I am a connoisseur of fanfic. I’ve spent more hours reading fanfic than I would care to admit, and through my tireless labour I have come up with a definitive list of the best fanfic tropes ever. Sure, you may think ‘but why does she have the final say on the matter?’ and the answer is I’m a narcissist and my opinion truly is the only one that really matters.
Now many of these tropes exist outside of fanfic (usually in YA books) and their existence in these mediums and genres has obviously played a role in the overall list. I will not be ranking these tropes, as they are all winners in my heart and if they’re not on the list, then they are the losers.
Yearning may be super broad and not inherently a ‘trope’, but it’s too important to not include. The concept of yearning, of pining, of longing adds SO much to a romance story. There’s nothing fun about a simple romantic plot, and adding in a healthy dose of yearning can fix even the worst of fanfics. Whether it’s unrequited, mutual (more on this later), or just the product of distance, yearning is the absolute BEST way to display romantic feelings. Yearning is just soooo broad but too essential to a believable romance plot. Like who just jumps straight into asking someone out? No one. Lads we have no choice but to yearn. I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them.
Now mutual pining is just Enhanced yearning, and as such is even better. The whole point of mutual pining is that two characters are just too dumb™ to reveal their feelings or to see that the other person is also into them. We spend the whole time wishing that they would just see what was right in front of them, but of course they never do. But mutual pining gifts us with some extremely Sexy (not sexy, sexy, but just like Sexy) scenes. Nothing hits as hard as back-to-back inner monologues of desire, two characters being so obviously into each other that everyone can see it but them. Like, these fools both believe theirs is an unrequited love, but it’s not, they’re just too dumb to act on what they feel and they both suffer for it. It’s just phenomenal watching a pair of idiots be idiots together.
Enemies to lovers
Ok so enemies to lovers. Absolute God Tier trope. There are so many varieties and subtypes of this trope, and each has its own special take on it. We have straight up enemies to lovers. There is just something about people hating each other but also thinking they’re hot, like that’s just so sexy. There’s friends to enemies to lovers. Like they were friends but then there was a falling out, perhaps a betrayal, so they became enemies, but now they’re realising. A whole lot of angst in that one. But the best has to be enemies to reluctant allies to friends to lovers. Like the build-up, the tension, the longing, the confusion… just so much to work with.
And as it is the best, it is the one we will look at most thoroughly, so let’s break it down into its key components:
Enemies. We begin with a mutual hatred, opposing forces, maybe a villain and a hero, maybe just different people who don’t get along. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these two people just don’t like each other. We absolutely need this step, or we lose a very important aspect: Conflict™.
Next, we have: Allies (preferably reluctant). Here is where things get juicy. Now we have our enemies come together for a mutual cause, BUT we still don’t like each other. Something has to be important enough that they would work together (which alludes to high stakes content–inherently sexy), yet there’s almost constant conflict from their differing stances and opinions. I mean we’re arguing (heatedly), yelling (passionately), undermining (for fun), just actively pushing each other’s buttons just to get a rise out of them. Like you can’t tell me that this isn’t the best trope ever, I just will not hear it.
Following closely is: Friends. This is Essential for me to believe that these people have any hope of maintaining their lover’s status. If they can’t be friends, then all they have going for them is pure sexual chemistry (not that that is a problem). But like the progression is what really sells the trope. These two people are learning, they’re growing, they’re creating good content.
And finally, we have: Lovers. The final point in the transition. They’ve finally admitted to their feelings and from here it usually finishes up the story with a nice happy ending, or occasionally we get a little bit of angst of wow we’re in love but now things (probably bad) are Happening™. Personally, I’m a fan of the latter but I’ll take anything of the sort.
So overall, enemies to lovers is actually the best thing to happen to writing, but I did say I wouldn’t be ranking them so I guess I can’t say that legally. Even if it’s true.
I’m a very predictable person. I like a very specific kind of writing and literally everyone knows what I’m about. And it’s pining. Fake Dating doesn’t necessarily begin with pining, but it basically always has some around the middle (if not then it’s bad ((except in extenuating circumstances))). Like these two fools think to themselves, ‘hey let’s pretend to date each other, there’s no way this could backfire’, and then guess what? It backfires. It’s essentially always the same plot-line, but I, and this is very important, do NOT care. I love silly fun content, like the mental gymnastics these people go through to think it’s a good idea are stupendous. Sometimes they get caught in the act, other times not, but 90% of the time these dummies fool themselves. Now they’re actually in love with the other but can’t admit it because (as they are idiots) the other person couldn’t possibly reciprocate. This is just spin-off mutual pining or, alternatively, an angsty bit of unrequited love. Either way, it’s just good content and I literally do not care what anyone else thinks about this. (Like there are angsty and valid reasons for this, but I am referring to the fool’s fake dating).
Sharing a Bed
Ahh the good old ‘oh no! there’s only one bed! whatever shall we do?’ trope. Ridiculously silly and therefore is perfect for fanfic. Sadly, this bad boy doesn’t show up too frequently, but when it does… *chef kiss*. There’s a lot of untapped sexual tension in this trope and frankly, that’s what makes it so good. We have to understand that every fanfic writer ever has decided that they have to make the characters wretchedly moronic, and that is directly responsible for almost all of these tropes, but this one especially. Like guys, you can sleep in the same bed without things getting wacko, or maybe ask if there’s somewhere else to sleep. But no. One insists on sleeping on the floor, the other says no it’s fine get in the bed, and then there is the required Awkward Time™, and then a potentially romantic/sexual/nice moment in the bed. But they will ALWAYS be awkward about it and that’s where the fun content begins, because, in fanfic, awkwardness breeds drama, and drama is the source of all good fun things.
Specific Job AU?
Finally, we have a special addition of ‘Highly Specific Job AU’ just for Josh.
Upon asking Josh about his favourite fanfic tropes, he listed many of the ones I had already chosen to discuss, with the exception of this AU. So I figured it could have a special mention just to spice things up. Alternate universes are inherently fun because we don’t have to deal with the problems of the original text. We just pick up a couple of fully formed characters chuck them somewhere new and fun and see what they do. It’s especially fun when they’re just the exact same person but now they’re a florist or a lawyer or a tattoo artist or a salesperson. Sometimes they’re just regular people in their own universe or maybe they’re a normal person in this universe but it doesn’t matter. They’re just people now. Doing people things with normal people problems. Literally who needs the original text when your favourite characters are just running around living a generic life doing normal things? It’s nice, it’s fun, and honestly that’s the whole point of fanfic. Things don’t always need to be hard-hitting bro. Show me that sweet, normal, calming content. I honestly don’t care.