Forced Proximity: my favourite trope

by Robyn Rychards

When I was a teenager, I lived in a small town called Niwot, Colorado, about halfway between Boulder, Colorado and Longmont, where I live now. Niwot has changed a lot since I was a teenager and as an adult I can appreciate its charm, and be glad I was able to grow up in such a place.

As a teenager, however, I felt very isolated. In reality, it was only a fifteen-minute drive into Boulder where there was everything a person could want. But as a teenager with no car, the only places I could go were places I could walk to or ride my bike. Niwot had no grocery store, no department store, no bookstore and no library; which meant my access to books was very limited. Then one day, a used bookstore opened up. I could feed my desire for romance books, and at bargain prices to boot! For a teenager, whose whole allowance could buy no more than two new books, this was a glorious treasure trove.

That’s what started me down the path to devouring category romance, and having done it since I was young, there are few books whose stories I can recall. However, The Wilderness Hut by Mary Wibberley was a story that stayed with me since I read it as a teenager. Then, when I stumbled upon it a few years ago and read it for the second time, I wondered why. It was a good story, but in the whole wide, wide world of books it was nothing out of the ordinary.

The Wilderness Hut

So what was it about this book that made such a huge impression on me when I was young? Why, the trope, of course! Forced proximity. Back then, I had no idea what a trope was, but I knew this was the kind of story I thoroughly enjoyed, and after reading The Wilderness Hut I was always on the hunt for anything like it. No surprise, then, that the first story I ever wrote was based on the theme of two people brought together by force of circumstance.

Her Knight in Shining Armour wasn’t that first story I wrote, but once again my favorite trope reared its head. The story starts off with the heroine, Paisley, waking up—after being injured and rendered unconscious—in the tent of the hero, Sterling, who has rescued her from a dangerous situation in the back country of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Though she doesn’t want to accept help from anyone, her circumstances force her to rely on Sterling, force her to be with him much longer than she wants, and force her to change her opinion about men, as well as her desire for an independent life.

Were it not for forced proximity Paisley would never have found the love of her life. Which leads me to my favourite aspect of the forced proximity trope. Were it not for circumstances beyond their control, the hero and heroine would never have gotten together. How epically romantic is that?

knight She may not need a knight in shining armour to save her, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to look a gift knight in the visor…

Chaos in a Small Space

In the third ‘Forced Proximity’ post of our romance tropes series, Rebecca Morean tells us how a Prius brought her couple together.

The phrase ‘forced proximity’ has a nice scientific ring to it—like there might be laws or rules involved. In my novel the mechanism of force is a Prius. And yes, it hums. But it also provides a perfect venue for conversation while offering physical limits. If you can create tension between characters, chaos in a small space can be dramatic, funny, uncomfortable or, ultimately, intimate.

In We’ve Got This, the tension builds as Kate spends much of her energy hiding secrets and Ryan expends soulful efforts to unveil truths. While this story could be set in Boston, throwing the two into the backwoods of Vermont immediately turns them into a couple and creates danger in and of itself when they get into trouble. There is no one around to save them. Having Ryan and Kate spend a lot of time in a Prius also opens the door to wonderful dialogue and magnifies every move, look, shrug and touch they offer each other.


The Prius also forces two people together who otherwise never would have met: she’s a high school teacher, he’s a movie star. But from the moment she picks him up at the airport, they are together, forced to relate. As they discuss female-male relationships he learns a lot about her. As he is People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive pick of the year, she thinks she knows all about him. What the forced proximity proves is that she doesn’t.

Forcing characters together makes every moment drip with meaning. Even where Ryan sits, moving from the back seat to the front, becomes symbolic and important to how they relate. When he becomes ill and dehydrated, the forced proximity turns funny, and again, having them together in a tight setting puts the focus solely on the characters and accentuates their differences. The dialogue is swift, and defenses are down. He’s delirious, she’s practical. He moans, she rallies. Just being in the car sets the boundaries for action and what each character can do. And Kate’s a mess driving in the middle of nowhere: dropping the phone, trying to take his pulse, talking to the ER doctor, staying cool, all the while trying not stare at the gorgeous man sweating and panting in the back seat of her car.


I can think of countless other stories in which forced closeness forces characters to open up. Nora Ephron put Harry and Sally together in a car for a road trip. There’s Thelma and Louise. In Six Days Seven Nights, Harrison Ford is stuck on an island with Anne Heche. And in real life, the man who became my friend’s second husband ended up spending four days and three nights with her in her home on 100 acres in Vermont…thanks to an ice storm. They had only been out to dinner once before. She said it was all those little things over those four days that added up so right. A real-life forced proximity story…

Stephen King once said that all a writer had to do was put two people in a room and see what happens. I agree. Two people anywhere, alone, is interesting.


