Do you have any tips for writing enemies to lovers?
Hi, love! Thanks for your question and your patience <3 I’m currently writing something similar to this, so I hope my experience can help you here!
Enemies-to-lovers is a popular trope, but it’s often treated carelessly by writers – especially TV/movie writers who rush through the transition to fit a single movie or episode arc. There’s nothing worse you can do in this situation than to rush your arc. Falling in love is already a time-consuming plotline – but transitioning from enemies, who are already shutting each other out, to lovers? The quicker it happens, the less believable it becomes.
I have a lot of notes on how to write enemies to lovers, so bear with me as I list them out.
Writing Enemies to Lovers: The Basic Ingredients
1. Give them some similar traits.
No matter what, two people can’t fall in love if they don’t relate on some level. The first step to creating possible love interests is to find where they’ll connect. Are they a hero and a villain? Evil and good? Night and day? I bet they both love animals. Maybe they’re both way into politics. Maybe they share a common enemy. Maybe they’re both neat freaks or a bit sassy or super gay or love the same music. It can be a few important things or a bunch of superficial things – just make sure they have something that can tie them together.
2. Put them on the same side of something.
When two people are mortal foes, it can be hard for them to see each other in any other light. Bringing in a common enemy (an anti-hero, a natural disaster, a person in power), or a common interest (a mutual friend, a school play, a moral cause), can land foes on a team together. This forces them to become aware of each other’s strengths, and to consider (and worry about) each other’s weaknesses. This is perfect fodder for an eyebrows-raised, “Hey, they don’t suck at this particular thing,” moment.
3. Get them alone.
With other people watching (especially friends/coworkers/allies), little groundwork can be made for your two hate-lovers. If you get your characters alone together, you’re given a bounty of opportunities to bond them, including but not limited to: actual conversations, accidental (or faux-accidental) physical contact, the sneaky moment of checking each other out, etc. etc. etc. People are different when you get them away from their friends – less extreme, less rowdy, less unreachable. If you have to trap your characters in an elevator the old-fashioned way, damn it, you’re the only one who can do it.
4. Let them fight their feelings.
If these two are truly enemies, there isn’t going to be a moment of, “Oh, I like them. Huh. Neato.” Oh, no. There will be internal backlash – they will beat their emotions back with a broom, and deny them to anyone who asks. There will be extra hateful glares, more middle fingers, and basically anything they can do to remind themselves that they don’t like this person. If you show this internal conflict, it both (a) makes the feelings seem real, organic, and (b) creates a more realistic transition from hate to love.
5. Love can sound like hate.
There’s a reason people say indifference is the true opposite of love. When your two enemies start to feel things for each other, this will probably spark a lot of ranting, arguing, and door-slamming. It creates a fixation – you sit there and you stew and you tell your friends, “Remember when they did that stupid thing? Yeah. Screw them.” Your friends roll their eyes. When will you stop talking about this person? Just kiss them already.
6. Sexual tension is a powerful tool.
If your characters experience sexual attraction, this is a great way to accelerate their relationship against their will. It’s the age-old, “My mind says no but my body says yes,” dilemma. Your characters can’t stand each other, or the image they have of each other, but they’re attracted like magnets and can’t shake it. This can make for some pretty hot – or pretty hilarious – scenes.
7. Give them a moment of horrified realization.
Eventually, the feelings will grow strong enough that one or both of them will have to sit there, probably on the bathroom floor a little bit drunk with one sock on, and realize: “I love that f*cker.” It’ll be a scary moment for them. It’s not that they haven’t known it – they just have yet to accept that it’s something to deal with, until now. This can be prompted by a dangerous situation, a shared activity, or a failed attempt at another romance – so when they really sit and think about it, they know. Then it becomes a question of either “how do I get rid of this?” or “how do I pursue this?”.
8. Try their hand at flirting.
Whether one or both characters have come to accept their feelings, someone’s gotta start flirting. A glancing touch across the arm; a small comment that could kind of be construed as amicable; a lingering glance; that first peek at their enemy’s smile. Something cute and quick and immediately followed by an existential crisis will do in a pinch. Without this water-testing, readers won’t have any image of what this relationship will look like – and if it can succeed.
9. Craft the perfect kiss/hug/confession.
When the time is right, create an undeniable display of attraction to transition into a new phase of their relationship: the “welp-we-both-like-each-other” phase, which comes right before the “we-decided-to-(stay-platonic/start-romancin’)” phase. The Big Kiss/Confession is the most iconic climactic love scene, in which the two characters take a chance and become vulnerable with each other – and kiss, or say, “I love you,” or do anything that can’t be construed in any other way. Want to extend the drama? Interrupt them, or have it be one-sided, or let it turn into a fight until they decide, “Forget it, this was stupid.” Readers will swoon.
10. Finish up with an awkward adjustment period.
If and when your characters do enter a relationship, make sure it’s a little tentative at the beginning, to keep it realistic. Your characters have made a huge shift in their dynamic – there will be some lingering arguments and love-hate, and maybe a bit of discomfort going public with their romance. Then come the usual growing pains of a new relationship getting serious – figuring out how to navigate each other’s flaws, learning to be open with their feelings, dealing with unresolved fights from before their relationship. It won’t be perfect right away. That’s the beauty of it.
I hope this helps you, love! I adore love-hate relationships, and I hope you enjoy crafting your own enemies-to-lovers as much as we’ll all love reading them :) Good luck!
– Mod Joanna ♥️