#WritingChallenge: The Forced Proximity Romance

by Deirdre
Earlier in the month we featured Top Tips for Writing a Forced Proximity Romance. As Harlequin Intrigue Editorial Assistant Kayla King said in her post, the forced proximity trope provides, “the perfect opportunity for lots of conflict and tension.”



One of the great things about the forced proximity trope is the deadline. Deadlines provide both internal and external conflict, amping up the tension and drama. For example, in the screwball comedy “Bringing Up Baby”, Cary Grant’s character David must find the missing bone he needs for his dinosaur skeleton in order to secure a big donation to the museum he works for – and he has to do it today because he’s getting married tomorrow (external conflict). But Katharine Hepburn’s Susan has fallen in love with him, so she has just one day to secure his love (internal conflict). Oh, and there’s a leopard. (If you’ve never seen it, you must.)

There are so many different forced proximity situations to choose from: the stranded setup, the arranged marriage, the road trip, the cruise or resort vacation (In the delightful “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, Jason Segel is stuck in the same resort with his ex and her new lover), the workplace romance, the adventure or treasure hunt (“Bringing Up Baby” is a variation on that.) The tone can be light, deeply emotional, or life-and-death suspenseful.

Your challenge this week: Pitch your contemporary forced proximity romance scenario in one short paragraph (no need to write a scene). I love Kayla’s suggestions in Tip #3: “Switch up the original relationship” – especially “best friends who have spent too much time together.”  Friends-to-enemies-to-lovers anyone?

Tip: For more on making tropes your own, read our post Plot 102: Romance Tropes: Fab or Drab?

Ready for the challenge? Post your forced proximity pitch in the comments any time between now and Sunday, April 2, 2017 and we’ll check in with you on Monday!



61 replies on “#WritingChallenge: The Forced Proximity Romance”

Highly competitive public defender Brandon, and equally charged Heather, assistant district attorney striving for a promotion in Cook County, have battled each other across the courtroom for a few years. In law school, Heather was extremely attracted to her fellow student, a potential relationship squelched when Brandon slept with her best friend and Heather had to endure her friend’s monologues as the brief interlude waxed and waned. While researching a murder trial in the bowels of the Chicago Tribune building late one night, they reluctantly share an archaic sub-level elevator. When the elevator breaks down mid-floor and the cold and dark encroach – a dark that Heather fears due to a childhood trauma – Brandon finds a way to distract and comfort her. Heather gets very comfortable that night, but not the next day and coming weeks as they oppose each other in the courtroom. No distractions are allowed with her career and a man’s life hanging in the balance.

Heather discovers some information that may prove that Brandon’s client is innocent. Does she share that, and the fact that her recent bouts of nausea aren’t attributed to stress, as she’d thought?

Jocelyn, I love a good story where the characters are trapped in an elevator! And I like here the whole legal backdrop and how the hero and heroine are on opposites sides. Reminds me of that show, The Practice! Very nice example of forced proximity. Well done!

Kelly is a rich businesswoman that runs and owns her own Fortune 500 company. Kelly has no time for anyone’s excuses, drama, or less than six figure portfolio. Chase, is her chauffer and comes from very humble beginnings. A snowstorm and a bad fall, strands Chase and Kelly together in Kelly’s cabin, in the mountains. Can the cool, calm and collected Chase, win the heart of the ‘Ice Queen’? Or will it be ‘off with his head’?

Dear Patricia, This is a unique story, especially with the chauffeur and businesswoman romance. And I’m a huge fan of the snowbound-must-take-refuge-in-cozy-cabin romance. Nicely done!

Rory has worked and trained for years to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race. She’s finally on a crew, but they have a problem when their captain goes down with appendicitis just before the race starts. At the last minute, they get word a replacement is coming. Rory, trying to be just like the guys in the crew, looks for a hookup before they head out for the nine month, 39,000 nautical mile race. Unfortunately it ends in disaster when she gets sick from a spiked drink. Adam is an experienced captain, but one year on the Volvo race, an equipment error resulted in the death of a crew member. Adam was blamed, and finally vindicated, but by then he was out of racing. A last minute emergency results in Adam getting a call to fill in on a Volvo racer as Captain. He knows it’s going to be hard to lead a crew without having worked together, and with his reputation, so on that last night, feeling stressed, when he’s approached by a woman at the bar he goes with her. She gets sick, so it’s not a great night. Then, in the morning, when he meets his new crew, he sees that same woman as the lone female crew member. For the next nine months they won’t be able to ignore each other as they go through this exhausting and exhilarating experience, but he can’t risk the safety of his crew by playing favorites, and she has to prove herself to be one of the guys to stay on the crew. They’re just going to have to ignore that attraction between them.