A Cinderella story about mothers and movie stars, mud boots and Manolo Blahniks, and dreams that do come true.

Forced Proximity: bringing out your best (and worst)

by Charmaine Ross

I like writing characters in close forced proximity. What do I mean by that? Well, for example the male and female characters might be cops and they are sent on a stakeout together. Something goes wrong and the stakeout isn’t just for two hours, it’s for two weeks.

OR a boss asks his PA to accompany him on a conference, but the conference is extended into emergency meetings with suppliers and he needs her to stay with him. Two eyes and ears are better than one.

OR she is moving towns. He’s the head of a furniture removal company and has to take on this job as one as his employees broken his leg in a skiing accident, another has to take his wife to hospital because she’s giving birth, one woke up with a hangover the size of New South Wales (plus he’s still over the limit) and he can’t possibly drive and our hero is now understaffed. They have to travel the length of the country in the same truck as she sent her car on ahead via rail.


OR…well, the list is pretty endless. Of course, some ideas are also better than others.

Why do I like close proximity? I think it brings out the best and worst behaviours in people. When people can separate, they can create a wall and remain on their best behaviour, sometimes for years. They have an excuse not to tell the other person how they feel because they can calm down, think, re-evaluate. When you remove that wall, the characters have nowhere to hide. There is no down time. They have to talk. Communicate with each other. There will be conflict. Sparks will fly and secrets will come out and people will have no choice but to react. And that makes for an interesting story.

Having your characters close adds spice. Imagine yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to talk and interact. Not just for a couple of hours but for an extended amount of time. If you really don’t like someone, that’s going to be pretty obvious. If you have a secret crush, or are totally in love, that’s also going to be pretty obvious. You can’t hide those types of strong emotions and it will complicate life. Things might be said. Gestures might be given and interpreted, feelings developed one way or another. It can’t be helped.

Having your characters close gives them no choice but to interact. People just don’t sit in a room and ignore each other. Well, I guess they could but then you wouldn’t have a story. When people are thrown together, whether it’s a stressful situation, a work situation or a manufactured situation, they have to interact. It gives you room to explore characters’ emotions and personal growth. You can’t fall in love with someone, not in the mind-blowing, earth-shattering, life-changing sense of the word and be the same. We are emotional beings.

The final and most important point in keeping your characters close is that it gives you the ability to grow the romance. Love has to grow when people react to each other. They find things out about each other, they like them more, and like turns into love, and then into a life-changing force that they can’t exist without because if they did, they wouldn’t be the same person. Love can’t stay the same, and that’s where your story is. I love exploring the whys and wherefores of people’s actions and reactions, warts and all.


If you fall in love with a person, you accept the person for who they really are and people are far from perfect and that’s what I love to write about. Close proximity just adds to the enjoyment of the story!

In my new book Take Me As I Am, due for release on February 25, my characters are thrown together and have to live in a pretty close, intense situation. In this book, I wanted to turn the tables on the rich man/ordinary gal plot and so made my heroine a billionaire’s daughter, having been groomed for luxury and educated in the best schools money could buy, and my hero a sexy, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth man. She’s on a strict time line and he has to stay onsite to get the job done. My favourite scene is when my hero strips off his shirt in the hot summer sun, and my heroine can’t ignore the sizzle in her blood or the voice in her head that tells her that what her body wants is a bad idea. A very bad idea. See? Close proximity brings out things that make my characters uncomfortable. But that’s all part of the fun!

takemeA small town romance sent against the romance of the beautiful Dandenong mountains about loss, lies, and the courage to live true.

A Dangerous Desire

Book 6 in Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty…


After five years in the city earning her veterinary degree, Skye Malone is happy to be heading back to Milpinyani Springs, and her best friend Bret. Sure, her crush on him is still at epic proportions, but she managed to ignore it this long, and a good friend is a valuable commodity in a small community like theirs. But Bret spent the last five years growing up, and suddenly Skye’s girlhood infatuation evolves into something much stronger and much more dangerous—an adult woman’s desire.

Skye is available today!

Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty

 Casey – Rachael Johns
Lucky – Cate Ellink
Kelly – Fiona Lowe
Brooke – Eden Summers
Clarissa – Mel Teshco
Skye – Rhyll Biest
Maree – Elizabeth Dunk
Frankie – Jackie Ashenden

Forced Proximity (with a twist)

The romance-literature trope of Forced Proximity was such a popular one with Escape authors that we had to start ‘forced proximity week’ a bit early to fit in all their different takes on the topic! We hope you enjoy.

by Viveka Portman

Imagine being forced to marry a man twice your age, against your will, knowing you are destined for a life that in no way matches the one you’d envisioned or hoped for.

