I have two characters, the male being sort of a jerk, but lightening up later in the story, and the female is...very hateful. But a person who read the first chapter asked me if they were going to get together. I mean, I planned that for way later, but I want to be able to hide that better. How do I go about making the two characters seem less likely to be together?
You cannot prevent that suspicion altogether; especially because that is your plan. Which means your two characters are heterosexual; so you can't really use homosexuality as a show-stopper.
I would suggest you make it clear that one of them is already in love, and the other one knows it. If your guy is a jerk, that may be because he is unhappy, the woman he loves is not really in love with him, and he needs to learn in the course of the book that what he was feeling isn't really love at all.
If your girl is hateful; same thing, and same lesson: Maybe she is hateful because the guy she loves is a player, using her, and she has mistaken something else for "love". Something like dependency, or the lies of a player that convinced her they were in love but just uses her for sex.
Other than sociopaths (who cannot fall in love) people are not jerks, or hateful, for nothing. Those traits grow out of psychic trauma of some sort. Start them out in the midst of their respective traumas, already clearly thinking they are in love, and it may defeat the reader's instinct to ship them.
But you cannot prevent shipping altogether, even Batman and Robin have been shipped!
It is possible that this reader is one of thse who likes to pair characters in relationships that need not even be telegraphed.
There are several ways to do this. Introduce other potential love interests as red herrings. Man dates a couple of them, coming to realize that the first woman is really a better match for him. She has been checking out the cute bartender and dating him. Timing is off, but she sees ex-Jerk and reconsiders.
One or both are focusing on careers. No time for socializing except with colleagues - which they are not.
A cousin of mine who is reading my piece asked me if my MC and Secondary Protagonist were going to fall in love. I told her that MC thinks any woman worth knowing except for those he works with (who are off limits as colleagues) would run for the hills. Secondary Protagonist likes to dominate her SOs, which she cannot do with the MC, so for them to get together, she has to either grow up or let go of this control issue she has.
You could give one or both of your characters personal issues they must resolve before they can connect. Perhaps he wants a wife who will be traditional and realizes that HW will never be that. Later, he sees her as a perfect partner and reassesses his priorities.
Maybe one travels and is out of touch. Perhaps HW is pursuing an advanced degree and will not entertain the idea of dating until she has her PHD. Too many old jokes about the MRS degree for her to even let the thought cross her mind.
If your genre or subgenre is "Romance", then it's ALMOST impossible to do so.
What you're presenting is a request for something that romance authors are always trying to do. The only ways to really skirt around people suspecting Alice and Bob will wind up together is as follows:
- Don't genre your story as a romance. People are privy to romance genre tropes and can figure out who is supposed to get together at the end. Even in non-romance stories, people will assume "main guy and main gal", but that can be influenced by how you write other details. Harry Potter...
...had a lot of people suspecting Harry x Hermione at the beginning, but we were shown in the end that wasn't the case. People were looking at it like it'd include a high school romance plotline, and it kiiiinda did, but not quite really. As a result, J.K. Rowling was able to pull the pairings away from the initial assumptions of the audience without it feeling forced, and she could have still left it as Harry x Hermione if she wanted without it feeling too trite. Harry winding up with who he did came as a shock to HH-shippers, but didn't to those who looked at the stories and relationships as they developed.
- Don't push the focus on Alice and Bob. Introduce Caitlin to the story as another main female character in order to split the romantic attention between her and Alice. Even better, Main Boy (MB) is a jerk and Main Girl (MG) is hateful, so include Side Girl (SG) as being the mediating factor. Let MG come across as an antagonist to MB while SG is trying to change MB and help him lighten up. She can even be a friend of MG's and aid in making MG a bit less hateful also. This way you solve the issue of their personalities by having one person who is helping MB and MG take active steps in changing themselves for the better. It is through this that MB and MG can get more exposure to one another and start growing on each other despite you initially writing the story with the idea of convincing the audience MB and SG will be together, but MG is trying to ruin that. People don't expect the hero to wind up with the presumed villain after all. It throws a wrench in both the typical formula and allows for you to surprise the audience.
- Don't write the characters to be romantic towards each other, especially not early on. A lot of people like to assume Monkey D. Luffy will wind up with Robin or Nami in the series One Piece. In reality, Luffy doesn't care about that and will likely not end up in a relationship with anyone when the series inevitably concludes in another 15-50 years. This of course works better with slow-burn romance stories like Let's Play, but as the story goes on, it allows you to adjust who ends up with who based on how the story develops. In Let's Play...
we all pretty much know that Sam is going to end up with
MarkiplierMarshall, but they haven't really had any romantic moments yet. On the other hand, both have had such moments with other characters and it really makes you wonder how they will wind up together in the end. It turns what is a slice-of-life romance story into being, on a meta level, a mystery series as well as the audience tries to predict how Mongie will pull the pairing off. And, who knows, maybe Mongie actually plans on pulling a Harry Potter with the pairings in the end after all?
