(OR become BFFs with the enemy!)
I normally can't stand romance, but one trope that always makes me cave is "falling in love with the enemy". This chapter will cover my dos and don'ts for that.
First, we need to divide this into two categories:
1. Falling in love with an antagonist
2. Falling in love with the villain
The difference lies in how severely the love interest's values clashes with our MC's. An antagonist is just there to push buttons and annoy the MC, hinder their forward progression toward their goal, disagreeing with them on one or a couple points. But the MC would consider the villain to be truly evil and go against everything the MC stands for and values.
I don't think the MC can ever fall in love with their villainous counterpart. Villains are villains because they clash with the MC's values so severely that it would be impossible for the MC to ignore or see beyond those flaws/actions.
Like, look at Voldemort/Tom Riddle. This guy values purebloods and wants to enslave the muggles and mudbloods. Now, Prof McGonagol's values are the complete opposite in every way possible. That will never become a romance (fanfic writers, don't even try. Don't.). However, if our protagonist were Bellatrix, her values are in line with Voldy's, so a hypothetical romance between them would be possible because to her, he's not the villain; he's the hero.
So the villain/love interest/antagonist/protagonist status is all relative and depends on the situation and whose pov we're in.
Now that we have that settled, let's get into the main point of this how-to, which is #2: falling in love with the antagonist.
Now that is possible. Some of the antagonist's values and MC's values will clash, but it won't be as severe as with a villain. Getting your MC (and your readers) to sympathize with an antagonist is much easier.
Another example: try to picture a romance with Zuko vs. with General Zhao. Zuko's not a villain; he's just an antagonist. His values clash with Katara's but they also share a few beliefs, especially at the end of the show. (I will always ship Zutara. Kataang is lame. All the chemistry was between Zuko and Katara, amirite?)
The trick with writing a believable romance with the antagonist is showing us and focusing on the values/beliefs they share with the MC. When someone believes in similar things as you, they'll be easier to like. The values that differ will be the obstacles to their romance and cause a heck of a lot of tension and conflict.
If the antagonist has differing values, and/or commits an antagonist act, they need to have a logical background/motivation. Zuko's trying to capture Aang, but it's because he wants his honor back and be loved by his father. That's logical. We don't agree with him, but we can understand why he's making those decisions and acting a certain way.
Now, if the MC is falling for the antagonist, the MC will likely understand where the antagonist is coming from. The MC might be able to look beyond those flaws in thinking/values/beliefs because they want to focus on the GOOD (ie. the values they share in common).
I'll give an example from my book VENGEANCE. Takara is the MC, she's non-religious, and she pilots a giant battle mech. Khai is very religious, and that religion condemns the cloning technology Takara's mech is based on. There's the differing value that makes them enemies. Khai becomes the antagonist when he sabotages Takara's mech.
So how do you make them fall in love? Shove them into a situation that highlights the values they share in common.
The neighboring nation is threatening genocide. Khai and Takara share the value of anti-genocide, of saving their loved ones. They're forced to work together to beat this common enemy. That's when they start seeing the other person's perspective and they start to understand each other's values better. They still don't agree with each other, but they grow to understand, and that's the basis for a solid relationship.
The team-up-against-a-common-enemy trope is a great way to get enemies/antagonists close to each other physically and emotionally. It's all about finding a goal/value/belief they share in common and focus on that.
The thing they share in common can be a love of telling jokes, having fun and being goofy, a hobby, a sport, food, academic subject, thrill seeking, adventuring, gambling, whatever! They need something in common that propels them toward each other and holds them together even in the face of the clashing values. (Remember, they should become best best friends!)
On that note, make sure you don't forget the clashing values! The power of boners is strong, but it won't erase every bad deed the antagonist has done (or every bad deed the MC has done to them!). Their values CLASH. That's a big deal and it's going to take a hell of a lot of time and effort from both sides in order to overcome them. That might mean one of several things:
1. One party changes their values to match with the other's.
2. Both parties tweak their values and meet in the middle, ie. compromise
3. One or both parties ignores the conflicting values of the other and only focuses on the values they share.
4. One or both parties accepts the other's flaws.
Any of these can be healthy or unhealthy relationships depending on the situation and how you portray it. If you go for unhealthy, make sure there are severe and legitimate consequences to one or both parties for their faulty actions/thoughts.
So to summarize: if you want your MC to fall for the enemy/antagonist, find the value(s) they share in common. Give them a common goal. Force them to share the same physical space for a while and force them to see the motivations behind the other's actions. Make them understand why they think and act the way they do. Then build the relationship off the commonalities while using their differences to create juicy conflict and (sexual) tension.
Those are my thoughts on falling in love with the enemy. Do you have any other considerations when writing this trope? What ways have you seen it portrayed well. Horribly? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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