Monday, May 3, 2010

Conflict in romances

If you're writing a romance and have done your research into the elements of the genre you'll know that conflict is one of those necessary things that an editor or agent will be looking for in your work. Even though I've been published, I have to admit that I struggle with the whole concept of conflict - my characters often instantly like each other and I have to work at keeping them out of each other's beds! It's not easy!

Conflict creates the tension or the suspense between your hero and heroine, the will-they-won't-they quality that keeps readers hooked throughout your story.

There are two types of conflict you can employ - external and internal conflict.

External conflict first - And I'm not talking some simple thing like a misunderstanding that could have been easily cleared up by asking a simple question (my problem with Othello, btw!). No, external conflict is more along the lines of the hero is a spy for Queen Mary Tudor while the heroine's family wants to see Elizabeth on the throne, or, if you're writing fantasy, your hero is a wizard charged with eliminating shape-shifters and your heroine is a wizard whose brother is a werecat whom she will protect at all costs. External conflict gives your readers something to think about and your characters stuff to do!

But internal conflict can be even more interesting. Here is where you can layer the personality of your characters to show what they stand to lose and what they stand to gain depending on their relationship to each other and how they grow or evolve emotionally. A police officer who falls in love with the woman he is protecting from the murderous ex-husband trying to kill her must not only keep her safe but also overcome her natural fear of getting involved again, and her distrust of her own ability to make the right choice. If he, himself, is an arrogant, high-handed bastard then something in him must also change if he is to win her - maybe he can continue to be a bastard to everyone else but her.

And the central conflict between the hero and heroine dictates their actions, their reactions, how quickly the relationship moves and creates different obstacles they encounter on the path to true love. For example, maybe the couple above make some progress and are grooving on each other, that's great but thrown them a curveball - maybe the officer makes an important decision that affects her without asking her opinion - this reminds the woman of her husband's behavior and they're back at square one! So she loses a little bit of her trust in him and keeps a secret from him which puts her in greater danger and so on, and so on. Use the conflict to escalate the drama and add complexity to your characters so you keep your readers guessing till the very end!

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