Characters that start out as enemies, and through the course of the story turn into friends or lovers is quite a popular trope, and because it’s popular it’s used a lot. It can work really well, and satisfy your audience in a specific way, or it can just feel predictable and dull, depending on how you use it. I’ll explain why it is popular, and how you can make it work in your own story.
Examples from Popular Fiction
It’s a very popular trope in love stories when enemies or characters who antagonise one another learn to love one another. Although, it doesn’t always make for the healthiest representations of romance.
For instance, Belle and The Beast start out as enemies when he kidnaps her father then locks her up, and through the course of the story they fall in love. In You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks runs a big bookshop chain that destroys Meg Ryan’s character’s career, and he manipulates her through email as he lies about who he is, until she falls in love with him.
In tales of friendship, it also works well, and is usually less riddled with problematic imagery. For instance, in Trading Places when Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd are set against one another and through the story they become friends and work together to take down Duke & Duke. I did this in my first book—Lilly Prospero and Saffron Jones start out as enemies, then they learn to understand one another and become best friends.
The downside of this trope, as with all tropes, is that it’s predictable. Especially in a romantic comedy set up. There’s no way you go into a film where the two lead characters are both attractive and charismatic and have wonderful chemistry, and you don’t expect them to fall in love even whilst they’re fighting at the beginning.
In Calamity Jane, Calam and Wild Bill sing a song early on about how much they dislike one another and by the end they’re married. The passion is clear between them and everybody could see it coming.
However, as much as being predictable is a negative when you’re writing stories as it can feel boring, and we always strive to be original and creative, there is something comforting and pleasurable about watching this trope play out. If everything else in your story is unpredictable and dramatic and your audience doesn’t know what’s coming, they can feel the tension and excitement from that, whilst knowing that at some point the two characters who hate each other right now are going to join up and either fall in love, or become friends or teammates who work together.
Why This Trope Can Work
When you see these characters separate, when they are obviously lacking something in their lives which you as the reader know is the other person, when they do finally come together it can feel triumphant. You know that now, with the effect they have on one another working in their favour, they can finally get what they want.
Whether it’s cops who hate each other working together to take down the bad guy, or lovers who can finally find the happiness they’ve been craving, you know you’re going to see the best these characters you’ve been bonding with have to offer.
If everything in your story is predictable, if it’s trope after trope and nothing original happens, your audience will feel bored. However, with the clever use of one trope, such as this one, you can give them a positive feeling of being one step ahead and feeling excited to witness what they know is coming. It’s like teasing them with a promise of something satisfying they know they want, and they know they’ll get, whilst maintaining the rest of the story as something they have to experience fresh to know what will happen.
Keeping your audience intrigued or energised through the rest of the story makes sure that this trope doesn’t get lost.
I do personally really enjoy this trope. As I say, the bond between Lilly and Saffron is something I particularly love. I enjoy writing their relationship because I find their dynamic is full of energy, and that is partly because they’re somewhat mismatched and had to learn to care about one another rather than having immediate natural chemistry.
I think this trope can add a layer of conflict to a plotline which might otherwise feel a bit flat, and as long as you keep the rest of your story rich with new and exciting story, I really enjoy what this trope brings.
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