That’s forced proximity, and it sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?

But does it have to be?

It’s that question that attracted me to the Forced Proximity trope.

I am an unashamedly curious person by nature, and I love a challenge, so creating a situation in which horrible forced proximity could be made pleasurable was a story I simply had to write.

One of my favourite examples of this trope is in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I read this series in my late teens and early twenties, and was entranced by the development of Jamie and Claire’s romance after they were forced to marry. Naturally the romance didn’t run smoothly, but I am sure anyone who has read the books or watched the series would agree it was an exciting and decidedly erotic adventure.

jamie and Claire wedding1

There are challenges in writing forced proximity though—like how to make it desirable and how to make it real.

When I wrote The Secret Diary of Lady Catherine Bexley, I spent a lot of time playing with the trope, and considering just how I would make the story attractive to the reader. After all, it’s about a young woman marrying an older man who, although handsome, is stuffy and a bore. How was I possibly going to make that romance work? In my opinion, it’s all to do with character development. I made my Lady Catherine a curious woman, who was learning about herself just as much as she was learning about sex at the beginning of her marriage. Her husband too was embarking on a learning journey of his own; he naturally desires his attractive young wife, but is mindful of her sensibilities—much to Catherine’s chagrin. I subverted the trope by making the naive wife the champion in the couple’s quest for happiness and sexual fulfilment. She doesn’t overly lament her situation, but proactively seeks a solution to her own sexual frustration and her husband’s repressed nature.

It was a fun twist on a well-worn trope.

There is something magic in the familiarity of reading romance. Discovering when a well-known trope has been written and twisted in a new way that thrills and titillates is one of the special things that the romance genre offers that others cannot.

diaryRegency England gets just a bit raunchy in this novella about a gently-raised lady who wants to feel like a woman…

Feed Your Reader: first Feb releases

Released February 5


The second saga in the bestselling, Forever Evermore series continues with Chosen Fool, where deception runs deep and Caro’s transitioning life turns even more deadly…


A brand new rural romance trilogy from a brand new voice: Shirley Wine introduces you to the secrets and scandals of Darkhaven

Enemies to Lovers: Melbourne edition

In the last of our ‘Enemies to Lovers’ posts, Susanne Bellamy writes about Engaging the Enemy, with its family feud set in contemporary Melbourne.

The timeless story of ‘a pair of star-cross’d lovers’ fascinated me as an impressionable teenager and ever since, I’ve loved this trope. The idea that love can conquer even those who begin as enemies is life-affirming in a world where random acts of violence and hate dominate the news. Finding something that draws people together and which is worth fighting for makes writing this trope optimistic and uplifting. Alison Stuart writes wonderful ‘enemies to lovers’ in her English Civil War series. Against a backdrop of war, when brother might turn against brother for an ideal, what could be more challenging in a relationship than falling in love with your enemy?

2013 Melbourne 014On a tram ride in Melbourne a couple of years ago, as I clung to the overhead strap and daydreamed, idly watching the streetscape unwind, the tram stopped and a derelict red-brick building appeared, framed in the tram window. Something about that building spoke to me. Who would love this building enough to want to preserve it? What if there were two people who both wanted it enough to fight for it? Given Melbourne’s record in conservation of heritage buildings and even alleyways, this kernel of an idea felt right at home, and suddenly I ‘saw’ the first meeting between my protagonists as they established their battleground…and the prize!

Andie and Matt live in present-day Melbourne, and their conflict originates in an ongoing family feud. The biggest issue I faced was making what happened in the past realistic and capable of still affecting my protagonists.

When the lives of those we love and care about are part of the equation, we become fierce in our defence of them. Matt’s mother and Andie’s difficult relationship with her father push these two to make choices they might not otherwise follow for themselves alone. Torn between loyalty to family and belief in the old stories handed down from generation to generation, and the burden of guilt and self doubt, both hero and heroine have a lot of emotional baggage to work through as they fight their growing attraction.

2013 Melbourne 032

What is the tipping point from hate to love? Getting to know the real person and being willing to see beyond the past. Preconceived ideas and lessons instilled as children are difficult to throw off. But in the end, our protagonists might just discover that what they thought separated them actually binds them—love of family, social justice—and the person least likely to be their one true love is the one who makes them the best they can be. After all, isn’t that what a happy-ever-after should deliver?

engagOne building, two would-be owners and a family feud that spans several generations: all relationships have their problems.

