Nothing is more satisfying than watching bitter rivals slowly fall in love. The enemies to lovers trope is a popular one, and with good reason! In fact, one of the most famous love stories of all time, Romeo and Juliet, bases the entire plot around this idea. However, if you aren’t careful about how you utilize it in your own stories, your story will come across as inauthentic.
Making enemies fall in love with each other is no easy task, and it requires a lot of careful planning to pull off. Not only do the characters need to have chemistry, but you also need to ensure that whatever inspired their hate isn’t unforgivable. The last thing you want is for your romance plot to feel forced.
Why the Enemies to Lovers Trope is So Popular
The enemies to lovers trope is everywhere, in novels, movies, and roleplay forums. We can’t help but love it! But… Why is this trope such a popular choice for writers, readers, and roleplayers alike? Well, it’s actually not as simple as you might think. There’s a psychological explanation for why this trope is so universally appealing.
The simplest way to explain why people love this trope so much is that it is gratifying for readers. Any time you give readers the chance to figure something out before the characters do is an opportunity to invest them in the storyline and get more attached to the characters. Readers can see that two characters could be good friends or lovers if they could set aside their differences or disagreements, even if the characters can’t stand each other in the beginning. You control how their relationship is perceived, but you can still give readers that moment of “aha! I knew they were right for each other!”
In addition to that, these kinds of stories often include redemption, character development, and overcoming biases, beliefs, and outside influence in order for the characters to achieve happiness. Everyone loves to root for the misunderstood characters, the underdogs, and the ones down on their luck. These stories are hopeful, and even if we don’t want to admit it, humans are suckers for hope.
Establish the Characters in the Story
First and foremost, you’re going to need to make sure that the enemies have the potential to get along. You need to be very strategic about how you design these characters, since this will determine whether or not the dynamic will work authentically. The characters should be unique individuals, obviously, but you need to build them in such a way that your readers will be able to identify their chemistry.
The two characters should have some similar or complementary traits. The characters could have a similar sense of humor, banter with sarcasm, or have beliefs or goals that align with each other’s. They should have traits that make up for the other’s shortcomings, and they should have struggles and flaws that the other character could help them with—if they could only get along.
However, you shouldn’t force these similarities down your readers’ throats—you want readers to pick up on the subtleties, so don’t be too obvious about it. These parallels should give readers the sense that they would get along, if not for whatever obstacle warped their opinions of each other in the beginning.
If you want more ideas for all the ways you can influence the way your characters are perceived, you can check out my other article: How to Make Characters Interesting, Complex, and Unique.
Decide the Reasons Why the Characters Hate Each Other
There are a number of different reasons that characters could have for hating each other, but you need to be careful about how you approach this as well. Some reasons work better for this dynamic than others, so here are some of the best reasons to utilize if you want your rivals to fall in love:
- War: Being on opposing sides of a war positions characters to despise each other regardless of their personalities. Their hatred for each other is based on their moral dedication to their country, gang, or clan, and not on their inherent qualities as people. You could also apply this idea to smaller things, like being on opposing sides of a debate, being in different schools, or anything that positions them to be against each other—usually for arbitrary or superficial reasons.
- Misunderstanding: Misunderstandings are wonderful ways of making your readers pull their hair out, as they witness the characters repeatedly lean on assumptions to justify their needless hatred of the other person. This works as a great setup for turning enemies into lovers, since the basis for their hatred is rooted in misconceptions about each other. Once those misconceptions are cleared up and corrected, the characters can realize that they no longer need to hate each other.
- Beliefs: This one is a little more difficult to work with, since opposing beliefs can be hard for people to tolerate. Religion, politics, and morals are often dealbreakers when it comes to getting along. However, if their relationship involves overcoming negative biases and toxic ideals, then this could work out. Overcoming these flawed beliefs could be part of a character’s development, and allow the characters to reconcile their disputes.
- Society: Nothing stings worse than when characters hate each other because of their parents, education, or class differences. If characters believe they hate each other because they were taught to hate each other, then they will have to work out their own internal struggles individually before they can get along together.
- Bad First Impressions: Sometimes, a negative first impression is all it takes for the characters to start looking for more reasons to hate one another. After a first meeting, people begin to make assumptions about each other, and your characters could easily assume the worst.
- Competition: Competition can bring out the worst in people, so if your two characters are both vying for the same goal, they might clash as a result. If two people are competing to be the best knight, athlete, chess player, or whatever else, then they are probably going to dislike each other. The great thing about this type of hatred is that it is often accompanied by great respect for their rival, and it also gives you a good similarity between the characters that you can rely on to draw them closer together.
Basing the characters’ hatred on misunderstanding and things outside of their control, rather than on their inherent traits, gives them a better chance at forgiving each other and eventually getting along. The characters’ hatred should never be based on things that are unforgivable, and they shouldn’t be allowed to evolve as a result of abuse or trauma. You cannot reasonably expect two people to fall in love if one has murdered the other’s family, kidnapped them, or done anything along those lines. It would not result in a happy, healthy relationship, and therefore isn’t as gratifying for readers.
