The Power of Opposites

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by Allie Pleiter

The best romances usually pair two people who don’t seem suited for each other. Engaged readers figure out that a hero and heroine are surprisingly perfect for each other-long before the characters do if I’ve done my job right. It’s great fun to watch a heroine realize that the oh-so-irritating fellow in her life is actually the man of her dreams, isn’t it?
Lawman's Oklahoma Sweetheart
If you want a strong story arc, craft your characters as far apart as you can-physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Give them enough distance for them to cross to reach each other, and ensure that the final bridging of that gap costs them a great deal. That’s the formula for a compelling romance.

How does an author make that happen? One of my favorite ways is to draw up a chart of opposites. I start it with a brainstorming session before I write the book and add to it as I go. Here are some examples from the chart I kept for my current book THE LAWMAN’S OKLAHOMA SWEETHEART:

Dark Light
Sharp Soft
Avoidance Contact
Sunshine/Day Dark/Shadow/Night
Sharp Edges Soft curves
Realism, facts, hard truths Story, fairytales, wishes
Earthen Brown Sky Blue

Some of them a reader sees-such as Clint’s stark realism versus Katrine’s love of fairy tales. Others are more subtle and may only give the reader a vague impression, such as the adjectives I use to describe each character. I used descriptions that focused on soft and light images with Katrine, while descriptions of Clint used hard and dark words. His scenes often involved action while hers involved thought or prayer. She was often depicted touching things-fabric, books, children, and objects-while Clint avoided contact or was aware of the distance between himself and his surroundings.

You can play this out in large scale as well as in details. The opening scene where Clint saves Katrine takes place in the dark and from Clint’s point of view. Another pivotal scene takes place in bright daylight and is from Katrine’s point of view. Having this list gives me insight on how to cross the gap between them in emotionally satisfying and vivid ways. I like to think my readers end up rooting for my characters to find each other because I’ve taken the time to visualize their path to each other’s hearts.

You can do the same. It will feel obvious at first; some dynamics are very basic such as a tall hero and a short heroine. Play with it a while. Switch things up from the obvious choice. Explore colors, metaphors, animals, environmental elements, speed, values-the choices are endless. You’ll discover subtleties and surprises that can give your characters depth, texture, and a great big victory when they wake up to love.

Allie Pleiter June 2014An avid knitter, BBC Television geek and French macaron enthusiast, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction. The “dare from a friend” to begin writing has produced two parenting books, twenty novels, and various national speaking engagements on faith, women’s issues, and writing. Visit her at