Dear Anne,
What a different kind of setting, but very effective forced proximity idea. I am a fan of sports related stories and readers seem to like them as well. Keep going on this one!

Say the Words

Zara Dare is a complicated woman with a complex problem. It could be the solution, Matthew Evrard, has just sailed back into her life.

For five years Zara and her sister Hanna, have run the Crow’s Nest Pub and Restaurant. They own the building, but not the surrounding land the building, its leased, and the lease is up. Renewal isn’t possible, the marina where the Crow’s Nest is located, is under new ownership, and the new owner isn’t interested. Zara runs the finances for the pair and they don’t have the funds to relocate or buy a solution to their problem. Zara is working toward telling in her sister when, after a two year absence sailing around the Pacific Ocean, Matt is back.

Zara and Matt had not parted on good terms when he’d given her the ultimatum two years ago. Choose him or the restaurant her mother had dumped on her. It wasn’t as easy as that for Zara, she had Hanna to think of too. Matt left thinking Zara didn’t love him, nor that she could accept life on a sailboat. Two things that were deal breakers for Matt, so his ring had stayed in its box.

Banks don’t like to give loans to self-employed people, but maybe Zara could negotiate some terms that Matt might find acceptable. If he would listen to her, and if he was still as in love with her as she was with him, maybe they could give each other a second chance.

Dear Yvonne, I think this story has real potential, especially with the reunion romance. My one question is whether the forced proximity has to do with the hero coming back? Are they really forced back together? Now, if they were on a sailboat together out in the middle of the ocean, that would certainly be forced proximity!

Thank Patience, the idea is Zara thinks Matt can help her out, financially, the twist is he’s lost his money in the two years. He’s going ask her for a job.

Thank Patience, the idea is Zara thinks Matt can help her out, financially, the twist is he needs a job.

Ambitious PR executive Amelia Evans’s marriage of convenience to an up and coming media mogul was supposed to jettison her career, not leave her jilted on her wedding day. Worse yet, witness to her humiliation was none other than Diego Alcazar—her morally ambiguous former employer with whom she shared a kiss so passionate, it still makes her tremble. Diego needs Amelia to reform his bad boy image, and fast, if he’s to salvage a multi-billion dollar merger. The catch? He insists the deal go down on his private island. No phones. No press. No interruptions. Two weeks away from cell reception and the paparazzi are just what Amelia needs to soothe her bruised ego and recalibrate her career plan, but the blistering heat between them promises she won’t escape unscathed. But as Amelia uncovers the secrets buried deep within Diego’s dark past, she’s more than wiling to make a deal with the man who’s as sinfully seductive as the devil himself.

Dear Em, What a steamy sounding story! I really like the stuck-on-a-deserted-island premise and the chemistry between the hero and heroine seems positively electric. Keep going!

A cruise ship leaves Southampton on a world cruise. Nurse Sophia arrives on board with just minutes to spare, and quickly makes her way to the infirmary to meet the rest of the team. Waiting for her, already angry at her late arrival is the last person in the world she ever wants to see again. Doctor Jean-Philippe is a towering inferno of disdainful arrogance who had been witness to the worse night of Sophia’s life. She knew exactly what he thought of her, and now she is stuck on board with him as her boss for three long months. If he is expecting her to be pliant and apologetic he is in for a big surprise!

Dear Clare, Who doesn’t love a hero who is a towering inferno of disdainful arrogance? And readers appreciate a good medical romance. You bring in the forced proximity quite well. Nicely done!

Mollie Sinclair comes home from work to find her husband missing and their king-sized bed soaked in blood. Detective Liam Bentley finds it difficult to believe her innocent. She was the last person to see Eddie Sinclair alive and she inherits his million dollar import business, Celtic Designs, upon his death. Mollie receives mysterious text messages that she shares with the detective, who soon believes her husband might be alive and held captive for ransom, but no one has come forward. Against his better judgement, but fearful for Molly’s safety, Liam stays the night. What begins as two people forced to trust each other, turns out to be a challenge for their hearts and their lives as they flee her husband’s murderer.

Wow, Chrissie! What a suspenseful story! Murder definitely brings people together in a story, though I would wonder if the heroine is ready to get into another relationship. I’m sure you’ll clarify that in the story. Otherwise, keeping the heroine safe seems like a good reason for them to stay together. Good luck!

