Friends to Lovers: making the trope work

by Anna Clifton

Add one cup of friendship to two cups of simmering attraction and then stir…

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My husband and I had something of a whirlwind start to our marriage. We met one December and were engaged by March. As a romance writer, I guess that makes me something of a minor expert on the ‘whirlwind courtship’ trope, if there is such a thing. But when it came to writing a slow-burn ‘friends to lovers’ trope for my third novel, New Year’s Promise, I wasn’t quite so comfortable in my creative space.

How could there be romance between two people who’d been sharing each other’s dreams, foibles and fears for years?

How could there be adventure, frisson, excitement when you’re falling for a friend?

But despite these doubts, I knew the ‘friends to lovers’ trope resonated with audiences in films and books such as When Harry Met Sally, Made of Honour and Emma. But I also knew that the ‘friends to lovers’ dynamic worked like a treat in real life too.

In a study released last year, Canadian economists Helliwell and Grover found compelling evidence across broad ranging databases that ‘well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend’. And as journalist Hanna Kozlowska reported on the study, ‘happiness has less to do with your social status or financial stability, and more to do with sharing wedding bands with your BFF’.

So, marrying your BFF apparently gives you a cracking good start at long-term happiness. But could I write a ‘friends to lovers’ story where the blossoming romance would feel as fresh and exciting as it does in other tropes?

The answer hit me all at once, and I found it in the name of the trope itself: Friends to Lovers.

My new novel couldn’t just be about two friends deciding it would be a great idea to shack up together. The spotlight needed to be on the way they grow together as new lovers against the complex backdrop of a long friendship. I’d finally realized it’s the journey of friends to lovers, not the furniture they share, that’s the magic ingredient in the trope.

Armed with that revelation, I set to work on my new manuscript, stacking the odds against my ‘friends’ making it through their journey together.

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In New Year’s Promise Ellie and Justin have known each other for twenty years, originally as part of an inseparable gang of six kids who shared their carefree childhood together. Ellie was the only girl in the gang, treasured and adored by her own three brothers and by their friends, Justin and Sam. But Ellie’s special bond with Sam will become the undertow in her growing love for his older brother many years later as Justin remains attentive to her, but steadfastly and heartbreakingly distant.

Sam’s mysterious and tragic disappearance from their lives at age twelve lies at the heart of Justin’s distance. But tangled up in his grief and shame over Sam is his conviction he can never give Ellie the one thing she will come to want more than anything else. Ellie is the light in his life; he will never risk their friendship by telling her how he feels. Until one fateful New Year he makes Ellie’s seriously ill brother a promise that will change his friendship with her forever…


 

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They’ve been colleagues, allies and best friends forever, but he wants more — and he’s not above using the magic of the Christmas season to get it.

 

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