Conflict from the heartHiya, Noodlers! Thanks for asking me back to your fantastic blog!
Ah, conflict in a romance novel! What a sticky wicket that can be!
It’s at the heart of what makes a great romance and because it’s so intrinsic to writing a great book, it’s one of the hardest things to get right. As Trish so wisely pointed out last week, it’s NOT bickering. It’s something that touches the deepest part of who these people are.
There are two great quotes I remember when I talk about conflict. One I heard at our Romance Writers of Australia conference back in 2004. The other I only heard recently.
Kate Walker, who writes for Harlequin Presents, said the conflict in a romance novel must come from something at the most essential level of the characters. People generally talk about conflict in connection with the protagonist’s goal. That’s because a really compelling conflict is created when the other person is what stands in the way of that goal. And the goal has to be something they would do anything to achieve.
As Kate said – and this was the punch line for me – they have to be willing to sacrifice the love of a lifetime in order to achieve their aims. The goals need to be big and meaty and important. Stakes need to be high. Then you get the kind of conflict in a book that keeps your reader up all night.
The other great quote about conflict comes from wonderful Aussie Desire author Bronwyn Jameson. Bron was talking about external and internal conflict. Her definition of the two is that, “External conflict is what drives the characters together. Internal conflict is what pushes them apart.” It’s fabulous, isn’t it? Simple yet so true.
To give you an example of conflict in action, I thought I’d talk about my debut novel, Claiming the Courtesan. (You can read an excerpt here). The Duke of Kylemore wants to marry his mistress, the notorious courtesan Soraya (hero’s goal). She wants to escape her decadent life and retire to obscurity and freedom (heroine’s goal). External conflict emerges because their goals are diametrically opposed and that’s where the events of the plot come from.
But at a much deeper level, both these people have survived horrific pasts only by completely expunging emotion from their lives. Love is the enemy and love is what the other person represents. That’s the internal conflict – they’re fighting themselves and they’re also fighting what the other person means to them. Obviously the internal and external conflicts here overlap in various ways. But you can see what I mean by the stakes being high – to both Soraya and Kylemore, surrendering to love threatens their very survival. In a metaphysical sense, it’s a life or death situation.
I’d love you to share your analysis of the internal and external conflict in your work in progress or the most recent romance you’ve read. My favorite take on a story wins a $15 Amazon voucher!