If you want them to wind up together, that's fine. People will try to figure it out in the end, though, because that's how genre-savvy readers are, and the tropes are pretty common now. The best thing you can do is use misinformation from the beginning in order to confuse the audience. At the same time though, you may not be able to pull off the desired pairing by the end of your first book as a side effect. You have to weigh the risks of trying to be sneaky. It may simply be better to just let the audience figure out the pairing from the start and question how you plan on bringing them together in the end.
Pride and Prejudice – After a very brief encounter that goes badly, the MC Elizabeth spends the entire novel explaining why she won't get married, thinks all her sisters and friends are simps or sellouts for chasing men, and how she can't stand Mr Darcy specifically for being such a prejudiced snob. The first 3/4ths of the novel only compound and affirm Elizabeth's reasons.
The novel is sympathetic to the MC's intelligence and independence, but also towards the nice sister who is sweet but passive and without agency. The novel also clearly shows the man-chasing women as ridiculous or mean. Meanwhile, "real love" is something that gets discarded for security (her best friend), or is exploited for financial gain (almost every other relationship). While the male characters are not very substantial, the many female characters present a range of approaches to love and marriage, all of which seem flawed. The novel is firmly on Elizabeth's side criticizing romance – it's viewed as satire, but it's really something more: almost a compendium of how marriage is about everything except honest love.
The twist is not that Darcy and Elizabeth get together, instead the twist is that Elizabeth is confronted by evidence that she is the one whose pride and prejudice has caused her to misread the situation. By doubling-down on her dislike for Darcy, she elevated the real villain Wickham, who is Darcy's enemy. But knowing the truth doesn't lead to them instantly getting together, rather this self-realization feels like the climax of the novel. Had she acted differently, it's unlikely she would have prevented the events in the novel or the other women's scheming. She probably still would have thought Darcy is a snob, but her sympathies would have been completely turned around.
It's not a "Hero's Journey" of leveling up through experience, it's an "Inanna's Journey" of being stripped of her "pride and prejudice" – her whole value system. She's happy that one relationship is working out for her "good" sister, but Elizabeth knows that was just luck and "feminine attributes" like beauty and passivity. Lizzie's best option would be to settle (like her friend) but seeing as how she's already turned that down her prospects are at zero.
Elizabeth doesn't "win the millionaire" until she is confronted by the powerful aunt who controls Darcy's fortune. Her habitual (opinionated) nature kicks in, and she refuses to be a simp or a schemer, but she doesn't allow her pride (and prejudice) to shut down possibilities either. Smarter and wiser through her shared experience with the other young women, Elizabeth realizes she can't control what will happen or how other people will behave, she can only be honest with herself. It's this wiser, less-reactionary identity that makes her truly independent, and sets her apart from all the other women in the story.
Conveniently, this is the exact character trait that attracts Darcy so it all works out in the end, but that's the structure of an Inanna's Journey: Elizabeth is left with only the things that matter, after everything else has been stripped away. The climactic confrontation with the aunt isn't treated as a triumphant turn, instead Lizzie feels like "her nose is being rubbed in it", it's her lowest point. After declaring for so long how she can't stand Darcy, everyone in the novel, her family included, conspire to keep them apart. Even after their engagement, no one congratulates her. In comic reversal, her family believes the worst possible thing has happened to her.
Embrace it instead, and make the reader suffer for having even thought of it
What you have there is a reader's commitment to a goal. They expect two characters to get together from page 1, and in the first few pages you should perhaps give them some hints that it may occur. Once the reader is emotionally invested in it, rooting for this particular outcome, don't deliver it. Put struggles, doubts, conflict, issues, anything to make it harder and harder; at the same time make it clear "how great it would have been if they had been together".
Et voilà. You used a trope to engage your reader, but you didn't step immediately into it, perhaps you won't step into it at all. You can use it to propel your story forward, and recall it wisely with some false alarms to awaken the reader's attention every now and then. Just because a trope exists it is not necessarily a bad thing to exploit the expectations it creates.
He was a boy
She was a girl
Can I make it any more obvious?
-Sk8er Boi, Avril Lavigne
Romance is deeply ingrained into Western literature
Audiences have been trained to expect that if there are two primary characters of opposite genders, they will end up in a romantic relationship, no matter their starting attitudes. This is backed up by centuries of literature, and is not an assumption that can easily be shaken.
