Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bad Guys in Romance

Loves stories are primarily about two characters who meet, are attracted, face a set of challenges, and overcome those challenges to live happily ever after. They have friends who are thrilled for them and foes who are not so thrilled.

Do you really need an antagonist?

Yes, if you want the tension to be truly heightened.

Do you really need an evil lord or a psychotic killer to keep them apart? 

No, there are alternatives.

If someone in your lovers’ story world is dead set on keeping them apart and actively working against them, the potential for breakup conflict is higher. Your job as a romance writer is to instill doubt in the reader that your love interests will end up together.

Here are a few types of antagonists to consider:

1) Disapproving parent/s or family members.

2) Disapproving best friend who rejects the new partner’s “otherness”, or resents the fact that his/her friend is now too busy to spend time with him/her, or the lover is changing to please the new partner so much the best friend no longer recognizes him/her.

3) The jealous ex-lover.

4) Powerful society figure who disapproves based on cultural, racial, etc. differences. It could be a religious leader, gang leader, or mafia boss. It could be a fraternity or sorority leader, or the head of a secret organization.

5) A boss who needs his employee to focus and the relationship is detrimental to his business plans (for a multitude of reasons).

6) An employee or coworker who wants the love interest and now has to admit how s/he feels.

7) A boss who needs the lover or love interest to move to a new city or country. The couple’s bonds are truly tested: who is willing to sacrifice how much to stay together?

8) A boss or friend needs the lover to do a favor that offends the love interest. The lover agrees to take on a task that is against the love interest’s morals or beliefs (political, religious, etc.).

9) Someone from a past, secret life threatens to expose one of the lovers. Should the lover come clean or find a way to pay off/end the threat?

10) Someone becomes a new responsibility for one of your lovers: a child, such as a niece or nephew, or a parent who is suddenly ill and has to move in. Perhaps the lover will have to relocate to take care of them.

The important thing is to make the conflicts truly strain the connection. There are many things that draw people together and tear them apart. It is essential that you make the reader doubt an outcome that is inevitable: the happy ending.

Here are some previous posts on the romance genre.

For more on how to create your lovers, check out Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook which are available in both print and Kindle.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. That's my understanding of a romance: everyone, EXCEPT the lovers, knows that they will end up together.

  2. Technically speaking, I'm not a romance writer — although my stories contain romantic elements. (Somebody told me my first book was a love story; I didn't see it that way at all. In my opinion it was a family drama. Hmmm.) By avoiding the romance designation, I don't have to have to do the "happily ever after" scenario at the end.

    Great post, Diana.

  3. My husband and I watch a lot of shows, films, and read a lot of books and discuss them. We love to discuss why a particular relationship would never work in the real world or what they'd have to do differently if they wanted it to. :)

  4. I should think that when a reader starts a book knowing it will end happily ever after, confronting a dragon or two is a necessary part of the journey.

  5. I've managed to work at least four of those into my story without a lot of thought - hopefully that will keep this romance from being nothing but mushy scenes between two people who can't keep their hands off of each other. :D

  6. Great post, Diana. I've read too many books where the tension between the two lovers seems too forced, just to keep them apart for a few more chapters. Stories are so much better when something real and natural keeps them apart.


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