Tropes. Often as much a hot-button topic for romance authors as politics is for others. Some authors love them and some authors like ‘em as much as they do a dead spider on the bottom of their shoe. For me, the tropier, the better.
Because they’re so handy!
Whether as marketing tools (“Hey, what’s your book about? Well, it’s a story of a man posing as a woman’s fake fiancée who then uses the opportunity to show her how he’s felt for year?”) or writing guides (“The whole story centers around a surprise pregnancy. Let’s figure out how the baby got made, when did she discover she was preggers, how does the partner feel about the baby, when is she due…”) they provide a shorthand with which to snag an industry professional’s attention or a reader’s notice.
But I’ve discovered there is one trope in particular that appears calls to me, luring me in like a BOGO sale at Amazon on Black Friday.
The forced proximity trope.
With this trope, your main romantic characters are forced by circumstances (sometimes another trope) into spending time together. This could be anything from trapped in a cabin during a storm of some sort to a road trip romances; anything that the characters cannot escape the romantic interest’s presence.
But it’s not an easy trope either. As you know, being trapped in an elevator with a stranger for hours can create a world of hurt. The temperature rises. You become hotter and hotter but you can’t unlayer because you’re trapped some rando you don’t know from Adam and there’s nowhere to go and the walls are closing in and your breath wheezes in and out and your heart lodges in the back of your throat until, until…BOOM. Then you have to explain your nightmares of being trapped underground because one of your parents died in a cave collapse.
But that’s one of the reasons I adore this trope. The vulnerability it allows your characters. But you can’t just force them together and say they’re in love. You have to do justice to the characters (and your story) at the same time showing the progression to love. Forced proximity provides the means, not the excuse. These characters are still human, with their everyday human failings, and most of the time with a resistance to falling in love.
Opportunity is the beauty of forced proximity.
Forced proximity enables a character to give a romantic interest a chance they might not have otherwise. The people in the situation bypass the usual first meeting timidity and hesitations to slice immediately to the heart and meat of the character and story. The shy fellow who can’t talk to guys and often finds himself pushed to the background gains an opportunity when the only person to talk to is the handsome guy next door, the one he’s been crushing on for months. Think of all the times you met someone on a blind date, only to discover three dates in how much of a douche the other person was. Wouldn’t you have rather gotten all that information immediately instead of wasting your time?
Opportunity is one of the hallmarks of romance.
Why now and why this person (or persons)? That is the heart of our stories—to answer those questions. If something didn’t arise to force the other person into the other’s path (and keep them there), the character would never discover a person who could love them and bring them to a higher level of awesome.
So in a way, all romances have an element of this trope. And is the main reason I adore it. To me, it’s the essence of romance.
Want to try this trope for yourself? Here are a few of my favorites: Delaney’s Desert Sheikh by Brenda Jackson, Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye, Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren, and Take the Lead by Alexis Daria.
Crazy on You
Meet Diane. What will you do when love is in the fast lane?
Diane Thompson wakes up in the backseat of her car, shocked to find she’s acquired a chauffeur. Realizing she’s been inadvertently kidnapped, she swears off tequila—and Chili’s—then dials 9-1-1. But her rescue comes at a cost. Her savior, too-macho-for-words Lt. Cole Anderson, refuses to let Diane out of his sight until her kidnappers are apprehended. He’s already lost one woman he cared about due to his inattention; he’s not letting it happen a second time.
But Diane isn’t a damsel-in-distress type of girl. When it turns out the criminals left a valuable item in her car and they want it back, involving Cole isn’t part of her plan and not only because the criminals have forbidden her from involving the cops. Men are like birds—messy, easily distracted, and only around when there’s something to eat. She’s got this. All she has to do is find and return the item in question to the drug runners threatening her life, survive a high-speed car chase, and keep her vow to never trust a man with her heart.
" A unique, relatable heroine with an hilarious, snarky, unstoppable attitude." - Contemporary Author, Jessie Gussman