Posted On May 28, 2014 by Print This Post

Layering Multiple Tropes with Lea Nolan

Lea Nolen is a fab YA author but with her latest release she enter the world of category romance and she’s here to teach us the way to layer tropes for maximum impact!

Thanks so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here at Romance University!

My latest book, His Billion Dollar Baby is a category-length contemporary romance that is chock filled with tropes that Lea Nolan Cropped Bio Picromance readers love. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss how I layered those tropes, not just to set up the story, but to build backstory, further character development, and propel the plot.

What exactly is a trope?

A trope is simply a common literary or thematic device used in storytelling. Sometimes the word trope is used derisively, to insult a work or its elements that appear to be cliché or overdone. For example, the young blonde woman in a horror movie who tiptoes toward the strange noise in the garage, rather than running for her life. Granted, we’ve see that one a bajillion times, but not all tropes are bad, and can in fact help readers/viewers quickly categorize a story. You know what to expect from a friends to lovers story, or a vigilante revenge fantasty (note: these two tropes may or may not appear in the same book).

“There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” Audre Lorde

In other words, tropes can be viewed as merely another way of presenting a similar story or theme. And really, that’s what storytellers have been doing for ages, ever since the Greeks invented the three-act structure. So tropes aren’t to be feared so much as employed and riffed on to make a story fresh and feel new.

Common Tropes

By way of illustration, here are a few common tropes found in romance books:

• Cinderella Story/Wrong side of the tracks – This is your basic Pretty in Pink set up where a poor/social outcast ends up with the wealthy, socially connected character.
• Bait and Switch – Here, the hero/heroine pretends to be someone else and has to keep up the ruse after falling in love.
• Boss/Employee – Anyone else love The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds? Yeah, me too.
• Fake Engagement – A relationship of convenience, where neither the hero nor heroine expects their arrangement to go any further. Until it does.
• Friends to Lovers/Best Friend’s Brother – I think this one is self-explanatory.

Layering Tropes

One way to make a common trope feel fresh is to layer it with others and interweave them together. For example, in His Billion Dollar Baby, I use the following tropes: unexpected pregnancy, enemies to lovers, wrong side of the track, damsel in distress, bachelor playboy, and tortured hero. Whew! Now that I’ve written them out, that’s a lot.

I’m not suggesting that all stories need this many, or more. In fact some tropes can generate enough conflict to sustain an entire book on their own. But for my money, layering multiple tropes helps to create a richer and more complex story, even at the category length.

The trick isn’t to toss in a bunch of arbitrary tropes salad-bar-style, but to weave your tropes together to create depth and an interconnected plot. What do I mean by this? By ensuring that every one of your tropes contributes in some way to your hero and heroine’s backstory; current goals, motivations and conflicts; and provides rationale for/propels your plot.

For each trope you select, ask yourself: what does this mean for this character? How has it shaped his/her past? What does it mean for what they think today? How will it impact their future actions/what they want? What plot point will challenge their assumptions and force them to change? Does this plot point relate to the other tropes I’ve already selected?

For example, my hero, Carter Anderson starts off as the quintessential billionaire playboy. As the CEO of his family’s multi-national athletic company, he’s got it all—money, power, prestige—and, thanks to his conniving ex-wife, a seriously broken heart that leaves him suspect of any woman who might be interested in his family’s vast fortune.

Enter, Gwen Radley, the spunky heroine, an army physical therapist and former foster child, who definitely comes from the wrong side of the tracks. When she shows up, pregnant, to his brother’s funeral, Carter immediately assumes she’s a gold digger, only there for her baby’s inheritance. His suspicions mount after a series of events land her homeless, and lead her to move into the Anderson family estate. After the two begin to collaborate on a shoe for wounded veterans, his tortured past and present misgivings, conspire to keep them apart, even after Gwen’s actions prove her good intentions.

Over the course of this enemies to lovers story, Carter and Gwen parry, and every new plot point rifts on these larger themes to challenge Carter’s assumptions, push his limits, and ultimately teach him to trust Gwen’s intentions and actions.

