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Romance Writing Simplified: Conflict in Romance Stories

Every story, regardless of genre, needs conflict. And this conflict must be relatable and believable to readers or the story falls apart.

Romance readers in particular have no patience for conflict that doesn’t work. For example, you may have heard talk about the dreaded miscommunication conflict, where a simple disagreement could be solved if the characters just talked to each other. Romance readers know that the lovers will end up together in the end, but that happily ever after ending is only satisfying if the characters have to work for it.

If the conflict between your characters doesn’t hold up, readers have thousands upon thousands of other romance books to choose from.

So how do you create conflict that works? The most straightforward way I know of is to give your point-of-view character(s)

  1. relatable, believable reasons for falling for someone, and
  2. relatable, believable reasons for resisting falling for that someone.

With the foundation of number 1, number 2 creates the conflict. These relatable, believable reasons for resisting the romance can take many, many forms.

Here are a few general examples:

  • A man resists falling for another man because he’s never had feelings for a guy before and struggles to reconcile what he wants with what he thought he knew about himself.
  • Someone who’s had their heart broken multiple times struggles to allow their new lover in emotionally.
  • Two coworkers resist falling for each other because their relationship between a supervisor and employee is against company policy.

If you think of stories in terms of external plot and internal plot, what’s going on outside the romance is the external plot, and the character’s feelings and thoughts about the romance and what they do as a result of those are the internal plot. This resistance to the romance creates conflict in the internal plot and is influenced by what happens in the external plot.

In the third example above, the two coworkers falling for each other are influenced by the external plot elements of their workplace. The fact that their relationship is against company policy could put a strain on their relationship. Perhaps the supervisor character very much values her job and worries about being fired as a result of fraternizing with someone under her management. Perhaps the one who is the employee worries what his other coworkers will think of him if they find out he’s having a sexual relationship with his boss. Will they worry about favoritism? Will they file complaints? The external plot elements in romance are endless.

Creating characters who resist falling in love isn’t the only way to create conflict in a romance. But this element is present in the vast majority of romance novels and is a great starting point for writers looking to build satisfying conflict into their stories.

Each Romance Writing Simplified post features a few hundred words on one aspect of romance writing. The goal is to present these complex ideas in the simplest terms possible.

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