5 Romantic Fanfiction Tropes We Can Thank Jane Austen For

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice Stamp 2013

Not many authors are favored by serious literary scholars and casual readers alike, but Jane Austen is one of the chosen few. Writers continue to be inspired as well, as evidenced by the romantic fanfiction tropes we’ll explore here.

Many have pondered what makes Austen’s oeuvre so beloved by so many; personally, I think a huge part of her enduring relevance is that she popularized a number of classic tropes that we still see and love today, in everything from the erotic novellas of Anaïs Nin to everyone’s favorite rom-coms like Clueless.

You’ll also spot Austen in the more obscure corners of the internet, particularly in fandom. Both Austen titles and fanfiction are known for their romantic plots and protagonists who are set on finding true love — or just as often, those who have it thrust upon them unexpectedly. There’s even an established crossover of the two, with “Jane Austen Fan Fiction” (known to fans as JAFF) growing in popularity with the dawn of the Wattpad era.

But Austen’s favorite tropes are not solely the preserve of JAFF! Fanfiction writers the world over frequently employ classic romance tropes that Austen used in her novels. If you’re curious what these tropes are and how they originally manifested, allow me to name a few key examples.

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Quotes from Sense and sensibility

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#1 – Forbidden love

Many Austen novels feature a romance complicated by external factors, whether that be class differences, disapproving families, or pesky secret fiancées. In Sense and Sensibility, for example, Edward Ferrars is duty-bound to honor his loveless (secret) engagement to childhood sweetheart Lucy Steele, but feels an uncontrollable attraction to the blissfully ignorant Elinor.

This clash between passion and real-world responsibility is an Austen favorite, and her “forbidden love” model has transcended into today’s storytelling, including and especially fanfiction. It’s a timeless dynamic that establishes high stakes and sustains plenty of dramatic tension throughout a tale. Though it might seem a bit predictable, there’s a reason this trope is so popular: it makes for a great story, even if it is a little painting-by-numbers.

Something standing in the way of two lovers not only becomes great fodder for a crisis (or multiple crises) in the story, but also encourages the reader to invest more in the relationship and root for the unlucky pair.

By the conclusion of Sense and Sensibility, we’re desperate for Elinor and Edward to get together — and the fact that Lucy ends up happy anyway is the cherry on top. This is also the aim of the game for lots of fanfiction; if you know your couple has gone through some hardship, their happy ending becomes all the sweeter.

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Jane Austen Emma stamp 2013

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#2 – Friends to lovers

Common interests, shared understanding, and mutual respect — all to say, friendship — is the basis of any great romance, right? Therefore it’s no surprise that so many of our favorite couples in fanfic follow this arc, starting out as platonic companions before their relationship blossoms into true love. But did you know that Austen pretty much wrote the script on this trope?

Emma, of course, is the quintessential example of the “friends to lovers” dynamic. Leading lady Emma Woodhouse is intent on matchmaking others, but usually leaves a trail of chaos in her wake. Luckily, Mr. Knightley — her brother-in-law, close friend, and confidant — is always by her side to give her some level-headed advice when she’s made yet another unknown blunder in Highbury’s romantic scene.

Eventually Emma realizes her feelings for him, and the story ends in a double marriage: another case of the empathetic Austen whipping up happy endings not just for the main pairing, but for their former prospects as well.

 

#3 – Enemies to lovers

If you’re well-acquainted with the friends to lovers trope, you’ve likely heard of enemies to lovers, too. This one arguably ups the ante, because your protagonists aren’t just moving from liking to really liking each other — they’re going the full 180 degrees. It’s only natural that fanfic writers have a particular penchant for this trope, as it can take on both intense, emotional dimensions and lighthearted frivolity, depending on the writer’s whim.

Not only does this make for great, pacy drama, but enemies to lovers also makes room for a lot of humor as well. Pride and Prejudice is the masterclass on this trope for exactly this reason: Elizabeth and Darcy’s tempestuous relationship has had readers breaking out into laughter and feeling hot under the collar in equal measures for centuries.

Plus, what’s more impressive plot-wise than taking two characters from scorching hatred to ardent admiration and love? If you’re a writer of fanfiction (or any sort of romantic fiction) looking for a narrative challenge, enemies to lovers is the way to go.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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#4 – A misunderstanding

The tropes that resonate most with us are often those that best reflect reality. As much as we might fantasize about it, we all know it’s pretty unusual for two people to go from total disdain to running off into the sunset in just a few scenes, even if it does make for a good story. On the other hand, getting one’s wires crossed — whether from mishearing a conversation or misinterpreting a signal — truly does happen to the best of us.

Jane Austen knew that romance doesn’t always come easy and that, realistically, there should be not-insignificant obstacles and miscommunications standing between every good romance heroine and her HEA. Emma provides a perfect example of this kind of misapprehension in love, with Emma’s mistaken belief that Mr Elton is interested in her chosen match for him, Harriet — when in fact, he’s been trying to seduce Emma herself.

Though a misunderstanding can feel insignificant in the moment, it tends to snowball into calamitous consequences in the world of love.

This is what makes it such a fun trope for fanfiction writers to cut their teeth on: a misunderstanding can be taken in so many different (and dramatic) directions. It can function as a great hinge point for a bit of comedy, and continue until a grand crescendo nearer the end of your fiction. But alternatively, it can also be weaponized to frustrate and agonize your readers, if you’re so inclined!

 

#5 – Fools rush in

Are we ever quite so foolish in love as when we are embarking on formative romantic experiences? In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia Bennett — in line with her naive yet rebellious nature — runs off with the caddish Wickham. As a result, Darcy has to rush in to save her honor, which he does by paying a large sum of money to Wickham to marry Lydia honestly.

These kinds of mishaps can only occur when one member of the party is too foolish (or perhaps lovesick) to see the error of their ways… and this kind of romantic recklessness has been explored in many a fanfic to great effect. The “fools rush in” trope is usually employed as a cautionary tale, but occasionally as a wholehearted celebration of being crazy in love.

Clearly, Jane Austen deserves her title of undisputed queen of romance tropes — and if you’ve ever inadvertently used any of these in your own creative writing, you now know who to thank.

Contributed by Savannah Cordova, a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects indie authors with the world’s best publishing professionals. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading fiction and writing short stories. She’s a big fan of Jane Austen and fanfiction alike.

See more writing advice inspired by classic women authors here on Literary Ladies Guide.

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