Rivals to lovers is a popular trope in the romance genre. It's like enemies to lovers, but typically less of a searing hatred. The two protagonists tend to be in competition for something, or have opposing goals. This adds some juicy tension to their eventual romance.
1. Rivalry Cause
What causes their rivalry? It needs to be deep enough to cause tension, but possible to overcome if they put the time/effort in. Ideas include:
- Ambitions clash
- Legal dispute
- Sports rivalry
- Academic rivalry
- Fighting over a lover
- Opposing goals
- Political rivalry
- Creative differences
- Workplace tension
Personal opinion incoming: I don’t love ‘misunderstanding’ rivalries because I feel like they’re too easy to overcome and don’t often require much character development. But they’re possible to do well.
2. Your Leads
Why don’t they like each other? What could they learn from each other? What is it about the other person that gets under their skin so much, and why? To answer these questions, you need a solid grip on your two leads.
The two leads need personalities that clash in some ways (for a satisfying rivalry) but complement each other in other ways (for an enjoyable and realistic romance). Make sure their differences are clear from the start. If you have the Character Workbook spend some time developing each character.
To go from love to hate, they need to spend time together. They don’t like each other, so why would they bother spending time together? It’s your job as a writer to figure it out. Here are some examples to get you started:
- The enemy of my enemy is my friend: They team up to take down a bigger fish
- Ugh we’ve been teamed up together by our boss: They’re competing over something, but their superior (their coach, their professor, their boss, etc.) teamed them up on a task. They’ve got to work together, but they keep trying to one-up each other.
- Anything for my pals: They put their differences aside to help a mutal friend
4. Growing Appreciation
As they work together / alongside each other / against each other, they spend time together and slowly start to appreciate each other. They get to see each other’s competence (at work, sport, etc.) and (perhaps grudgingly) appreciate that.
They might share jokes and banter. Initial witty jibes can turn into something a bit more flirty. Perhaps they enjoy being intellectually challenged by an equal. Finally, they open up and get vulnerable.
Don’t do this too early! This needs to be earned or it’ll feel unrealistic or forced.
5. Conflicting Emotions
I highly recommend checking out my post on writing slow burn romance for some useful tips, even if your rivals to lovers story is faster paced. Your characters’ rivalry causes conflicting feelings.
Does your character I hate this person or did they misjudge them? Can they put their pride aside and confess? The tension comes from the question: Are they going to resist or embrace their new, growing attraction?
You can also throw in some curveballs (sabotage, betrayal, etc.) to mix things up a bit.