Adversaries to Lovers

In ‘Enemies to Lovers’ week of our romance-literature tropes series, Jennie Jones tells us about the version of the trope that made its way into The House at the Bottom of the Hill.

The House at the Bottom of the Hill stars Daniel Bradford and Charlotte Simmons.

Are Dan and Charlotte enemies? More like adversaries, although one of them doesn’t know that. Then they become lovers and it gets a whole lot more complicated for both of them—and everyone around them.

I found inspiration writing the adversity in The House at the Bottom of the Hill. It gave me a whole new platform of scenarios—and not only for Dan and Charlotte.

You see, Dan knows he’s doing something that will affect Charlotte’s new business. Problem is, the townspeople don’t know about Dan’s secret to upgrade his business. And nobody knows that newcomer Charlotte isn’t intending to go through with her proposed business. So the Enemies (or Adversaries) to Lovers trope gave me heaps of interesting and sometimes humorous scope to weave in the secondary characters and have the whole issue affect everyone in town, and even the town’s future.

Charlotte is the new owner of the pink B&B in Swallow’s Fall and Dan runs Kookaburra’s— the local pub. Now, even though Charlotte only intends to stay in town long enough to find answers about her mother’s death many years ago, she can’t stand looking at that flamingo pink on the B&B walls and wants to repaint it yellow. Cue outrage from those on the town’s committee who don’t like change and don’t like Charlotte much, either.


So Charlotte is in a muddle about the B&B because she doesn’t want to leave it looking old and sad. Dan is in a muddle about whether or not he should come clean with her about his about-to-happen upgrade to the pub (which will put them in opposition and probably wipe her out of business), and the townspeople don’t know any of it. Yet.

There are challenges in writing, full stop. But there are also challenges involved when choosing which trope you want to write. I always try to grow my story (and therefore the heroine’s and hero’s journey) through the trope – which means it’s got to affect everybody in the story and cause conflict for more than just the heroine and hero.

Oh—and sometimes, I don’t think about the trope. It simply finds me and the story as I write—usually from whatever dilemma the heroine and hero have in their hands and in their hearts when I first put chapter one together and discover who my main characters are.

(I must add that by use of the term ‘heroine and hero’ I refer to the woman and the man who are my main players—the woman and man I cheer for while writing. And given that they come through sometimes hard, sometimes exasperating, circumstances, they are my heroine and hero for simply getting through it all and out the other side. Much the same as we all do in life—we do get there, wherever ‘there’ is. It’s not easy, but isn’t it wonderful to relax, sit back and read about our fictional heroines and heroes doing it their way while giving us a break from our reality? And maybe giving us inspiration to keep chasing whatever or wherever it is we’re meant to be too…)


Whatever the trope, it can be used to great effect, and I believe this is the way a writer can understand and get around that perfectly correct adage, ‘It’s all been written before—what are you going to do to make it fresh?’ We weave the trope into the storyline in such a manner that it’s ultimately important to our main characters, and yet simultaneously reaps an awful lot of conflict or problematic scenarios for the people in their environment—which means our heroine and hero have to grow, commiserate, reflect, re-charge, renew previously held ideals, and ultimately, in the case of a romantic story, find their own way to their own happy ever after.

No heroine or hero in a good romance story is delivered their happy ever after. They have to chase it.

househillFrom the best-selling author of The House on Burra Burra Lane, comes a story about opposites, attraction, an outback pub, and a pink house…


Enemies to Lovers: kiss or kill?

by Alyssa J. Montgomery

To kiss or to kill – that is the question.

Maybe that might have been a line Shakespeare could have used, because the Enemies to Lovers trope has age-old popularity and he certainly used it to effect in Much Ado About Nothing. Certainly there have been great romances since then, which have absorbed us as readers and entertained us in theatres.

JK Rowling is a more modern exponent of this trope with Ron and Hermione in her Harry Potter series. She could have used the Friends to Lovers trope and had Harry and Hermione falling in love, but somehow to me the whole scenario of antagonists becoming lovers makes things much spicier and far more fulfilling. Using the premise that all is fair in love and war, Enemies to Lovers can be highly entertaining with a great deal of sexy—and sometimes hilarious—one-upmanship.


