When you’re writing a romance, there’s one thing that readers expect – that the hero and heroine will eventually work it out and get together. Whether it’s a happily ever after, or a happy for now situation, there’s a satisfying relationship resolution. So, what keeps the reader ploughing through your pages? Conflict! Without it, the story is predictable and there’s no reason to keep reading. I remember when I first started writing, I thought every element of conflict I added sounded too contrived. But, now, three books on, I have figured out that the key to making believable conflict is to ensure you’ve backed it up.
Types of conflict
There are 2 types of conflict in a romance. One initially brings the couple together and forces them to spend time with each other, the other threatens to keep them apart.
External: Also known as environmental. What’s happening outside the main character’s world that inevitably throws the two together at the start. This problem occurs at the start of the book and often it’s a shared problem between hero and heroine.
Internal: Also known as emotional. What is happening inside your character’s head that causes them to want to run the other way? What problems are they battling that make it seem a happy ending is impossible? This problem might not present itself until after the two characters admit their feelings for each other.
Here’s the kicker, the internal problem only comes to light due to the external problem. So, the main character has been pushing the internal problem deep down inside, until the external one forces them to face it and grow.
For example …
Jenny’s had a horrible childhood. She was abandoned by a father who was addicted to gambling. [Internal conflict setup] She’s forced to work a case with the owner of a Casino [external conflict] as a result of her job as a detective. When sparks fly between them, she tries to deny her feelings because she doesn’t want to end up with someone like her father and be abandoned all over again [Internal Conflict].
I know it’s cliché but it should help understanding how the conflict works together.
If you still need help, try this handy worksheet I’ve created. Unlike the conflict you’ll be creating between your main characters, this comes with no strings attached.