Let’s clear up one thing first: “trope” is not a bad word. Neither is it an insult. A trope, for the purposes of this post, is a common theme or archetype that frequently appears in stories. The ‘damsel in distress’ has historically been a popular trope in storytelling – albeit, one that’s losing significant steam in a modern culture of feminism and strong female protagonists. But, tropes that are still thriving today, particularly in the romance genre, include reunited/second-chance love, secret babies, mail-order brides, and arranged marriages or marriages of convenience (the latter few exploring the fantasy of taking a complete stranger to bed, but in a fashion that is entirely permitted and socially acceptable).
Tropes are popular. Research shows they sell. Readers like them. I like them. So, by the word ‘trope’, let’s be clear that I mean absolutely nothing derogatory. *claps hands* Onward!
One popular romance trope I didn’t mention above, however, is ‘enemies-to-lovers.’ Also called ‘hate-to-love,’ this trope is fairly self-explanatory. As you might’ve guessed, these are romances about a couple that starts off hating each other, yet eventually (or inevitably) falls in love.
Enemies-to-lovers is the premise of countless classic romances, from Pride & Prejudice to Han and Leia’s relationship in Star Wars. Romantic comedies like One Fine Day, Romancing the Stone, The Proposal, and Clueless also come to mind. It’s prevalent even in kids’ movies, such as Beauty and the Beast, Anastasia and, to some extent, Frozen (Anna and Christoph can’t stop bickering with each other) and Shrek.
A little-remembered but highly recommended gem from the ’80s that simply embodies this trope is my all-time favorite romance novel, Amazon Lily by Theresa Weir. Another fantastic enemies-to-lovers romance can be found in Lady Macbeth’s Daughter by Lisa Klein, wherein the love interest took me entirely by surprise. Both books have inspired my own writing.
Although I try to diversify my romances, something just keeps bringing me back to the enemies-to-lovers trope. You can find it in most of my novels, from Capturing the Captain, The Red Pearl, The Golden Dove, Heiress Heist, and I, Guinevere, to elements of it in The Duchess Quest and The Duchess’s Descendants. Why is this trope so prevalent in my work? Why do I love writing it so much? What is it that’s so appealing, even arousing, about enemies falling in love? While I can’t speak for everyone else, I can give a few reasons why I think enemies-to-lovers is the most irresistible trope in romance:
Funny is attractive. A good sense of humor exudes confidence and charm, which is especially appealing in a partner. Wit, however, takes ‘funny’ to a whole new level, because it’s also clever. In hate-to-love, the characters bicker, trade sharp comebacks, and showcase their skills in snark. Sometimes this banter diffuses the tension, sometimes it escalates it. But either way, it’s fun and gets the characters engaged. When a battle of the wits becomes especially heated, this can easily translate to sexual tension, which brings me to my next point…
You don’t have to write steamy scenes to make a romance novel hot, IMO. Creating intense friction alone between two emotionally complex (or emotionally confused, lol) characters does the trick. Where there’s strong tension, emotion – and passion – runs high. At that point, it’s only a matter of time until the line between passionate hate and passionate love gets blurred…and crossed.
Main characters who are enemies shows us that the hero and heroine have distinct personalities and minds of their own. Unlike, perhaps, a more ‘boring’ traditional couple, they aren’t afraid to butt heads and point out each other’s flaws. In male characters, this can come off masculine and strong – whether he’s charismatic and alpha, or more quietly confident about it (yet still oozing with BDE). In female characters, at least from my perspective, it fleshes her out, creating a heroine I can relate to, who reacts more how I would. A strong-willed heroine who isn’t afraid to speak her mind is easier for me to sympathize with, which in turn makes it easier for me to feel what she’s feeling for the hero, bringing the romance to life that much more vividly.
Nothing delights me more than unexpected love! Predictability is fine, but I love surprising readers and being surprised. In fact, sometimes I even go out of my way to mislead readers…like creating a red herring love interest, or bringing a side character to the forefront just when they least expect it. But what I especially love is making the hero seem so despicable in the beginning that he’s dismissed, at first, as a villain. (Anyone who follows me on social media knows I have a villain complex!) Villains are often the heroes of their side of the story. And giving them a chance to redeem themselves or win over the audience is important to me. I’ll never tire of readers telling me how much the romance surprised them – and I like to be surprised!
Everyone loves a rogue
Lastly, I think it’s safe to say the whole ‘bad boy’ appeal is pretty much universal. It’s why pirates, vikings, vampires, rakes and rogues are so popular as heroes in entertainment. In the words of Rita Skeeter, “Everyone loves a rebel.” Enemies-to-lovers typically takes such a rogue – be it the coarse pirate who’s kidnapped the fair lady for a ransom or the rakish duke who’s only marrying for financial gain – gives him an arc, and turns him into the hero of the story. But even more than redemption, I think we just love rogues. 😉
So, now you know just a few reasons why I find enemies-to-lovers stories so darned romantic…and why I won’t stop writing them any time soon!
What’s your favorite romance trope? Scroll down to post a comment!