“What’s my problem, Mila?” he asked, all the more intimidating and enticing for the lowness of his voice. “What’s my problem, tell me. I want to know.”
The above quote is from my current work in progress, In My Sights, and though it doesn’t squarely follow the hate-to-love trope, there’s a lot to be dissected from even that short excerpt. There’s tension, a sense of veiled power that’s about to snap, and when it does you just know it’s going to be hot. My heroine and hero are reconnected after years apart and they’re pissed at each other. And God, it’s fun to write.
But why? What draws us time and again to this trope? Hate-to-love is surprisingly tricky to write, and you have to be carefully toeing the line, but we keep coming back? Why?
The tension. Ooh baby, we love that tension.
See, the romance genre is built on tension. Without tension, sexual, emotional or both, there is nothing to raise the stakes. For a romance story to take place, we need both external and internal conflict. I can’t kiss him because: the house is about to explode. I can’t kiss him because: he’s a playboy and I don’t want to get my heart broken.
Tension is a built from both external and internal conflict interrupting the easy route to a happily ever after. The first time they’re interrupted, it’s because he’s turned her away, afraid he’ll hurt her in the end. (After all, he never learned how to love.) The second time they’re interrupted, it’s because their safe house has been discovered and bullets are flying. The will-they-won’t-they, one-step-forward-two- steps-back heightens our frustration and desire to see the hero and heroine end up together, until it’s all the more satisfying at the end. (Can anyone think of an appropriate metaphor here?)
The hate/love tension adds to all of this. For one, quipping, angry, flirtatious banter is the best. He just pushes her buttons. He can’t help himself. Doesn’t know why he does it. Until one day he realizes that he can’t get enough of that sexy flush on her face when she’s pissed at him and he’ll do anything to turn her bright eyes that shade of gold.
Banter is one of my all time favorite things to read and write, especially when over-the-top, intended-to-piss-you-off flirtations are involved. God, I love it. (I don’t hate this one too, sorry.)
But it goes deeper than that. Because, though a cliche, it’s often true what they say: There’s a fine line between love and hate. Because that hate, visceral, potent, wild, running through your veins, that’s passion in a different form. That’s caged, animalistic need. And ya know what else is an animalistic need. Slowly chipping away at a character’s control until that anger is transformed is one of the most satisfying things to do as a writer.
And it’s emotional too. Because when you care that passionately about a person, even if it’s the wrong kind of passionately to start, there’s potential. Your feelings, where they’re regarded, go deep. And they might go even deeper if you could just let them, let your defenses down so you can go after what you want.
Love/hate tropes are also a fantastic way to develop character. Suzanne Brockmann does a lot of this with her characters of Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke. As they oscillate between desire and anger, the characters begin to reveal themselves. Alyssa’s a black woman working in the FBI, who really is good enough to be part of the SEALs. Sam is a good old boy cowboy with something to prove and mouth you wouldn’t kiss your mama with. (Kiss to unlock Tragic Past story #1.)
Watching the way their feelings change for each other as new revelations come to light is as much part of character building as knowing their backstory or their deepest fears. The path from hate to love can be instructive and interesting and very telling.
In Maya Banks’ KGI series, we get to see an unfolding and teased along romance between a young Kelly sister, Rusty, and the local Sheriff, Sean. (She hasn’t given us the story yet and it’s killing all of us!) But Sean’s inner need to keep Rusty safe includes keeping her safe from himself, which hopefully he will realize is a foolish perspective. (I need to know!!)
There’s a reason the love/hate trope is so ubiquitous. Just look at the proliferation of Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy romances when FanFiction first landed on the internet. Love and hate run a close parallel, and we’re all just waiting for the bomb to go off.
Of course, proceed with caution. After all, I have people I hate in my life that I genuinely hate and wouldn’t consider sleeping even for socialized secondary education for the masses. It’s important to keep The Line in mind, and know when not to cross it.
But don’t be afraid to push. Stick ‘em in a broom closet. Lock them in the safehouse. Make them suffer. Your characters and your readers will thank you for it.
What are your thoughts on the enemies to lovers trope? Let me know in the comments below! ♥