It’s been a while. I’ve been working on moving the site to a new host and platform, and that’s taken a bit longer than I would like, and I still haven’t finished setting up the site to be the way I want it to be. I’ve also drawn blanks on what I wanted to blog about while I’ve been working on a prequel novel/novella to Liam’s Doom. After a series of abandoned story ideas, I listened to the handful of emails I’ve received asking me to tell the story of Samantha and Carmilla’s first attempt at a relationship. And I thought it would be interesting to learn how to write a romance novel and try to blend the modern concept of a romance novel with my own urban fantasy mystery/adventure writing style. I’ve been enjoying the challenge, but I found myself stuck on a traditional romance beat: Adhesion. And, as I researched more on this beat and my struggle to write it, I realized that this offered me the perfect topic for a blog post: the trope of adhesion. So, in this blog post, I’m going to define trope, talk about the trope of adhesion, and explain my issues with the trope.
What is a Trope?
In literary terms, a trope is a “common convention” of a particular medium or genre. Tropes are commonplace and recognizable plot elements, themes, or visual cues that convey something about the art. For example, if a movie set in the DC universe shows a young kid running around in a cape, that scene evokes the commonplace visual element of superheroes who wear capes. In a western, the “good guy in the white hat” and the “bad guy in the black hat” are tropes that have become often-parodied cliches. The presence of a teenage sidekick for heroes, often superheroes, is an example of a character who is a trope. How many fantasy novels and movies (even space fantasies like Star Wars) make use of “The Chosen Hero who Alone can Save Us”, “The Reluctant Hero who Does not Want to go on an Adventure,” and the “Wise Mentor who (Often) Dies to Force the Hero to Mature Alone”? Every genre of storytelling and every medium has its collection of tropes.
In many ways, tropes are unavoidable. Fans of the genre expect those tropes to be there. Unfortunately, tropes can easily become cliches if adhered to without intelligence, creativity, and dexterity. If you read any list or watch any YouTube video on “Ten Fantasy Tropes You MUST Avoid!” or similar topic, you have found tropes that, likely, have become cliches. A cliche, is an element that has become so overused that it suggests a lack of original thought. Because the line between a trope and a cliche is thin, people often have powerful opinions either for or against them.
The Trope of Adhesion
In a romance novel, the trope of adhesion is the last beat in the first act. This is the spot in the story where the author forces the protagonists (in my case, Samantha and Carmilla) into a situation where they are “stuck together.” This is where we see those all-too-familiar tropes: marriage of convenience, going on the run from the authorities, hiding from the villain, a pretend relationship, stranded on an island/in a snowstorm, forced to work together on some important project/task, or entered into a contest/battle together. These are the standard setups in holiday romance movies. In the novel Good Enough to Eat, the protagonists are “stuck together” when one (the Jinn disguising herself as a human lawyer) serves as an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor of the vampire who is using AA as a way to give up drinking actual blood and switch to synthetic blood.
My Issues with Adhesion
I get the purpose of the trope/beat of adhesion. It’s to force two people who are likely not thinking about romance at that moment into a position where they start thinking about love in general and love with this one person specifically. It sets up situations where they have to get to know each other, have to trust each other, and (hopefully) realize that they are perfect for each other (at least for now). And all of those things are important for a relationship to develop and have substance: time spent together, trust, and support. I get that.
However, this trope, for me, is that one trope-that annoying cliche-that often makes me stop reading a romance novel or stop watching a romance movie. When done well, I don’t notice it; however, most uses of this trope feel forced to me. “Oh look, the two romantic leads are in the same isolated mountain lodge when there’s a freak snowstorm that never happens this early in November that prevents them from leaving.” Or “Look at the two rival CEOs who are now forced to work together on…the PTA bake sale?!?” Can these situations happen? Yes. Are all plots contrived by their authors? Yes. Where I have issue with the trope of adhesion is that it feels contrived. More often than not, it feels to me that the author plopped this point in the story because it’s expected of them.
And for many readers, that expectation being met is important. Readers pick up specific genres in order to see specific things happen. In romance novels, they want the two leads to end up together; they want love to conquer all struggles. In a mystery, the reader wants the mystery to be solved after a few false leads are followed. They expect the story to follow a familiar structure. How many fantasy novels follow Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”? I’m no different. When I pick up a certain type of story, I expect certain things to happen, and I become annoyed when those expectations are not met.
And I suppose if I weren’t someone who plays with genre and blends genre structures together then this wouldn’t be much of a problem for me. But that is something I have noticed: when blending the structures of genres, some beats must either be combined or discarded. When two ideas meet and get smashed together, neither emerges unchanged. And when blending romance with paranormal mystery, the adhesion beat/trope is one such beat. And that’s where I am at present. I don’t know where it will lead, but I’m curious and excited to see what happens.
My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook version is, at present, an Amazon exclusive.