantic relationship. The narrative explores the dynamics of power, vulnerability, and the transformative nature of love.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include the alpha male's protective instincts, moments of vulnerability that contrast with their tough exterior, and the gradual unveiling of their complex and multi-faceted personality. The story often challenges stereotypes associated with the bad boy persona.

Classic Examples:

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

  • Character: Jay Gatsby

  • Setting: The opulent world of 1920s Jazz Age

  • Theme: Unrequited love, social aspiration, and the tragic consequences of chasing an idealized version of love.

  • Motifs: Gatsby's mysterious background, the decadence of the Roaring Twenties, and the pursuit of an unattainable love.

Modern Example:

"Bared to You" by Sylvia Day

  • Character: Gideon Cross

  • Setting: Contemporary New York City

  • Theme: Intense passion, emotional baggage, and the challenges of navigating a relationship with a powerful and enigmatic partner.

  • Motifs: Gideon's business empire, the complexities of his past, and the dynamic power play between the characters.

Trope 6: Kidnapping/Abduction

  • Characters: The "Kidnapping/Abduction" trope involves one character forcibly taking another against their will, setting the stage for intense power dynamics and complex relationships. The characters may navigate situations ranging from captivity to Stockholm syndrome.

  • Setting: The setting for kidnapping or abduction stories can vary widely, spanning genres from psychological thrillers to romance. Whether it's a confined space, a remote location, or an urban setting, the environment plays a crucial role in shaping the dynamics between the characters.

  • Theme: The central theme revolves around the exploration of power dynamics, trust, and the potential for unexpected emotional connections in the face of adversity. The narrative often delves into the psychological impact of the abduction, exploring how characters cope and evolve.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include the captive's attempts to escape or resist, the abductor's motives and internal conflicts, and the gradual development of a complex relationship that may transcend the initial circumstances. The story may also touch upon themes of survival and resilience.

Classic Examples:

"Beauty and the Beast" (Various Adaptations):

  • Characters: Beast and Belle.

  • Setting: Enchanted castle.

  • Theme: Transformation and inner beauty.

  • Motifs: Belle's initial captivity, gradual understanding, and the transformative power of love.

Modern Example:

"Stolen: A Letter to My Captor" by Lucy Christopher:

  • Characters: Ty and Gemma.

  • Setting: Australian outback.

  • Theme: Survival and complex emotions.

  • Motifs: Abduction into a remote location, psychological exploration, and the evolving relationship between captor and captive.

Trope 7: Forbidden Love

  • Characters: The "Forbidden Love" trope revolves around characters engaged in a romantic relationship that faces societal, cultural, or personal barriers. These barriers create tension and challenges, forcing the characters to confront the consequences of pursuing a love deemed socially or morally unacceptable.

  • Setting: The setting for forbidden love stories can span various genres and time periods. It often involves environments where societal norms and expectations heavily influence interpersonal relationships, adding complexity to the characters' romantic entanglements.

  • Theme: The central theme explores the tension between love and societal constraints. Forbidden love narratives often delve into the characters' internal conflicts, the sacrifices they make, and the consequences they face for defying established norms. The theme emphasizes the transformative power of love.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include secret meetings, clandestine affairs, and the characters navigating the challenges of keeping their love hidden. The narrative may also explore themes of sacrifice, rebellion, and the pursuit of personal happiness against the backdrop of societal expectations.

Classic Examples:

"Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy:

  • Characters: Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky.

  • Setting: Imperial Russia.

  • Theme: Adultery and societal expectations.

  • Motifs: Forbidden affair leading to social ostracization, internal conflicts, and tragic outcomes.

Modern Example:

"The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer" by Michelle Hodkin:

  • Character: Noah Shaw and Mara Dyer

  • Setting: Contemporary settings with a touch of the supernatural

  • Theme: Forbidden love entwined with supernatural elements, psychological complexities, and the blurred lines between reality and the unknown.

  • Motifs: The mysterious circumstances surrounding Mara, the supernatural occurrences, and the psychological tension that defines their forbidden connection.

Trope 8: Psychological Thriller Elements

  • Characters: The "Psychological Thriller Elements" trope involves characters facing intense psychological challenges, often with elements of suspense, mystery, and mental intrigue. Protagonists and antagonists navigate complex psychological landscapes, adding depth and tension to the narrative.

  • Setting: The setting for psychological thriller stories is often chosen to amplify the psychological tension. It can range from claustrophobic and isolated spaces to urban environments where the characters' psychological struggles are mirrored in their surroundings.

