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Trope Spotlight: Enemies to Lovers

Romeo and Juliet. Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Tracy Lord and C.K. Dexter Haven (from one of my favorite romances, The Philadelphia Story). These famous romantic pairings definitely didn’t experience love at first sight. No, these romances all feature one of my favorite tropes: enemies to lovers. While many books are touted as enemies to lovers, it can be a tricky trope to pull off successfully. We’ve got some suggestions and tips to help you master this romance pairing in your own stories.

What Makes Them Enemies?

Is there a longstanding family feud, like the Montagues and Capulets? Maybe there’s a workplace rivalry that exploded into animosity when one betrayed the other. Or perhaps your couple used to be in love before a shocking revelation changed everything. Whatever the reason, readers need to feel like your couple really loathes each other, or the eventual HEA won’t resonate as much. While there are many stories that feature characters who aren’t googly eyed for each other at the outset, having your protagonists truly hate each other makes for an exciting premise.

Sowing the Seeds of Love

Once you’ve made it clear that your two main characters can’t stand to be in the same room, you have to overcome the next hurdle: How do you convince readers that your protagonists are falling for one another? A good storyteller will start to lay the groundwork for the transition early. Is there a secret your heroine doesn’t want to share that could make her more likable? Are there qualities your couple shares that make them more compatible than they think they are? Maybe an external factor or secondary character reveals something to the hero that makes him rethink his animosity. Or maybe the attraction between the couple is so strong they put aside their feelings so they can indulge their quest for pleasure. Whatever the reason, in a true enemies to lovers tale, the justification for the two getting together needs to be compelling, or else their union will feel forced.

How to Get to that HEA

One of the most difficult things to write in romance is a satisfying happily ever after. It’s required in our series romance titles, but it’s not always the easiest thing to pull off in an organic way. This is doubly true for enemies to lovers stories. If your couple hated each other so much they wanted to kill each other at the beginning of the story, can you believably get them to find true love in such a short time? Character arcs are always important, but they are essential in an enemies to lover story. If your main characters don’t grow as people, chances are readers won’t buy their changes of heart. Having a fully developed character timeline outside of the romance is a great asset, so that your hero/heroine is growing independently from their love life and is more likely to find true love in a believable way.

 Whether your main characters are true enemies, prickly rivals, or mildly-annoyed-but-can’t-help-feeling-attracted-to-each-other acquaintances, using common tropes and themes is a great way to plot your series romance story. We asked some of our editors to share whether they prefer enemies to lovers or friends to lovers in this edition of This or That. Check it out and see what else our editors love!

Harlequin Editors Play This or That – YouTube