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How to Fix a Saggy Storytelling Middle Using Tropes

As romance authors, we’re always thinking of ways to get through the dreaded middle of our books. We want to keep readers engaged, advance the plot, and dazzle them with our unique characters. That’s a tall order.

But thankfully, tropes can help us do all those things!

Let’s look at how the 2003 movie Somethings Gotta Give starring Diane Keaton, and Jack Nicholson uses tropes. As of this writing, it’s free on Amazon prime if you want to check it out.

Here is a list of the film’s tropes: age gap, billionaire, family, friends to lovers, forced proximity, journey, love triangle, medical trope, and second chance.

And here’s my synopsis so we can see how the talented writer, director, and producer Nancy Meyers jam-packed this story full of tropes to tell us an original story.

Divorced playwright Erica (Diane Keaton) arranges to spend her weekend writing in her Hampton mansion. She’s surprised to discover her adult daughter Marin (Amanda Peet) and her new boyfriend, Harry (Jack Nicolson), also plan to spend the weekend there.

Erica would be delighted about her daughter’s new relationship except (playboy billionaire bachelor) Harry is old enough to be Marin’s father (age gap). Harry doesn’t care what Erica thinks, although Erica clarifies her disgust, so the weekend is off to a tense start.

But all that changes when Harry suffers a heart attack at Erica’s house. His doctor (Keanu Reeves) recommends Harry recuperate at Erica’s home instead of returning to New York with Marin. His doctor also expresses admiration for Erica, which intrigues Harry.

In the way kids head off to college, leaving a pet behind, Erica is stuck with Harry. She keeps herself busy writing while he rests, but Harry soon becomes bored. Marin assures her mother by phone during Harry’s recovery that they never slept together. During his recovery (forced proximity), he and Erica become friends then lovers.

Harry and Erica seem like the perfect fit on pretty much every level.

But after Harry’s recovery, he returns to New York and his playboy ways. Erica soon returns to the city too. When Marin’s father becomes engaged to a woman her age, she begs her mother to attend the dinner, which Erica reluctantly does. At the restaurant, she runs into Harry on a date with a new younger woman (love triangle).

Erica is heartbroken, so she pours her emotions into a new play. She also strikes up a romance with Harry’s doctor (age gap).

While Erica’s new play is a hit, Harry starts a journey of self-discovery by contacting his former girlfriends to make amends about his past behaviors. He can’t get over Erica despite her having moved on.

Harry surprises her in Paris on her birthday, where she’s celebrating with Harry’s doctor (love triangle). Harry realizes he’s missed out on the love of his life. The irony isn’t lost on him that he figures this out only to discover she’s unavailable. He starts to wander off alone when Harry and Erica reunite on Paris bridge for their HEA (second chance).

We can see that this movie used more than a few tropes. But their use only makes this story more compelling. After Harry and Erica’s connection during his recovery, they alternate highs and lows until their reunion finds them at the same physical and emotional place.

We know our readers don’t want the path to true love to run smoothly; they are there for the vicarious conflict. The emotional agony of how perfect Harry and Erica are for each other despite missing their chance gives us a sweeter happy ending. Tropes don’t only provide us with a plot; they enrich the story’s heart.

Thinking over your current work in progress, do you have enough tropes adding to the conflict? Are there ways you can add more?


About the Author:

Jennifer Hilt is a USA Today Bestselling author who has worked as a plotter and concept creator. She has written 24 books across four pen names. She has degrees in linguistics and literature. She lives in Seattle with her family and canine fan club. She loves collecting dictionaries in unfamiliar languages, bingeing Scandi-Noir streaming series, and shouting out tropes from the comfort of her couch. Her new nonfiction book, The Trope Thesaurus, is available through Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Nobles books. Please visit her at for more information.


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