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I'm considering the idea of the antagonist of getting the protagonist's girl (either temporarily or permanently). Various ideas I'm playing with:

  • the antagonist uses non-consensual manipulation to get the girl
  • the antagonist uses charm and charisma to get into a consensual relationship with the girl before she knows he's evil
  • the girl is too emotionally attached to the antagonist (even when she finds out he's evil) after having a relationship with the antagonist to leave him, breaking the protagonist's heart
  • the protagonist does get her back, extending forgiveness and grace.

These scenarios don't necessarily have to involve sex between the girl and the antagonist but they could. I don't want the relationship being sexual to be gratuitous but I feel that girls generally tend to be more attached to their man when sexual involved...so that kind of relationship may (or may not) make her attachment to the antagonist (and inability to leave him) more plausible. But if it can be argued that sex is not necessary to make the arc believable that she would want to stick with him, I'm open to that.

My questions are:

  • whether this sort of situation in general would likely turn off most readers?
  • would making their relationship a sexual one be more or less likely to turn off readers than a non-sexual relationship?
  • if a sexual relationship adds more to this situation, to what extent should their sexual relationship be described? In passing as references? In slight more detail than passing references? The more detail (without being graphic), the better?
  • if ok to pursue the general idea, which, if any, of the above scenarios you personally think might be worth exploring, and if there are any other ideas on this minor motif that might be interesting to readers?
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    I suggest you give more description on the girl. Based on this info, in most scenarios I imagine, she is either irredeemable and/or will make the audience gate your story.
    – Crafter
    Feb 21, 2023 at 21:27
  • If this woman (I presume you're not writing a tale of child sexual abuse) were to be an actual character in your story, a human with thoughts and beliefs rather than a possession of the protagonist who can be "got" I think you would find these questions much easier to answer. Feb 23, 2023 at 17:31

4 Answers 4

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I don't really see any problems with any of the alternatives you've described. Any issues will likely rather come from how you write than what.

And, yes, at certain levels of your writing, outlining, and/or editing, you may have to consider, the characters as if they were pieces on a chess board. That's part of both outlining the story and to some extent orchestrating the scenes. The trick, I believe is that the story should not feel like this is what's happening—so part of the craft is to hide this outlining and orchestrating from the reader.

If you worry about writing some character shallow or slighting them, or people that might identify with them, start by making sure the character is more of a story person than a character (I actually don't like the term character, and privately I mostly use story/novel people/person instead). Make the character into a person by making sure the character has depth, for instance by giving them a backstory, a will of their own, goals and ambitions, idiosyncracies, a unique voice, and a lot of other things usually done to create great characters. I.e. work more to develop the character.

Another step that can help deepen a character and their agency in the story is to look at the story from this character's point of view. This can be done in any of the following ways:

  • Summarize the story from the character's point of view (e.g. step 3 or 5 in the Snowflake Method)
  • Have the character tell the story in their voice and point of view
  • Write or rewrite scenes in the character's POV, especially key scenes in the story and/or the character's arc. Maybe these scenes will end up in your story, or maybe not.

By looking at the scenes/story from the character's point of view, you may be alerted to problems or gain insights on how to expand the character. Things to be on the lookout for are; does the character do all they can to avoid bad situations? Could they give more to reach their goals and fulfill their ambitions? Is there emotional logic to their behavior? Do they feel coherent? Do they have agency? Are they reactive or proactive or just not active at all?

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We can't tell you what to write.

As suggested in another answer, the frame challenge with your scenario is that you are describing an adult(?) human passed around like a game of capture-the-flag, as opposed to a sentient human being that has preferences and can think for itself.

This is a plot hole.

Women who are old enough to be in sexual relationships have their own motivations and desires which can help complicate your story. You do not want an important character acting like a zero. If she chose to leave your protagonist, it's because he's got a flaw he isn't facing. Something that makes her believe he's not the one.

Women in real life do not get 'stolen', this is something men say to comfort themselves. The other guy was more appealing. She made a choice. And yes of course, in the story it's the wrong choice, but readers need to understand her reason: why the other guy looked better.

Typically this is about giving your protagonist some flaws. If you fail to give him flaws to make her reasons justifiable, the effect is melodramayour protagonist is suffering just to suffer through no fault of his own until, as per the rules of melodrama the villain is vanquished and everything turns sunny again.

But the story has more dimension if the woman has rejected him for a reason that is justifiable. We need to respect her choice, if we're to care where she ends up.

People as 'stakes'

The controversy is that using a woman as 'stakes' in a romance rivalry is an amateur writing trope. It's also a red flag that the author may have some problems fleshing out female characters.

If the woman is a 'simp' who can't see that she is being fooled and seduced, readers will wonder why she is of value to the protagonist. They will not accept her as worthy 'stakes'.

(Simp is a simplisticly-written character that exists just to support another character. Stakes carries some personal risk to the protagonist, in this case not just a prize that can be won back but a want/need that could be lost forever.)

