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How To Write a Friends-to-Lovers Romance (When You’re Addicted to the Enemies-to-Lovers Trope)

How do you add romantic tension between characters who’ve had an otherwise platonic relationship? Author Lacie Waldon shares how to write a friends-to-lovers romance.

Everyone has their favorite trope to write. I’ll happily admit that mine is enemies-to-lovers. With that particular storyline, we get to cover the spectrum: a little bit of mean. Some teasing. A little bit of nice. Some flirting.

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For me, writing an enemies-to-lovers story is free rein to run wild with the characters. It doesn’t have to make sense (if that makes sense). Call me shallow, but in my experience, the line between love and hate really can be precariously thin. You don’t have to like someone to be attracted to them. Whether you’re thinking good thoughts about them or bad, you’re still thinking about them.

Personally, I find it much more complicated to get characters to transition from friends to lovers. Sure, it’s likely a healthier transition. We’re talking about two people who have maintained a relationship long enough to grow it from acquaintances to friendship. They have things in common. They respect each other. But …

Why are they only getting together now? Are they settling? Is it a timing thing? These have to be the two least romantic options in the history of romance. I don’t know about you, but pragmatism ranks absolutely nowhere on my list of reasons to read a love story. I’d read nonfiction if I wanted realism. Just give me the thrills.

How To Write a Friends-to-Lovers Romance (When You’re Addicted to the Enemies-to-Lovers Trope)

That being said, even I have to admit there’s something glorious about falling in love with one of your best friends. There’s a reason people are still watching When Harry Met Sally 30 years after it hit theaters. What could be better than having someone know you for exactly who you are and deciding you’re irresistible? There is actually an answer to this, and it’s this: being able to trust your heart to someone who has already proven they’re worthy of it.

So, how does a writer who’s addicted to the bite of the enemies-to-lovers trope move into friendlier storytelling territory? I can’t claim to be an expert, but for the purpose of this article, let’s just agree to pretend I am. I did go for it in my second novel, From the Jump, after all. (And I did fall wildly in love with the fictional friend-turned-lover, which was a fun and stimulating bonus.) Here’s how I made the leap: 

  • Obviously, with enemies-to-lovers, the characters start out not liking each other. In friends-to-lovers, it’s a given that the reverse is true. However, in the latter, I don’t think it’s enough for the love interest to be just likeable. If your story is going to document someone’s exit from the friend zone, they also need to be desirable. I’m talking some sex appeal here. You don’t want your readers picturing little Johnny or Jenny from next door who they always knew they should like. You want them picturing the person they thought they couldn’t like. One of my favorite examples of this is Hugh Jackman’s playboy character in Someone Like You. While Ashley Judd was viewing him as undateable, the audience had time to properly fall in love with him. We knew we could trust him long before she did, and we were thrilled when her eyes were finally opened to his good qualities.
How To Write a Friends-to-Lovers Romance (When You’re Addicted to the Enemies-to-Lovers Trope)

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  • With that being said, why couldn’t one friend like the other before, but they can like them now? With enemies-to-lovers, there are two things that need to happen. There’s the event that causes them to be at odds, and then there’s something that brings them together. With friends-to-lovers, the transition can begin with a single change. All you need is a reason for one person to see the other through new eyes. Is one of them suddenly single? Did one of them dive into a pond Colin-Firth-Darcy-style, emerging with their shirt see-through and clinging to their unexpectedly well-defined abs? Did one-too-many tequilas work their magic? Earlier, I joked about the timing issue being a bummer, but the truth is, in my experience, it’s much easier to turn friends into lovers you can believe in and root for than it is for two characters who have been treating each other poorly. All of our friends have characteristics that initially attracted us to them. As writers, all we have to do is deepen that attraction.
  • Finally, the stakes must be set. With enemies-to-lovers, this is usually built into the story. Whatever has put the characters at odds can generally be relied on to test the relationship. But what about friends? How do we raise their stakes? It can, of course, be built into the story just like with an enemies-to-lovers storyline. But the cool thing about friends-to-lovers is that we have their entire history to mine from as well. We also have a shared social circle to work with. While I love the frivolity of enemies-to-lovers, I find the stakes for friends-to-lovers feel more realistic and pressing. A sexy fling with an enemy can be laughed off the next day, but a failed romance with a close friend can change the landscape of your life.

In writing these tips, I’ve completely changed my mind about friends-to-lovers being a more difficult sell. They’re a better match, and it makes for a better, more substantial love story. Still, I’m sticking by enemies-to-lovers as my favorite trope to write. It’s just so much fun to make people butt heads. The beauty, though, is that we don’t have to choose. Armed with this brilliant, academic article, we can now dive head first into either of those tropes. Happy writing!

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