The Enemies-to-Lovers Romance Trope

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How to Best Write Characters Who Go from Enemies to Lovers

The enemies to lovers—or frenemies—trope is a delicious romance premise. Who doesn’t love the tug of war, the push and pull, of two people who get under each other’s skin? It’s even juicier when these characters want to know what it would be like to get each other under the covers. This is a classic trope, but it can be tricky. After all, both protagonists have to hate or dislike each other, but they also have to be appealing to the reader. If you’re working on a love story, here are the key elements of the enemies-to-lovers romance trope.

Make Both Characters Likeable

At the core of every romance is the reader’s desire to see the main characters fall in love by the end of the book. Although you want to create tension, it’s also crucial that the reader roots for both of these people. You don’t want your audience to feel like someone should intervene on the heroine’s behalf to save her from a terrible life if she gets together with the hero. Therefore, it’s important to make both characters likeable to the reader…even if these great traits are invisible to the main characters.

The easiest way to do this is to show the leads interacting with other people. It’s a chance to showcase their compassion, humor, thoughtfulness and general likeability. Let the reader see why, despite being a dominant werewolf, or a ruthless billionaire businessman, or even just a seeming playboy, that he really does have a heart of gold.

Both Characters Should Have an Empathetic Backstory

Maybe his first love left him, or he was abandoned as a child. Maybe she’s developed a cold exterior to protect her heart from ruthless womanizers. Whatever the cause of your protagonists’ presentation to each other, make sure the audience knows why they do it. Like in real life, knowing a person’s backstory elicits empathy. It also sets your reader up to understand why your characters do what they do (and why they’re actually not that bad underneath it all).

Witty Repartee Not Cruel Repartee

One of the juiciest parts of the enemies-to-lovers trope is the banter. I personally love the back-and-forth witticisms of it. The battle of wits is what makes the reader root for the couple to end up together. It’s the tango of words that makes the reader hope they finally do the horizontal mambo. The key is that it should be witty or clever, never cruel. Remember, if the heroine is mean, she’ll read as shrill, and a bully hero won’t work either. Make sure they’re matching each other, too, so that both are on equal footing.

Here is a fun example from one of the best frenemy story lines in comics: Batman and Catwoman. Oh, the sexual tension!

Catwoman:“You’re the second man who killed me this week, but I’ve got seven lives left.”

Batman:“I tried to save you.”

Catwoman:“Seems like every woman you try to save ends up dead – or deeply resentful. Maybe you should retire.”

The Struggle Should Be Real

Remember, the conflict between these “enemies” needs to be real—it’s got to be something that is more problematic than a misunderstanding. If a simple adult conversation could clear up the problem, it’s not a good enough conflict. And yes, no matter how hurt someone is, a strong protagonist will eventually want to deal with a misunderstanding in a normal way (aka, adults would just talk it out). Therefore, be sure to spend time illustrating what makes this conflict difficult to overcome. Batman is the caped crusader and Catwoman is a thief. Yep, the struggle is real.

If you incorporate these key elements of the enemies-to-lovers romance trope, you’ll have written a successful (and juicy!) romance. Congrats!

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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