The plain and ordinary Georgie works as a legal secretary for a conservative law firm in Sydney and must keep her job as she is the main breadwinner for her mother and disabled sister. When she is assigned to work for her cousin, the dashing and adventurous Scott Oliver, Georgie is not pleased. She knows him, his track record and his reputation.
But Scott has secretly been keen on Georgie since they went away on holiday as children. He is determined to win her over. When Scott indicates his interest in her, Georgie can’t believe he could really be interested in her and thinks he is just teasing and worse, irresponsible. As there is a don’t touch and don’t consort rule which is strongly enforced at the law firm, Scott’s interest and teasing of her is putting her job in jeopardy and she knows she will be the one to go. He is a much more valuable asset to the firm and wins every case. Not only that, he is the best deal maker they’ve ever had. When they must go up to Brisbane for a big case, they are assigned different hotels by the firm, but there is trouble in hers. Georgie seeks help from Scott in the middle of the night. He is her cousin after all. But when she is discovered in his room the next day by the managing partner, who thinks they are having an affair, she knows she has lost her job. The worst of it is, Scott doesn’t even try to tell the truth and defend Georgie’s reputation. He has other plans and it suits him that she will be leaving. He is secretly intending to start his own firm and now she can work for him!
Can a family wedding, a makeover and a new dress overcome her doubts about herself and allow her to believe he could really love her? Or will his marriage phobia, the appearance of his ex and his determination to get his own way confirm his unsuitability to Georgie and cause her to turn down the deal he is offering?

Not trying to be funny but I don’t think an incest story is the best way to go. I never known Harlequin to have such things. The story would be great except for falling for your own family member which would be considered by many an abomination. Just saying. But that’s for them to decide

Dear Jennie, There are definitely parts of this that I really like, such as the Australian setting and their having to work together. Readers might not like that the hero and heroine are cousins, since there exists in some regions a stigma against that kind of romance. I know literature and historical figures have debunked the idea that cousins can’t marry. There’s a way for them to have an emotional past connection without being related, I think, so it’s something to consider. But as for the writing challenge itself, their working on a case together is definitely a reason for forced proximity. Best of luck with this!

Alex Harding wanted to be a nurse ever since he was a teen and watched his beloved grandmother wither away in a hospital room. Now thirty, he found his true calling and works as a caregiver to those who want to live their days at home where they are most comfortable. He never expects Brooke Hamel, a renowned surgeon he met during his nursing days, to want to hire him. Back then, all Brooke cared about was moving up in the hospital ranks and not bothering with who got in her way.

Becoming Chief Surgeon, Brooke has had to face too many untimely deaths, some on her own table. Her job was somewhat easier to deal with when she kept it impersonal – get in and do the job and the heck with a cheery bedside manner. With her grandmother dying from lung cancer, she agrees to fulfill her grandmother’s wish by taking her to the lake house where many summers were spent so her grandmother can spend her last days filled with happy memories. But knowing she won’t be able to deal with watching her grandmother’s health fail, Brooke hires a caregiver to fill in when the pain of losing the woman who raised her becomes too much.

During the day Alex helps Brooke with her grandmother, but at night, when the stars glow above the lake, Alex discovers Brooke isn’t as cold-hearted as she appears and Brooke realizes letting things get personal isn’t as bad as she always imagined.

Dear Marcie,
Now this one is definitely a five-Kleenex story. I am sure readers will weep over and relate to this touching tale. Definitely a forced proximity story. It could potentially be a downer, but the romance between these two could lift our spirits. Very sweet, moving idea and I hope you write it!

Romantic Suspense: ‘Moonlighting’
Tom-boy socialite and wannabe sleuth, Angelica (Jelly) Jones, is cornered by a couple of shifty characters issuing threats and demanding to know the whereabouts of her ex-boyfriend, Justin.
When she can’t contact him, she senses he’s in deep trouble. Reluctantly, she contacts Justin’s private investigator brother, up-tight Henry Hathaway. They’ve had trust issues in the past, now she needs to convince him to go undercover with her to find Justin before the baddies do.
Respected PI, Henry, with a big reputation to uphold, is hesitant–he’s never gotten over Jelly rejecting him in favour of his fun-loving younger brother.
Regardless of his hapless love-life, he’s honourable, dedicated and most of all, loyal. He’s used to pulling his kid brother out of minor scrapes, and a stint of close proximity with the woman who still occupies his dreams, should be a cake walk…but protecting his heart from further damage, may prove to be his fatal undoing.