  • Theme: The central theme revolves around the exploration of the human mind, unveiling secrets, and the psychological impact of intense situations. Themes of paranoia, manipulation, and the blurring of reality often contribute to the overall sense of psychological unease.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include unreliable narrators, twists and turns, and the gradual revelation of hidden truths. Symbolism tied to mental states, fragmented realities, and the exploration of characters' fears and anxieties are prevalent throughout the narrative.

Classic Examples:

"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas:

  • Character: Maximilian Morrel and Valentine de Villefort

  • Setting: Early 19th-century France

  • Theme: Revenge, betrayal, and the psychological toll of a man's quest for retribution.

  • Motifs: The intricate plot of revenge, the moral complexities faced by the characters, and the psychological transformation of the protagonist, Edmond Dantès.

Modern Example:

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn:

  • Character: Amy and Nick Dunne

  • Setting: Contemporary suburban America

  • Theme: Deception, manipulation, and the exploration of societal expectations in relationships.

  • Motifs: Unreliable narrators, psychological twists, and the intricate web of lies

Trope 9: Paranormal or Supernatural Elements

  • Characters: The "Paranormal or Supernatural Elements" trope involves characters grappling with extraordinary phenomena beyond the scope of natural laws. Protagonists often encounter supernatural beings, possess paranormal abilities, or navigate worlds where magical or mystical forces play a significant role.

  • Setting: The setting for paranormal or supernatural stories is often crafted to accommodate the otherworldly elements. It can range from contemporary urban environments with hidden magical societies to fantastical realms where supernatural creatures thrive.

  • Theme: The central theme revolves around the intersection of the normal and the supernatural, exploring the impact of paranormal occurrences on the characters' lives. Themes of destiny, the battle between good and evil, and the acceptance of the extraordinary are common in these narratives.

  • Motifs: Common motifs include magical or supernatural artifacts, prophecies, and the clash between mundane and fantastical realities. The narrative may also explore the characters' struggles with their newfound abilities, the consequences of engaging with supernatural forces, and the moral dilemmas that arise.

Classic Examples:

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker:

  • Characters: Count Dracula and Van Helsing.

  • Setting: Transylvania and England.

  • Theme: Vampirism and the supernatural.

  • Motifs: Immortality, supernatural powers, and the clash between the natural and the supernatural.

Modern Example:

"A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness:

  • Character: Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont

  • Setting: Contemporary Oxford

  • Theme: Forbidden love, supernatural alliances, and the challenges of navigating a world where magical beings coexist.

  • Motifs: Ancient manuscripts, the complexities of supernatural societies, and the exploration of magical powers within a modern setting.

Transgressive Romance Tropes:

  1. Taboo Relationships: Explores relationships considered unconventional or socially taboo.

  2. Exploration of Power Dynamics: Focuses on the dynamics of power within relationships.

  3. Moral Ambiguity: Characters grapple with moral dilemmas, challenging traditional values.

  4. Non-Traditional Endings: Departure from conventional happily-ever-after endings.

  5. Social Commentary: Addresses societal issues and norms within the context of romance.

  6. Emotional Complexity: Characters experience intricate emotional landscapes.

  7. Unconventional Settings: Takes place in settings that defy traditional romance norms.

Comparison between Dark Romance and Transgressive Romance:

  • Both sets of tropes involve intense emotions, complex relationships, and challenges to societal norms.

  • Famous dark romance tropes often focus on individual character traits (e.g., tortured heroes, alpha males), while transgressive romance tropes delve into broader societal and moral themes.

  • Transgressive romance puts a stronger emphasis on unconventional settings and social commentary.

  • While both types can involve forbidden love, transgressive romance goes beyond personal obstacles to challenge broader social constructs.


Dark Romance Tropes

Transgressive Romance Tropes


Individual character dynamics and relationships

Broader societal and moral themes within romantic relationships

Character Emphasis

Individual character traits (e.g., tortured heroes, alpha males)

Broader exploration of power dynamics, moral ambiguity, and emotional complexity


Often centered around personal challenges and internal conflicts

Address societal issues, challenge norms, and explore unconventional settings


Typically follows conventional romance endings

May feature non-traditional endings, deviating from the expected happily-ever-after


Settings may vary but often adhere to conventional romantic settings

Emphasis on unconventional and non-traditional settings

Social Commentary

Limited exploration of societal commentary

Explicit focus on addressing social issues and norms within the context of romance

Phew! Another long article. So... to compare I can say that while famous dark romance tropes highlight individual character dynamics, transgressive romance tropes aim to push boundaries and explore societal norms in the context of romantic relationships. That's why I recommend to explore such books if you want to enjoy reading yet help your brain to think not just about how smutty a story can get but about whys and hows of how human behave.

If you read it all and stayed up to here, congratulations. You're not like the rest. Surely a real reader and thinker not a gold fish with 3 sec attention span;)

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