Alex and Leah in Mistaken Identity are enemies because each is playing to win a high-stakes game with single-minded determination, where their agendas conflict. To make matters more complicated, their goals are vitally important to each of them because they involve safeguarding the personal happiness of their siblings. So, when they meet sparks fly. There’s loads of energy and antagonism leaping from the page and an imperative need for them to resist the slow-burning sexual attraction they feel. Throw in an identity swap, a dangerous drug dealer and a kidnapping, and there’s a roller-coaster ride that rivals a theme-park attraction.

I love the challenge of bringing the hero and heroine together in this trope – of having them overcome all the obstacles lying between them that made them enemies at the outset. In fact, I love it so much that I can’t, at this point, ever see myself writing a Friends to Lovers trope.

It takes some crafting to shape enemies into lovers so their characters grow believably and don’t switch too dramatically. I think the best authors do this gradually by peppering little signs through the dialogue or plot as the story progresses. It should be a slow transition to bend the mindsets of the hero and heroine so they start seeing characteristics in each other that they can admire, respect and grow to love. There needs to be a very good reason to get rid of their prejudices apart from just giving in to the sexual chemistry between them. If done well, the slow build up to the HEA ending makes the resolution much more satisfying.

The lines-drawn-in-the-sand, hands-ready-at-holsters, obvious friction can also lend itself to some dynamic, snappy dialogue, which is also fun to write and to read. Toward the end of Mistaken Identity, it seems as though Alex has won the battle but lost the war. But the slow burn that was ever-present between him and Leah simply will not be extinguished, and the walls are finally broken down, proving that the making up can be very sweet.

I hope you enjoy reading Alex and Leah’s transition from enemies to lovers in Mistaken Identity. I’m fairly certain it won’t be my last foray into this trope!

mistaken An irresistibly indulgent novel about identical twins, an autocratic tycoon, and the sensual, sophisticated Greek seaside.

Enemies to Lovers—Shakespeare edition

This week in our series about popular romance tropes we’re looking at the perennial ‘Enemies to Lovers’ plotline.

By Gracie MacGregor

‘My only love sprung from my only hate!’ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

I know Jane Austen is often touted as the first romance novelist, but she had a helpful predecessor in her compatriot, one William Shakespeare, playwright and poet.

Shakespeare was a master romancer in the enemies-to-lovers trope.

Sometimes his enemies were purely circumstantial: the bitter feud between the Capulets and Montagues was never going to be enough to keep Juliet from her Romeo.

At other times, they were fiercely intentional, desperately protecting their hearts and souls from the threats they perceived came from love and vulnerability to another.

You could argue Katherina might have been better off if she’d fought her passion for bordering-on-misogynistic Petruchio just a little harder.

But we’re all better off for the barbed wit, the delightful antagonism, the animated animosity of Beatrice and Benedick, or the cat-and-mouse reversals of Henry V and his Kate.


For me, there’s nothing more energizing than the vocal thrust-and-parry that’s so vital a part of the great enemies-to-lovers romances. Imagine Pride and Prejudice without Elizabeth’s drawing-room sparring with Mr Darcy. Imagine Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind without Scarlett’s fiddle-de-dee contempt for Rhett.

Imagine Princess Leia and Han Solo without their testy, sarcastic, defensive repartee. Laugh it up, fuzzball.

Enemies-to-lovers stories have long been favourites of mine because enemies have to work a lot harder for their Happily Ever After endings. They have to work hard on themselves to build the trust, respect and empathy so fundamental to love.

There are no greater obstacles to enduring love than suspicion, contempt and hatred. When a pair of lovers is able to surmount these, somehow it helps me believe their commitment to one another really will last. To be brave enough to tear down your own barriers and risk loving somebody you’ve previously despised is, I think, the greatest courage of all. It deserves a happy ending.

If, on their journey, there are moments when I’m really not sure if two characters are more likely to kiss or to kill one another, to choose torture or tenderness, the frisson of suspense makes the romance all the more delicious.


And watching a towering rage turn into a towering mutual passion – complete with a kiss all the more devastating because it’s had to overpower determined resistance? Well, for me, there’s nothing better.

I love reading enemies-to-lovers romances, and that’s probably why I love writing them. In Hearts on Hold, Cate is naturally suspicious of the motives of mysterious interloper Brandon, who seems to be taking over her life at the same time his employer is trying to take over her village. The very last thing she plans to do is fall for a conniving, lying schemer, no matter how dreamy.

And in my next novel, A Case for Trust (out 1 March with Escape), Matt Mason sets out to destroy the gold-digger he’s convinced has destroyed his brother’s happiness, only to find he has to risk everything he holds sacred when love overwhelms hatred.

What are your favourite ‘enemies to lovers’ stories?



Emotional, suspenseful and set in paradise—where the strongest sunshine casts the darkest shadows…