Rivals/Enemies to lovers - what do you look for?

One of my next projects features a RO called Isabella, who fits into the trope enemy/rival to lover.

She is introduced as a rival initially in a competition but is quickly meant to be a thorn in the players side.

However I intend to allow the player to eventually be able to romance her.

So as I’m sorting through feedback for UnNatural season two I want to lay some groundwork for this to come back to later.

So what do YOU look for in rival/enemy to lover romance options? What makes them interesting to you? How do you prefer the switch? Have a set moment for it to happen or should it be more intuitive and natural so it catches you by surprise?

Thoughts and opinions please!

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I think the main point would be a lack of the switch. There’s a saying in my language, “стерпится - слюбится” and it can roughly be translated as “you will love them after you can endure them” and it feels like it fits the dynamic.

People can change, but core beliefs and tenets, something that makes person a person aren’t easy to shift and I feel that they must matter both in the short and long - term run.

A lot of times I feel romance with the enemy or the villain just changes them radically without any reason. Romance can affect someone, but it must not change them so much that the only thing that’s left is their name. Character must stay a character, must change gradually, not like a switch.

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Darcy in @ Sargent’s Professor of Magical Studies (CoG WiP) is a great case-study to begin with. (S)he has proven to be quite the lightning rod as a possible rival/enemy to lover RO.

My personal preferences, both in writing these characters and in experiencing them in a game is to approach/prefer a more nuanced and subtle slow burn of an arc involving them.

I don’t see a “switch” in these characters, but rather an evolution … continuity between them being a rival and a romance is not like an off/on state. I look to a dynamic which is redefined and changes based on the MC and the RO.

Unless you are looking for a pure tropism approach, I feel a surprise romance would be off-putting and immersion-breaking to me.

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Thanks for the replies so far. Some good points made already.

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This is just my opinion, but since I am often disappointed in this trope despite theoretically liking it I’ll give my 2 cents. I usually need romances with something “extra” to keep me interested and a rival arc can qualify.

The biggest challenge I’ve seen as a reader is balancing the give and take between mc and rival. If the mc gets all the best comebacks the rival comes across as somewhat pathetic which isn’t very attractive to me. Conversely if the rival comes out of every exchange one-upping the mc I I’ll loose respect for the mc which can sink the whole game.

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Caleb Wren in A Pirate’s Pleasure. He is 100% a rival; you’re in the same business. He can be an enemy or an ally, or neither, but in any case, it’s possible to disagree with his methods while accepting that that’s just how things usually are in this business. (Though I don’t know whether or not you can romance him if he’s your enemy; I have not tried.) In my playthrough, I made absolutely no effort to change him because I loved him just as he was. (He still did decide to change, a little bit, but so did I.)

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I’m not really expecting nor looking for anything in particular. I’m not a huge fan of romance in fiction ; precisely because very few stories actually make them interesting or believable to me, I tend to skip them. I can however tell you what I’m not into. As a way of considering what people who aren’t into romance could be interested in.

I’d say the most important thing to avoid is that classic sobby, overly emotional, messy love stuff where both love interests seem to lose their thinking ability over each other. Too over-the-top, too flashy, too firy, too exuberant, too promiscuous or vulgar doesn’t really feel like romance. More like teenage puppy love if anything.

I guess I just want the romance to be believable and mutual. It needn’t even bring anything to character development or the story for all I care. I should be able to understand and feel how/why they got closer. See gradual interest and initiative from both sides.

In this case, the switch should be gradual and feel like it just comes natural. Definitely not an “out-of the blue” or surprise situation. Surprise bonding moments yes, but that mutual switch should definitely be gradual.
And mindful of both character’s temperament I reckon.

Other than that, nothing really. I’m a firm believer an author’s freedom to take the story wherever the hell they please, regardless of reader expectations. It would however be great if an author could be mindful of that.

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The character must, at their core, my MC can respect, sympathize and somewhat understand that it would do the same thing on their shoes (sharing of core values)

A business or political rival trying to outmaneuver me in ways i would? Sure. Using tactics my MC wouldn’t? (say, assassination, smear) or being malicious towards my mc? Nope

Also, being an asshole, that’s a straight no in my book

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Good dialog and snarky chemistry.

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I would love if it was kinda natural. Like you got to know the character, even if you don’t like them, like you were forced to work with them and to chip at their character a little, and eventually they begin to open up to you. It becomes a fairly comfortable “friendship” and before you know it your character is hooked. And all the while both ate kinda like Tsundere and bicker, but with steadily less heat, until it is banter more than bicker.

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honestly, i’m a sucker for enemies to lovers so my standards aren’t very high (my fave RO of all times is prodigal) :smiling_face_with_tear: with that being said, the slow burn buildup as they gradually develop trust and comfort towards each other is the best route there is, in my opinion, and it almost always happens when they’re stuck in a situation together. (also when there’s a scene where one of them gets hurt and the other is like “WHO DID THIS TO YOU???”, pure gold.)

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These replies are just what I am looking for. Thank you keep them coming.

First would be the chemistry like a spark of fire and ice but the both of them is oblivious or in denial to their attraction to one another at first. Then when they realize it’s something else they still vehemently try to shake it off and remain at each other throat. But a romance should have content/context where it’s not suddenly been thrown to the MC like “Hey you! I hate you and love you at the same time.” out of nowhere. You must add the proper phasing in how the romance develop like a slow burn romance and the interaction of the MC and the rival LI. I hope it helps.

