The allure of antagonistic romance

Most adventure novels have some kind of romantic subplot. We like seeing our heroes and heroines struggle with awkward encounters, exciting emotions and unwavering attraction towards some impressive or mysterious character.

Love interests come in many variations. The rebellious girl next door, the hunky tough guy with a heart of gold, the cocky know-it-all with hidden insecurities, or the quiet but intelligent one with a dark secret. They all have their charms – and flaws – but despite these, they traditionally belong to the “good side”. This is kind of given.

Along came a new trend; that which we call anti-heroes. All of a sudden, we scrap the black and white, the typical good and bad, we want grey characters, those with questionable morals who decide to do the right thing in the end. Or maybe not exactly the right thing, but just enough to still deserve that precious hero-suffix. These characters are somehow more interesting and relatable than the typical hero. After all, not everyone wants to be a knight in shining armour.

Making your antagonist an anti-hero has become quite popular in recent times. We love it when the antagonist has relatable motives and is not just a typically evil character with megalomania, or “I want to rule the world”-complex. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt etc. We want to be able to kind of root for our protagonist’s enemy. It makes us wonder what would happen should they win, how their minds work, and if they can be persuaded to abandon their quest in favour of our protagonist. It’s less predictable, and the readers absolutely love it.

The one thing that is even more alluring than the anti-hero antagonist, is the anti-hero antagonist love interest. Yes, I said it. Apply all that I said in the paragraph above and you might not get the most healthy and secure of romances, but it certainly won’t be boring or predictable.

Readers crave this kind of complexity. Fictional romances have been so one-dimensional for too long, and I believe this is why people are drawn to anything that goes against the norm. As a result, things that are insanely unhealthy and thereby completely missed the mark gets far too much attention. Take Fifty Shades of Grey for example. I don’t know what to call that, but it’s certainly not an anti-hero romance.

I suppose the reason why I’m writing this now is that I realised that my romantic sub-plot is far too… vanilla. It has some complexity, sure, but something doesn’t feel quite right about it. I have therefore decided to do some major changes to it, but that will require a lot of rewriting. The “kill your darlings” part is always painful, but you know that it’s worth it in the end. After all, great books aren’t written – they’re rewritten.


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