Antagonists in Romance

Continuing with our prep for the upcoming NaNoWriMo challenge in less than a month, we’re using this Tuesday’s Toolbox to talk about antagonists, particularly in the Romance or Love Story genre.

Personally, I’ve always had a very difficult time with the concept of having an antagonist in a romance.  We all know that conflict drives story forward, brings our Hero and heroine together, providing them something to overcome in the end before we get the big Happily Ever After payoff.

Still I struggle.

I don’t write mysteries, so there’s not the convenient murderer antagonist.  I also shy away from love triangles, so no ex-partner antagonist.  In many of the romances and love stories I read, it’s hard for me to find a “bad guy.”   Most of conflict I write is internal, not external.

So, who the heck is the antagonist in a straight romance?

The antagonist can the hero or the heroine, but it’s hard to pull off.  Even though the H/h can be their own worst enemies, it’s a big load for one to be both.  The antagonist can be a circumstance or an event, like a natural catastrophe.  Again, it’s hard to pull off.  It reads more true and real to have a living, breathing antagonist.

That doesn’t necessarily mean evil, such as a murdering ex-spouse.  The antagonist can be someone as simple as a well-meaning but overbearing parent, sibling or friend.

For me, the antagonist is a character who represents the circumstance or event who then creates a barrier between the protagonist and the ultimate goal. It can be a somewhat disinterested party who is just doing what they think is right, not intending to kill the hero’s dream.

The hard lesson I had to learn when planning antagonists is to make them real and not simply a device to keep things going.  Antagonists keep external conflict at peak levels, infuse additional internal conflict within the H/h and balance the tension among the characters.  Fully formed and multidimensional is the way to go.

What are your thoughts on antagonists in romance?  Do you prefer to have an over-the-top bad guy or someone more subtle and less obvious?


About Lora Bailey

Pianist, runner, author, yogi, wife and dog-mommy
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2 Responses to Antagonists in Romance

  1. I’m participating my first nano in November writing romance novel too!
    The conflict in romance is the hardest to think of and you have a very good point here.
    From the novels I studied, the antagonist exists as a person, who directly/indirectly creates a rift between both the lovers, testing their faith in each other.


  2. heatherlybell says:

    I believe you’ve got it. The antagonist isn’t always a “someone” and even when they are, not necessarily a truly bad person. In my book Somebody Like You, one of the antagonists was Billy’s publicist, who thought she knew what was best for Billy. She didn’t think that was my heroine, Brooke. Another antagonist was their past history. Brooke didn’t trust him because he’d let her down once before. She didn’t trust the whole athlete persona, etc. She hadn’t ever really had a chance to get to know the real Billy. I personally prefer less obvious antagonists. I also write character driven stories and so they’re almost always people who mean well, or situations that have to be overcome in order to be together. It’s almost always about trust, and letting go, giving up control.


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