Worse, if she lacks agency over her own decisions, she becomes uncomfortably less adult – she should not be in ANY sexual relationships much less being passed back and forth like a football.

I suggest there are many, MANY narrative degrees between 'non-consensual graphic sex' (pretty sure that's called rape) and the MC being bummed that his ex is dating his worst enemy. I think you need to explore this middle ground.

If the girlfriend can complicate the plot because she wants something too, you can elevate the story from melodrama to a love triangle where the emotions are more complicated. The MC doesn't simply 'win her back' by punching the rival on the jaw, first he has to address his flaw, he's got to show her he's the one – however that works in your story.

There are melodrama stories that work. If the human 'stakes' was a child, the MC's own child for instance being manipulated by an evil step-dad, that changes the dynamic. A child does not have agency, that's part of what makes her vulnerable. Also not a character we need to see punished through non-consensual graphic sex (which is still just called rape, btw).

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    These are all helpful thoughts. One clarifying question: you said "If the woman is a simpleton who can't see that she is being fooled and seduced, readers will wonder why she is of value to the protagonist" but are not many people fooled and seduced (both in real life and existing fiction books/movies)? Is this not an issue people can relate to? Is the woman still a "simpleton" if the manipulator is not yet fully revealed as evil? Is it not a "blame-the-victim" mentality to label the "victim" as a "simpleton"? Feb 22, 2023 at 16:47
  • Yeah I think there's a middle ground that can be walked here. I have many intelligent respectable friends who make poor decisions in their romantic life. If she is being manipulated then the reader will "understand her reason" as the answerer said, and we won't have to take her to be a "simpleton".
    – jtb
    Feb 23, 2023 at 15:32
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    The movie Spider-Man 3 did that. The protagonist loses his girlfriend to his rival, but not because the rival deceives her, but because the protagonist drives her away by being a self-centered asshole. He wins her back not by defeating the rival but by fixing his character flaws.
    – Philipp
    Feb 23, 2023 at 15:44
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    @junkiejunkie Well, you can of course give the romantic interest a character arc where she first loves A, then changes and loves B, and then changes again and returns to loving A again. But you would need to give a good reason why she would settle for A when she previously rejected A. If you want her to be more than just a trophy for the male characters to fight over, then she would probably want neither A nor B and look for a completely different person. Unless, of course, A also had a character arc and is no longer the same person the love interest left once.
    – Philipp
    Feb 23, 2023 at 16:02
  • This is not the OP but something I'm evolving in my mind based on the answers here so far: what if the girl chose to be with the antagonist not because she became attracted to him but because she wanted to get inside information to pass to the protagonist? If that is a reasonable approach, should the reader clued in on this or left as a mystery to be revealed at the appropriate climactic moment later? Feb 27, 2023 at 20:03
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The answer by wetcircuit is already a very good frame-challenge for how this whole "win back the girl" plot is one that can easily turn out very bad if not handled properly, because you risk to dehumanize the female character into nothing but a trophy for males to fight over. But I would like to address the actual question:

Assuming you indeed want to write a "win back the girl" story, how graphic should the sexuality between girl and antagonist be described?

Keep in mind that the reader is supposed to sympathize with the protagonist. So whatever you write should make the reader feel the same thing the protagonist feels. Except for a small minority of people who have a cuckolding fetish, the thought of a person you love being sexually intimate with someone else is rather off-putting. So if you try to write a detailed sex scene between girl and antagonist from their perspective, that will probably backfire. Either the sex is good, and you create cognitive dissonance in your readers while they read about it. Or the sex is bad, and you have another plothole to pave over regarding the motivation of why girl stays attached to the "evil" antagonist.

What you could instead do is describe from the protagonists point of view how he imagines their sex-life and how he is disgusted and hurt by that thought. And then leave it to the readers' imagination how their sex-life actually looks.

Should they (not in the imagination of the protagonist but in the actual reality of the narrative) actually have a sexual relationship? That's something you should leave up to the characters. Is the antagonist sexually interested in the girl? Is the girl sexually interested in the antagonist? Do they have the opportunity to spend enough time with each other to get over their personal "knowing a person well enough to have sex with them" thresholds? All of that depends on how you characterize them.

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im not going to lie, if you are seen as a guy - this might be a red flag - i think something you really want to make sure of it that the girl also has a personality and her own values and reasons to do things, make sure she isn't just a plot point, but a well developed character.

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  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:26
  • The answer is perfectly clear. The OP asked if this is a controversial idea. This answer explains one of the reasons it would be controversial – literally the question asked. No idea why 'community bot' thinks they have any standing to lecture in this exchange anonymously, when they often seem to be so wrong.
    – wetcircuit
    Feb 22, 2023 at 3:06
  • Clear or not, it has errors of punctuation and spelling (presumably red flag is intended!) Feb 22, 2023 at 16:30

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