Dear Margie, This premise reminds me of one of my favorite movies: Sabrina. I adore the whole falling-for-the-wrong-brother element and this adds a suspenseful twist to your story. Nicely done and definitely works in the forced proximity angle.

If there is one thing Brody McGregor doesn’t like, It’s having to take directions from a woman. He wants to sign with the best team in the Trans-Tasman Touring Car Championship, but finds out he will have a female race engineer. Can he manage to put his ego aside? Or will he just do what he thinks is best anyway?

Rose Baker has been given the opportunity of a life time. After helping her best-friends husband win the major race of the competition, she gets offered the race engineer role in his team. The first female race engineer. But when she meets the driver that she works with, Brody McGregor, she soon realises she will have to work hard to impress her boss, the driver, and the public.

Dear Rebecca, What a unique and fascinating premise! It’s refreshing to have the heroine in a rarely seen job and this story puts a new spin on the forced proximity angle. And hopefully, this heroine will show the hero that a woman in charge is often a very good idea.

Thanks! This is a plot bunny I have been working on, and I have a good feeling that Rose does manage to win their hearts.

Few people are as socially awkward as Corinne Falkes. A lifetime of gaffes and pratfalls (both physical and verbal) have made her almost immune to the sympathetic winces of bystanders. It’s no wonder she prefers the company of dogs – they can’t understand a word she says and think she just wants to play! When a VIP client demands Cori bring his prize-winning German Shepherd to frequent vet visits to manage a nervous condition, Cori has to face Dr. Joseph Manson. Dr. Joe is the hottest vet in town. His smile sends Cori’s wayward tongue and bumbling limbs into overdrive, not to mention the hormone overload that occurs when he’s holding a tiny mewling kitten. How will she ever be able to help the sweet pup – and keep the one client who actually pays well – when every time she sees Dr. Joe a circus tragedy ensues?

Dear Ellay, I love a social awkward heroine, one who prefers the company of animals. Nicely done here with the hero needing her services. It’s an effective way to bring them together and really force the heroine to relate (romantically) to people. Well done!

Jordan is leaving the big city behind her – or at least she’s attempting to. She’s changed her relationship status and erased all ties to her unsupportive ex; however, her new career in agriculture is proving to be a challenge amidst a struggling economy. Now she’s accepted a dream job in the rural prairies – the only offer she’s had in six months. Only her new boss, Ryan – tight Levi’s, sexy smile and all – thought he was hiring a male. She loves the work, but in the tiny 800 person town she now calls home, there’s no escape from him. Can Jordan prove to her new boss she has what it takes – and keep her heart from wanting more?

Dear M, I really like the rural setting and the heroine moving to this new place to find herself and she winds up falling in love. In a way, it is forced proximity because of the small town and that they have to work together. Well done!

John Matus left Walkins, Wyoming and his fiance, Mary Sue, nine years ago for California. Now the death of his uncle has driven him back home. The head of a successful startup, John only plans to stay long enough to settle his uncle’s estate and see that the woman who married his uncle following his terminal cancer diagnosis does not benefit from his death. He just never expected the widow to be his former fiance. Forced to work closely to settle Robert’s estate, will John and Mary Sue quietly close the final chapter of their relationship, or can they bury the past for sake of their future?

Dear Juliette, Wow, this has quite the twist. I’d be curious to know why the heroine goes from one important relationship to the next. How does she transform during the course of the romance? And I like how you’ve created very strong conflict here with the hero finding out his lost love is now so entwined with his life. Nicely done!

Natalie Thomas has flown all the way to New Zealand to spend Christmas with her new boyfriend James, who she met online – they’ve never actually met in person. But bad weather closes the local airport and she winds up driving long distance with his best friend, Greg, who is also heading home for Christmas.

Greg is initially suspicious that only a crazy person or a con artist would come so far for -and claim to love- someone they’ve never met in person. But soon he’s finding himself fighting an attraction for his best friend’s girl.
Natalie’s anxious to meet James and every delay just feels like a sign that she’s done the wrong thing in coming, especially when she ends up travelling with antagonistic Greg. But as she tries to prove to him how genuine her intentions are towards James, she realises that she’s talked herself into believing an online friendship was something more – and the man she’s really attracted to is in the car with her.

Dear Beth, I really like this. It feels very contemporary and something that could actually happen. I confess I love stories where the heroine falls for the best of friend of the person she’s supposed to love. Just a quirk of mine. And good use of forced proximity. Nicely done!