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."
Romance is fueled by strong emotions. Hate and dislike are just as strong as attraction and affection, even if they're coming from the opposite direction. Indifference is much more effective at appearing unromantic than opposition is.
Add other characters and romantic false leads
If there are two main characters, readers will assume that they will end up together. But if there are many characters of similar importance, mapping the romantic arcs becomes a lot more complicated, and you'll have a much greater chance of slipping a slow burn by your readers.
If the character that you plan to end up together start out in relationships with other people, that can deepen the effect. Be careful when doing this, though. I've read a series (name omitted to avoid spoilers) where an early romantic arc was completely ruined for me because a later romance was telegraphed too obviously, and I spent all of the first romance waiting for it to end so that they could move on to the 'real' romance. Obviously, you want to avoid that.
There are other ways you can indicate a non-romance, but those are largely unavailable to you
Incompatible orientations (i.e. make one of the characters gay), familial affection (even if they're not actually related), and similar tricks can make it clear that a pair will never be in a romantic relationship. That said, these tools work by indicating that the romance in question is impossible, and later introducing that romance would be a betrayal of your readers, so they mostly don't work in this case.
If you're really good, you might lead your readers into assuming that one of the characters is gay (when in fact they're actually bi or pan), but be very, very careful when doing something like this. Tricking the readers is fine, but lying to them makes readers extremely unhappy. And the author doesn't always get to decide the difference.
No matter what you do, some readers will ship them
If Harry Potter fanfic has taught us anything, it's that given enough readers, everything gets shipped. No matter how many false leads you try to lay, some people will pair them together.
The trick is not to make these readers think that the pair won't happen, but to instill enough doubt that they are extremely excited once they discover that it is happening.
Have them go out and have sex, then break up over something significant. Have the relationship itself seem unpleasant enough that it seems like a bad idea for them to revisit it later. Then let their mutual character development later eventually make that relationship not such a bad idea after all, and let that development sneak up on the narrative.
tl;dr snap the sexual tension right at the get-go. It'll fade into the backdrop.
One possible answer might be to forge through the question immediately with a conclusion, so that you can redress the question later, unexpectedly. That is, don't skirt around the issue - plow through it and treat it as done with.
As a teen growing up, the thought of 'could this person be my future partner' always crossed my mind at least once with every acquaintance, regardless of attraction. Sometimes the answer was an immediate no, sometimes it was less certain. My wife confirms this happened with herself.
So it's highly believable your characters would ask themselves if they are attracted to the other at some stage, and you can have them draw conclusions - either (in their mind) permanent or fluid. Conclusions which they, as normal human beings, may change their mind on later.
All these answers are great, but if I could maybe give a more general suggestion: I think you need to set up an obstacle between them that's so significant the reader doesn't consider that the romance could ever be possible.
The barrier could be anything: Their two families are at war; She's a mermaid, he's a human; She's a Republican, he's a Democrat; whatever. Then then the challenge of course is to find a way to believably remove that obstacle.
The bonus is that even if the reader does see the romance coming, they will also enjoy seeing how that relationship barrier is removed.
You can prevent love, just like many sci-fi fictions, otherwise you should prevent trope, not love. But how? Well, you should know these tropes first, that's why authors keep reading, then avoid them.
It is not necessarily a bad thing that readers guessed their love. Of course, we need add unexpected.
The 1st chapter
How many characters are introduced in the beginning? If two, well, even two man or two woman, we would doubt they will mess... That is the opening of adult movies.
I would just introduce one protagonist, then people around he/she. Or, I will write a bunch of people to introduce the background of the story, these characters won't appear beyond 2nd chapters, how the readers are able to guess the love when the protagonist have not yet performed?
Try to set up a hook first, in many drama, there is a mini story/scene/plot in the beginning to attract the audience. This scene keeps the readers away from the boring daily life, including romantic tropes.
Try to give the mood/background/story first could avoid some tropes.
Sooner or later, we have to let our boys and girls on the stage, if we can make readers believe these characters are live, they have their ideas. It would be hard to predicate them.
It should be combined with the plot, if our story is just office works, schooling, drinking coffee, the romantic is inevitable, what else after all. If they are running away from zombies, they don't have time to fall in love even they are well-matched.
- Kill one off (the other can fall in love with the ghost)
- Show one dying alone in the future and set up the whole story as a flashback
- Put them on impossibly different locations (planets) or time (like centuries apart, aka: time traveling or back to the ghost thing)
- Put one or both in a relationship with someone else
- Make them mortal enemies (cultural, values, political)
- Have more than 2 characters