Thanks again for having me, this was a lot of fun! I hope I’ve inspired you to play with multiple tropes, layering them to create deeper and ultimately, more fulfilling stories.



What are your favorite tropes and how would layer them?

Avery Flynn is here on Friday to talk fashion and research!


Check out Lea’s latest release, His Billion Dollar Baby
HBDB-FINAL cover w:red quote 9781622665853 - Medium ResolutionBurned by love and grieving over his brother’s death, sexy billionaire CEO Carter Anderson wants nothing more than to protect his family. So when beautiful and unassuming physical therapist Gwen Radley shows up at the funeral, pregnant with his brother’s baby, Carter’s certain she wants an interest in the Anderson empire—and both his suspicion and attraction grow when circumstances force Gwen to move into his family’s mansion.

An orphan, Gwen’s never wanted anything more than a family, and she finds in the Andersons a place she and her baby might belong. When Gwen’s therapy expertise leads to long hours of intense, late-night collaboration on a lucrative project, the attraction between her and Carter leads to a night of white-hot passion. But Carter’s distrust remains, leading them both to wonder if he will ever embrace his brother’s baby—or the love that’s blooming between them.


***On sale for just $0.99 for a limited time!***



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Lea Nolan writes smart, witty contemporary stories for adults filled with head-swooning, heart-throbbing, sweep-you-off your feet romance. She also pens books for young adults featuring bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. Born and raised on Long Island, New York, she loves the water far too much to live inland. With her heroically supportive husband and three clever children, she resides in Maryland where she scarfs down crab cakes whenever she gets the chance.

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10 Responses to “Layering Multiple Tropes with Lea Nolan”

  1. I would love to know if there is a “master list” of romance tropes somewhere. Do you know of one?

    Posted by Frances Brown w/a Claire Gem | May 28, 2014, 11:58 am
  2. Hi Lea,

    I’m always asking myself if a single trope has enough juice to sustain a story, so layering them is ideal as long as the characters are developed and their motivation is plausible. Employing multiple tropes is helpful when I write myself into a corner. Characters with lots of issues means there’s a lifeline out there somewhere!

    Thanks for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 28, 2014, 3:41 pm
    • I couldn’t agree more, Jennifer. I think as long as you find a way to relate all your tropes, you can make them work. And there’s nothing better than finding a way out of the corner! 🙂

      Posted by Lea Nolan | May 29, 2014, 8:48 am
  3. Evening Lea…sorry I’m so late to join in!

    Are tropes mainly used in category romance? And layered tropes in a longer romance? Since I’ve never really thought of layering tropes, it just strikes me that would be best for a longer romance….=)

    Great’s a thought provoker!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 28, 2014, 10:32 pm
    • Hi Carrie,

      I think tropes are used in nearly every story, the question is how obvious you make them. Even Pride and Prejudice has a trope – rebellious girl/bad boy. Elizabeth rebels against her parents wishes (and supposed financial well being) when she refuses to marry Mr. Collins; and despite her protest to the contrary she can’t help but fall for the arrogant Mr. Darcy.

      I think the tropes are more pronounced in category romances because they’re often identified upfront and center in the titles. When you see something like The Tragic CEO’s Alluring Nanny you pretty much know what it’s going to be about. Whereas it’s more obscure in the movie title Two Weeks Notice (Sandra Bullock is basically Hugh Grant’s Nanny).

      I think you can layer tropes in any length story. My book is a category length and I layered the tropes on. Of course, they’ll work for a longer book, too.

      🙂 Lea

      Posted by Lea Nolan | May 29, 2014, 9:18 am
  4. Great post! Tropes fascinate me – some people talk about them like they’re a bad thing, but I don’t agree. I’m especially fond of the reunion tropes – where the hero and or heroine returns to their hometown and meets up with an old love. That one never grows old for me!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 28, 2014, 10:49 pm
  5. Could you give advice for writing the boss/employee trope? I’ve been trying to write that, but finding it difficult.

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by Anne | May 29, 2014, 6:18 pm


  1. […] NOLEN shares the ins and outs of tropes here. (Ahem…I have to add that I had no idea what a trope […]

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