Whenever I sit down to write a romance, the first trope I reach for is enemies-to-lovers.
I can’t help it—the trope is the reason I fell in love with rom coms to begin with. It’s a classic for a reason: you get a lot of juicy tension when two people fight each other, and themselves, to avoid falling in love. I also like how the trope lends itself to exploring how opposing life philosophies can (rightly) find a compromise when love is involved. There’s a poetry to the structure. The story practically writes itself!
This is why my debut YA novel, Not Here to Be Liked, was an enemies-to-lovers rom com. That’s what I set out to write, and that’s what the story was meant to be. So when I started my second book, The Boy You Always Wanted, I was convinced it would be another enemies-to-lovers story. I couldn’t imagine writing anything else.
But here’s the thing about writing: sometimes, the more you do it, the less you know. And what I didn’t realize is that characters—if you’ve done your job and made them well-rounded, interesting people—will often want a say in the kind of story they’re in!
In The Boy You Always Wanted, the two main characters have known each other since they were little kids. Ollie has always been embarrassed by Francine, who’s a bit of an intense do-gooder, so it was easy to see why he would dislike her. Throw in her bizarro plan to rope him into fooling her dying grandpa…and it’s no wonder he would want to keep away. Far, far away.
But Francine? Francine, I discovered, wasn’t a hater. Even though Ollie’s immaturity is made evident when their falling out is solidified in middle school, I just couldn’t get Francine to muster up enough animosity towards him—or anyone—to be a proper banter-y, zingy enemy. Because Francine didn’t want to banter. Francine didn’t want to zing.
Francine did, however, have a lot of heart. And it was only when I started paying attention to this that the story began to take on its own shape. Francine, who’s sure she’s over her old crush on Ollie, would try ridiculously hard to befriend him. Ollie, with his secret cinnamon roll core, would be won over by her earnestness in spite of himself. And slowly, their rom com became a friends-to-lovers story, with just a little second-chance romance sprinkled in. Which, as it turned out, is exactly the story it was supposed to be.
All that said, now that I’m working on my next book, did I once again reach instinctively for the enemies-to-lovers trope? You betcha. But this time, if my characters tell me they belong in a different story, I’ll be ready. And I can’t wait to see where they take me.
The Boy You Always Wanted is published by Usborne Publishing on 3 August 2023