If your characters hate each other for the wrong reasons, then you could end up inadvertently romanticizing bullying, abuse, and manipulative relationships. I shouldn’t have to tell you—do not do this.
How to Make Two Characters Who Hate Each Other Fall in Love
The biggest mistake that writers make when attempting this trope is that they move through the arc too quickly. Overcoming intense feelings for another person takes time, and it will happen in distinct phases. First, the characters need to forgive each other for whatever made them hate each other in the beginning, then they will likely be friends before they can come anywhere close to falling in love.
Here are some suggestions for helping the characters realize their true feelings for their rival.
Give the Characters Time Alone with Each Other
The first thing you should be looking for in your plot is an opportunity to force the two (soon-to-be) lovebirds together. Since, in most cases, the dynamic is based on misunderstanding, outside influence, or warped perspectives, getting the characters alone together can tip the domino that starts their new relationship.
Talking things out can be beneficial. Even if all the characters do is argue, you should use situations like this to let the characters get things off their chests and admit how the other’s behavior is wrong or hurts people. It can be a telling display that they care more than they want to admit. It can also get each character to realize what the other person is misunderstanding.
Make Characters to Work Together
Once they have has some time alone to talk things out (or argue), then the next thing you could do to help them overcome their differences is to work together. Working towards the same goal can help two characters see eye-to-eye, and it can give them an opportunity to show off their more redeeming qualities and skills. Maybe they have to work together to escape, survive, or prove someone’s innocence. Maybe they need to go on a quest together to retrieve a treasure. Whatever you choose, make sure you give each character an opportunity to prove that they aren’t as bad as the other one thinks they are.
Utilize Sexual Tension Between the Characters
Characters that are psychically attracted to each other despite how they feel emotionally can actually be a sign that they don’t hate them as much as they think they do. It’s near impossible to be sexually attracted to someone you hate, so this can clue readers in that there might be some potential for emotional attraction as well. Plus, sexual tension can be fun, and it can lead to entertaining conversations and awkward feelings.
My all-time favorite way to utilize this technique is with teasing. Teasing is inherently a little mean, but it is also inherently a little coy. Characters can still make fun of the other person’s behavior, style, or mistakes, but they do so in a way that invites flirty bantering. If you pull this off well, your readers will be begging the two characters to “just kiss already!”
However, there are other ways to use this technique as well. You could have one character make the other blush whenever they take off their shirt. You could give them dreams about each other, have them imagine them with other people, or otherwise fixate on certain aspects of them, like their biceps, hands, hair, smile, or gait.
Give the Characters some Internal Struggle
Realizing your feelings for your mortal enemy isn’t an easy thing to come to terms with. The characters should struggle with all the things the other has said, done, or experienced. It’s hard to take back nasty statements, and it can be even harder to give or accept forgiveness.
There are several reasons why the characters might be struggling with their feelings. They may be in denial about how they truly feel, or they could attempt to ignore their feelings. They could be conflicted about how they should feel, or just confused. They might assume that a relationship could never work out because of the characters’ history with each other, or they might assume that their feelings are a result of shared trauma, loneliness, or desperation.
This is the point in which the characters need to do some soul-searching to figure out exactly how they feel, why they feel that way, and what they want to do about those feelings.
Let the Characters Evolve
If the characters are going to make things work between them, they cannot simply continue the way things have always been. They must acknowledge where they were wrong, and change themselves for the better. They must confront their beliefs and change their perspective, and above all else, they need to forgive themselves and each other for the time they spent hating the other.
In many cases, characters will need to redeem themselves before their relationship will work. This is a great opportunity to write a redemption arc for one (or both) of the characters, which can make readers feel even more emotionally attached to the characters.
Writing a Confession of Love
Once the characters have overcome the obstacles in the way of their love and come to terms with how they feel, the next step is for them to admit those feelings to each other.
How your character decides to approach this decision is going to depend on their personality and their existing relationship with the other person. One type of character may approach it awkwardly, while a different type of character could choose to be more subtle about it. However you choose to have them bring it up, make sure the scene carries some emotional weight to it. You want readers to feel like the stakes are high.
It’s worth noting that the characters aren’t likely to confess their love without feeling some shred of reciprocity. If they haven’t noticed any indication that the other person likes them back, such as flirting, teasing, or staring, then they’re probably going to sit on those feelings for a while. Both of the characters can even be doing this at the same time, without realizing that the other person feels the same way.
For some more general tips for writing about romances, you can look to my other article: Romance 101: How to Write Characters Falling in Love.
Give the Characters Their Happily Ever After
In the end, the relationship should make both characters better people. They would have both become more sympathetic to the ways their actions influence others, and in many cases, they would have had to overcome bigotry, biases, and societal restraints in order to end up happy in the end. The whole point of the trope is to have two characters that would be happier, healthier, and overall just better together—if they could only set aside their differences. Without that necessary development, your readers won’t have much to root for.
And finally, although I mentioned it above, I’ll say it again: don’t use this trope to romanticize bullying, abuse, or manipulation. Not only does that defeat the purpose of the trope, but it is also obviously harmful to impressionable readers.