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Sabrina Jeffries Shares Her Favorite Historical Romance Tropes

Historical romance tropes exist for a reason—they create the steamy situations we can't get enough of.

cover of the bachelor, a historical romance book by sabrina jeffries

I happen to like trope-y romances, especially ones that take the trope and twist it to within an inch of its bare bones so that the reader gets both the pleasure of watching the trope unfold and the feeling that it’s all new. With that said, here are some of my favorites in historical romances.

Enemies to Lovers

I’m not sure this is a fair trope to include, since many, many classic historical romances start with the hero and heroine at oddsPride and Prejudice, Lord of Scoundrels, The Wolf and the Dove (hey, it’s even right there in the title!), Gentle Rogue, and Whitney, My Love among them. But it is a favorite of mine. 

This historical romance trope buys into the old “hate is the flip side to love” idea, and the sex is always great because of all that smoldering sexual tension. Plus, it’s so much fun to watch the hero and heroine backpedaling once they get to know each other and realize they had made some false assumptions about their “enemy.” Now it’s time to pay the piper! So to speak.

Related: How to Find a Romance Book by Description 

Friends to Lovers

When I was sixteen, a guy I’d thought of as a “buddy” for four years asked me to the Junior-Senior prom. I’d never thought of him romantically, but what the hey, it was the prom, right? Then he pushed his luck and asked me to see “Romeo and Juliet” with him the week before prom. We went and it turned out very … well, romantic. Lo and behold, my “buddy” was quite the dashing young fellow, and I hadn’t even noticed. 

Although we only dated a few months (we were sixteen, remember?), we fell madly in puppy love … at least until my family moved away. That began my lifelong enjoyment of “friends to lovers” stories. It’s probably why my favorite Jane Austen novel (next to Pride and Prejudice) is Emma and why I adore the movie Sabrina (but you should expect that, given my pseudonym, right?), not to mention countless romance novels with the friends-to-lovers trope

Related: 14 Must-Read Books for Fans of Jane Austen

I particularly love the variation on this trope where the heroine falls in love with her best friend’s brother or vice-versa. I enjoy waiting for the moment when the hero/heroine realizes that the spouse they’ve been looking for was right under their nose all this time. The other great thing about this romance trope? The main characters already think they know each other’s secrets, but they really don’t. Their reaction to that revelation is always fun.

Marriage of Convenience

Although I haven’t written many books with this historical romance trope, I love reading them sooo much. In case you’ve been on an island and don’t know what an MOC is, here’s how it works. 

First, create a legal or social reason requiring the hero and heroine to marry. Typical ones for historical romance include having marriage be a requirement in a will (we must marry by sundown or lose grandma’s fortune, oh no!; being compromised (we were seen doing fun things to each other and now we must marry or risk shame and scandal, oh no!); having the hero win the heroine in some game of chance (not legal, actually, but you can get around that in various ways); having the hero buy the heroine (mail order brides, hello!) or anything else that you can come up with that doesn’t strain credulity and would work historically. 

I once wrote a book with a marriage by proxy where the heroine thought she had the hero’s full consent—except that he didn’t know about it until she showed up on his doorstep. His brother just pretended he did. So to keep up appearances, they continued with the marriage until they could sever the relationship. Of course, it turned into a real marriage, which was just fine by everyone. 

Related: 10 Marriage of Convenience Books That Prove Love Works in Mysterious Ways

And that’s what comes after you’ve created the MOC construct—the part where the marriage becomes real. I love that part because the hero and heroine can have sex legally—and usually do—but they have to work at the mental and emotional connection. Kind of like with a real marriage, except that they had no courtship period, so they’re thrown into the pool and it’s sink or swim. 

Before you condemn this trope as far-fetched, keep in mind that Hollywood was still making MOC movies until recently. And those have contemporary settings, where an MOC is a lot more implausible than in historical romances.

Beauty and the Beast

I adore this trope. It’s wonderful to see a “beast” succumb to love because he (or she—you can find either these days) meets the one person who can civilize all that raw energy. It works because the beast is only savage and uncivilized outwardly. Inside, the beast is a mushy mess of raw emotion with a heart of gold. 

Related: 7 Enchanting Fairy Tale Retellings for Romance Readers

In the course of the story (this one is popular not only in books but in movies and TV as well), the beast character learns that it’s okay to have feelings as long as you don’t hurt other people while expressing them. And the beauty character learns that beauty comes from within. 

And speaking of tropes being twisted, one of my favorite Beauty and the Beast stories in a movie is something no one would ever call that: Groundhog Day. In essence, Phil relives the day until he changes from a beast (socially, if not physically) into a man finally suitable enough to win Rita, the beauty. I love that movie. 

Did you love reading this essay from Sabrina Jeffries? Don’t miss the newest book in her Duke Dynasty series!

the bachelor, a historical romance by sabrina jeffries

The Bachelor

By Sabrina Jeffries

Years ago, Lady Gwyn Drake had an ill-judged affair. Now, her former suitor is back—and threatening to blackmail her by going public with her secrets. To keep her safe, Gwyn’s brother sends her away to London with Joshua Wolfe, the estate’s gamekeeper. Joshua would do anything to protect Gwyn, but it’s torture to spend so much time with a woman whose beauty he’s been trying to ignore...