“Hi Lizard! Do you have any tips on making a likable couple? In my work in progress, the protagonist and the antagonist fall for each other. I’m concerned that their relationship will be boring or predictable. What do I do?”
So right off the bat, there is a bit of a conundrum. I think the bigger question here is how does a protagonist fall for the antagonist?
The protagonist wants something and the antagonist doesn’t want them to get it. That’s generally how stories work. Antagonists are adversaries. They can be villainous or they might just want the same thing that protagonist wants and they both can’t have it.
Often protagonists and antagonists don’t get together because there’s no seeing past the thing that’s put them against each other in the first place, though it is an interesting question to explore…
There’s not a lot of examples I can think of that actually have made this work, though still, a few. In general, if the villain and the hero are going to have any kind of positive relationship, the war between them can’t be personal. It might be political or institutional. A “my team hates your team” kind of conflict. Like in Romeo and Juliet. There’s my first example.
So in Romeo and Juliet, the conflict isn’t between Romeo and Juliet, it’s between Montagues and Capulets. People DIE in this play and it’s over some stupid grudge no less. Do any of us remember how it started? If it was even mentioned in the play, I sure don’t remember it. But I don’t think the reason really matters all that much. What matters is that Juliet doesn’t want to marry the suitor Paris that her father has arranged for her to meet, and she meets Romeo instead.
Now I can’t think of any other great literary examples, so excuse me while I explain how this worked in Charmed. In the TV series Charmed, the good witch Phoebe Halliwell falls in love with a demon sent on a mission to kill her. How does that happen exactly? Well, if Phoebe knew he was a demon, she would have vanquished him immediately, no questions asked, but he tricked her. He pretended to be a good guy, a normal guy who knew nothing about demons or magic.
But *spoiler alert,* when it comes time for the demon to kill Phoebe and her sisters, he can’t do it. He’s developed feelings for her. He enjoyed pretending to be someone good and sincere that he ended up developing feelings towards Phoebe that were good and sincere. So instead of murdering the witch he’s fallen in love with, he returns to his evil overlords to vanquish them instead. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a very long, soapy drama, but I think it illustrates the point pretty clearly.
Heroes and villains can fall in love, but the differences that come between them can’t be personal. It works in Romeo and Juliet because they belong to two warring families. It works in Charmed because they are either for “Good” or for “Evil.” It works in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) because they were career assassins. It was their jobs, not their personal lives.
So, how can a hero fall for the villain? First, they have to be in a situation that can foster good feelings for the other person. It might be that they have to work together to for something more important than the conflict that’s divided them. Or it might be that they believe whatever conflict previously kept them against each other is no longer relevant – this might be the case in a competition with a prize. If they’re sure that the prize is void or that neither can win, they may be more responsive to communicating and building a new relationship outside of their competition.
You have to give them a reason to get to know each other outside of their main conflict, that’s why it’s easier if the conflict like the examples mentioned above are not “personal.” The details and nuances of their relationship only you can know. It’s going to entirely depend on the characters. Where are they able to find common ground? What makes them allies in spite of their differences?
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