An opposites attract trope that’s gaining popularity in romance fiction is the Grumpy/ Sunshine pairing. Readers love the dynamics between the icy or unsociable person falling for someone warm and friendly.
The Sunshine character is often the heroine but she’s not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That term, coined by film critic Nathan Rabin, refers to a stereotype found in pop culture. Urban Dictionary describes the character as “a pretty, outgoing, whacky female romantic lead whose sole purpose is to help broody male characters lighten up and enjoy their lives.”
So what keeps a Sunshine from being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? If done in the tradition of genre romance, the heroine is the center of the story and has goals that are independent to supporting the hero’s goals. She builds a relationship with the hero (as opposed to walking away after she helps him live his fantasy) and she doesn’t try to change the hero’s nature or his core values.
In addition, the Sunshine role doesn’t require an offbeat personality or quirkiness. The part doesn’t even require the character to be female. If anything, the Sunshine is more optimistic than the cynical character. The one common characteristic that all Sunshines seem to have is persistence.
The flip side of this pairing is the Grumpy protagonist. This character is isolated, emotionally and physically. He often falls into the Hermit, Lost Soul or Social Pariah category.
The hero of Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau is an introvert. Will needs solitude, dislikes being around people for long periods of time, and the idea of drawing unwanted attention is painful. So why did he agree to a couples’ getaway for a long weekend with a bunch of strangers? Because his best friend’s little sister needs a favor. Specifically, she’s asking for a fake boyfriend.
Naomi doesn’t want to show up solo for the weekend, and she knows her ex will be there with his new girlfriend. Will accepts the role as her boyfriend but he can’t pretend to be someone completely different. He’s certain that the friendly and vivacious Naomi would never understand, but it turns out she’s the one person who doesn’t want to change him.
The Lost Soul
Sometimes the hero is a loner because he’s lost faith in people. In Finding Kyle by Sawyer Bennett, Kyle had infiltrated a motorcycle club and took down the criminal organization. However, in order to survive those years undercover, he had to shed his very humanity. He’s not a good guy anymore and he doesn’t think he deserves redemption.
Kyle wants to be a good guy where Jane, his neighbor, is concerned. He’s fascinated by her deep ties to her community and her joyful outlook on life. He should avoid her before he corrupts her world, but Jane keeps trying to draw him out. Kyle finds it irritating, but at the same time, he doesn’t want her to give up on him.
The Social Pariah
In Talia Hibbert’s A Girl Like Her, Ruth had been in a secret and abusive relationship that ended in scandal. After being ostracized in her small town and gaining a bad reputation, Ruth doesn’t trust people and will push them away. She’s too tired to fight back and she thinks she deserves the punishment.
Ruth is reluctantly intrigued but also suspicious of Evan, her new neighbor. Although he’s been warned about her, Evan consistently seeks out her company. That doesn’t make sense to Ruth because she knows she’s prickly and awkward. Is Evan interested in her or does he have some kind of White Knight syndrome? Does he want to be with her or does he want to save a girl like her?
In these opposites attract love stories, the cynic learns how to communicate and expand his world, but he doesn’t become an optimist. The Grumpy protagonist is less isolated because he feels safe to open up to the Sunshine character. He knows he’s accepted, loved and celebrated for who he is.
He discovers that he doesn’t have to be different to deserve his happily-ever-after.
Want to learn more about popular romance tropes? Find my beginner’s guide here.