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hooo boy, do I have thoughts on this topic
two words: enemies AND lovers

for me personally, it’s about the instant attraction, the “oh no they’re hot” realization the very moment you meet. there’s just something so fun about a dashingly handsome/devastatingly beautiful (by my own subjective standards haha) person that lays their disdainful eyes on you and immediately says something infuriating and witty (of course, you need to be able to match them blow for blow or it won’t be nearly as fun)

every time your paths cross, they find new and exciting ways to be a bastard and you just want to shut them up by either throwing a fist in their face or slamming them into a wall and making out so hard they lose the ability to speak. or, alternatively, you can keep your cool and use words instead. regardless, seeing that brilliant mind short-circuit because of something you said or did feels like a victory in more ways than one

it’s a fun dynamic to play around with. depending on the story, it can get progressively more destructive and unhealthy or shift into something less aggressive and mean, becoming playful instead, a sort of offensive banter you can’t really share with anyone else

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Im not sure if it fits the enemies/rivals trope, but i feel the enemy captain from Choice of Broadsides was a great take on it.

This. I enjoyed the way the HG Belle Nuit did this; they’re snarky, they’re competitive, and both characters can (potentially) absolutely love that competitive rival relationship of theirs, respecting each other at their core but desperately wanting to beat them, and relishing in it.

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And now I’m wondering how “snarky chemistry” looks like.

I find more often than not, the hottest character is the one that the author decided should be as “ugly” as possible to highlight their evilness. It’s just that the author decided “ugly” means the same thing as my “sexy af.”

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The change should be very gradual and should most importantly make sense. This type of dynamic relationship is rare in reality and for a reason. There has to be something that the two of them share initially to at least create a spark. After all, no one wants to be around someone they dislike for a long period of time unless something makes them stay around one another.

And please… please… please… please

This is personal preference, but I absolutely hate the “well I’m a dick because of this past trauma” argument. It’s not particularly realistic to almost any sort of trauma. If you do want to go that particular route, it can be done, but RESEARCH IS IMPORTANT IN ALL WRITING!

While writing Shattered Stars (still in progress) I’ve put in hundreds of hours of just research. Everything from brushing up on my military knowledge, to psychiatry, to engineering to medical knowledge? Researched. It does not make me an expert by any means.

But say for example, you have a story that a character gets shot in. Alright… that’s fine. That happens. But… where did they get hit?

Gunshot wounds take a long time to heal from. Weeks at best and even years at times depending on:

  • Where
  • Caliber
  • Range
  • The person’s immune system (which yes, factors into healing and recovery more than just infection)
  • How active the person is
  • Body armor (obviously if it does not penetrate, then duh, but if you are hit in the chest with a rifle caliber and wearing armor that stops the bullet you’re probably going to break your ribs if you’re lucky and you can STILL die from internal injuries due to impact trauma)
  • And MUCH more!

Now imagine you’re writing a fairly realistic story. If your character gets hit in the face with a bullet, there will be consequences. It’s going to shatter bone, rip and tear muscle and flesh and cause bruising to the surrounding area. You’re probably going to have a brain injury (the FACE is very different from the HEAD) even though you weren’t hit in the brain simply due to shockwaves caused by the bullet passing through tissues and the like.

It won’t really make sense that the character shrugs it off and just “lol I’m k” afterwards. And if they do it removes the sense of danger and excitement from the story. People like Superman not because he is invincible. People like Superman because of supporting characters like Lois Lane and others that make him more “human” for lack of a better term.

Now using this same approach and logic…

These two (can be) attracted to one another because:

  • They share an attraction on a physical level (this can at least get the concept moving)
  • As time progresses and the relationship becomes established, the other character starts to be friendlier
  • Alternatively, some people just need to be given a reality check. Sometimes it’s enough to tell someone to shut the hell up and be respectful. It works more often than you’d think or like.
  • TRAUMA IS A LAZY EFFORT! And if you decide to go the trauma route, what trauma causes this sort of behavior? It’s not going to be childhood abuse most likely. The majority (and yes, I can generalize because this is how statistics and psychology work) are very timid and uncertain, often anxious and very scared. Getting over this trauma takes years of intense psychological care either from a professional or at times a loved one (yes, I’ve lived that exact story and no, I’m not a professional and no, I was not abused. Or at least not in that way).
  • They will need to share values. What values? Who gives a damn? Maybe they’re united in a cause?
  • A friendly, joking sort of assholery is fine. That’s even expected, to a degree, of friends.
  • TONE! TONE! TONE! What is said is less important than how it is said! Make sure to utilize this. I’ve seen a lot of COG/HG (mostly HG) where there are just words on the page and little indication of the tone in how they are being said. “Hey you’re kind of an asshole” is very different from “hey you’re kind of an asshole” if the tone changes in how the message is delivered. Imagine being slapped in the face and being called an asshole then imagine being hugged and being called an asshole. It’s two very different messages.

I’m not saying don’t go for it. By all means, do. I encourage it. In fact, I actually like this concept in stories when it is done correctly. And by correctly I mean psychologically correctly. I’m a very realistic person.

And sure, there will be people in the thread below that are, ultimately, going to disagree and say that trauma is the best option or whatever. Frankly, I don’t care. We all view the world through an imperfect lens and nothing will ever change that. But we can sharpen the focus with research and observation.

Science is your friend.

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I pretty much agree with what the others have said, that it should feel like a natural progression with scenes demonstrating the progression of the relationship as well as making the MC and the rival relatively equal in whatever they are rivals about.

I also strongly agree with this although it doesn’t necessarily have to be that dramatic although I love it when it is, but even just smaller instances of being protective of each other works to help develop the relationship.

I actually agree with this. I do believe that every character should have reasons for behaving the way the do, but while past trauma can shape a person it too often turns into an excuse for everything they’ve ever done. Also, it typically isn’t necessarily done well. That being said, the character should still have compelling reasons for acting the way they do even if it isn’t related to past trauma.

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