A destination wedding on a tropical island should be the perfect getaway for a young workaholic like Hannah Grant and her two best girlfriends, Ashley and Kerrie-Ann. But Ashley is marrying Rick, who just happens to be Kerrie-Ann’s older brother. The cloying joke is that Hannah now needs to marry Brady, Ashley’s brother, so that all of their kids will be cousins. There are only two problems with this fairy tale: 1. Ashley has known Brady since they were eleven-years-old and she’s had a crush on him her entire life. A severely unrequited crush. And 2. Brady has invited as his plus-one Hannah’s boss, Allyson, after Hannah introduced them. Staying on Allyson’s good side is an absolute must if Hannah is going to achieve her dreams in the world of broadcasting, but letting Brady slip away is too much to bear. Will this be the weekend that finally brings Hannah’s lifelong passions to a head or will she and Brady remain, forever, just friends-in-law?

Dear Patsy, What a fun story. It reminds me a little of that episode of “Friends” where Chandler has a fling with Rachel’s boss and it could jeopardize her career. But never mind about that. A wedding is a fabulous forced proximity setting and the entanglements here are quite juicy, a little Four Weddings and a Funeral-ish. Keep going!

A successful real estate agent, Brooke Adams, is attempting to bring clean manufacturing jobs to Idaho. On vacation she meets Clint Ryan, a proponent of no business growth in the state. She is attracted to him, but after a disasterous marriage, she is leery of any future serious relationships. Back home she runs into him at a campaign party and he insists on having dinner with her. Coming back after dinner, he falls over some painters’ scaffolding at her house and breaks one ankle and sprains the other. He blames her and threatens to sue her if she doesn’t take care of him. She agrees to. To her disgust she has his favorite recliner chair, plants, a picture of a hen pecking an SOS box moved into her all white art deco living room. So they are stuck at her house arguing over home cooking, politics, family relations, preservation, and interior decorating to name a few. She is succumbing to his charm when her parents who exemplify terrible marriages visit. She backs off again. His legs heal and he moves home. She is left desolate. She decides she does love him and makes the moves to get him back. She tells him she has the perfect spot for a chicken picture in her house, so please bring it over.

Dear Bev, Nice use of the forced proximity theme here. My only caveat was that the hero seem a little nicer. I’m sure he is, but in this snippet, he comes across as rather hostile. Otherwise, an intriguing story and I wish you much success with it. 🙂

In order to keep Chocolate Drops Bakery and Cafe opened Dana agreed to be a wife to the one man she couldn’t stand for the duration of the loan he’d given her. Three years is a long time to pretend to be in love with someone neither didn’t like but she’d do whatever it took to keep her dream of owning a bakery and diner alive even if it meant marrying Mr. Super Annoyance but will it be all worth it? But one night of hot chocolate passion changes all that for the both of them.

Dear Lakisha, My opinion is that all chocolate, even if it comes with strings is good chocolate. I like your use of the marriage of convenience, though the reader will want to know more about why they have to marry. Otherwise, sounds very promising!

Maddie called off the wedding when she miscarried Callen’s baby. She believed he only wanted to marry her because she fell pregnant. Only trouble is that he hasn’t told his frail grandmother and she’s expecting them both to come visit after the honeymoon. Callen is afraid the disappointing news might be too stressful and he wants her to die happy knowing he is settled with a family on the way. So he pressures Maddie into pretending for the week while they visit his family.

I like this storyline! Is it something you’ve already started writing?
Hugs, Tambra Nicole

Just the outline so far but it’s shaping up nicely. Enemies to lovers. One night stand. All the tropes

Dear Fiona, What a sweet and moving story. Talk about forced proximity for the sake of a dying relative. I can see that readers will be weeping through much of the story, or at least I will. Nicely done, Fiona! I hope they do get their happily ever after!

When chic, urbane Kelsey Needham visits her brother at his remote cabin in the hills, a rude surprise awaits. Instead of the hoped-for reunion, she finds herself face to face with an angry mountain trapper, his Grand-daddy’s shotgun and a hound dog with an offbeat sense of smell. Forced to share the rustic cottage with one bed between them and her shiny new BMW taking on a disconcerting film of dust, the pair settles into a weekend of uneasy peace. But when Kelsey discovers that the rugged mountain man hides a soul-searing gift for music and a tragic past, her heart can’t help but notice. What she doesn’t count on, though, is managing to spark that very place in Woodrow Lundeen he’d thought was extinguished long ago.

Dear Vicki, Just lovely! A good, solid story with the stranded in the cabin idea, a perfect place for a budding romance. Well done!

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