Bickering is not conflictHave you ever read a book where the conflict was so weak that it would be resolved if the two characters just sat down and had a conversation? Did you want to toss that book against the wall?
The reason we've all probably felt like this at some point is that sometimes an author will mistake bickering for conflict. But bickering is what a couple of two-year-olds do, not two adults who are attracted to each other but have some genuine obstacle standing in the way of their getting together. This obstacle won't disappear just because the two sit down and talk about it.
Let's look at the following scenarios to illustrate the difference.
Scenario 1 -- Cindy is a prison guard who likes Brad, another guard. But instead of letting him know and opening herself up to possible rejection (she doesn't see herself as pretty or feminine considering her job), she picks arguments with him so he won't guess how she really feels. He argues back, no matter what petty thing they're arguing about, and kicks himself for being attracted to her anyway. This is bickering. If they'd stop and just have an honest conversation, chances are they'd go out and possibly fall in love.
Scenario 2 -- Cindy is still a prison guard, but this time she falls for Jack, a prisoner incarcerated for murder, one he insists he didn't commit. Her attraction to him goes against everything she stands for and could cost her job, her friends and family, possibly even her life if he gets out and she's wrong about him. Jack, who is in fact innocent, understandably isn't too hot on getting close to anyone in a uniform at the moment. This is genuine conflict. Cindy and Jack can talk until they're blue in the face, and the obstacle of Jack's conviction and imprisonment won't go away.
When you're plotting a new story and searching for the true conflict between your hero and heroine, dig deep. Don't go with the first, most obvious "conflict" because this might not be a true conflict at all. It might be just a surface conflict and lead to that annoying bickering. Each time you write down a possible conflict, try to peel it back even more, go down another layer like you're peeling an onion. Keep asking the question "Why?" at each layer. You might be surprised to find a true, very complicated conflict five or six layers down, one that will throw obstacles in the path of your hero's and heroine's happiness together that will make even you, the writer of their story, wonder how in the world they'll ever find a way to be together. But they will in the end. You just have to figure out the winding path that takes them from impossible odds to happily ever after.
So, what are some of the best conflicts you've read in a romance novel? Ones that made you wonder how in the world the author would ever get the hero and heroine together for a happy life together? Were these some of the most satisfying stories you've read because of those deep conflicts?
Labels: writing conflict