A trope is a theme or literary device or conventions, a sort of shorthand between people in the know. They help readers with expectations, much like genre used to before it got mugged by marketing (genre abuse for marketing purposes is one of the readers why finding what you want on any website peddling books is so difficult: they’ve turned search engines into ad engines, but I digress).
The enemies-to-lovers* trope is usually a romance one, but it is often seen in science-fiction too. By “enemies” we actually mean people who don’t like each other or start out hating each other. In Star Wars, Han and Leia played out the enemies-to-lovers trope, beautifully, making Empire Strikes Back*, the middle act of the trilogy, the best one of the three. Yes it did. Don’t bother arguing it.
We’re talking fiction here, keep that in mind.
One of the reasons it works so well is because it gives characters a chance to grow and change, to progress, something that is sorely lacking in mass media franchises, long-running series, and science-fiction in general, where character progression means that a character stops doing the TSTL (too stupid to live) stuff that gets them in trouble and allows them to go on adventures in the first place. Once they grow up (or settle down) there’s not many adventures for them to go on.
This is why every woman that James Bond* falls in love with has to die or leave him. Same with Reacher* and Harry Dresden*, et al. Interestingly, Anita Blake* just collects love interests. Probably something to be said there about how a woman can get away with doing that but a man can’t. And coincidentally, her and Jean-Claude started out as — you know it! — enemies.
Unlike other romantic tropes where we have the meet-cute and they decide they like each other, enemies-to-lovers allows the sparks to fly, usually harder and hotter than other romantic devices because they have more to overcome. They start out hating each other, opposing each other, or being rivals.
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