Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Genre Tuesday - Putting the Conflict in Romance

By Stephanie: Burkhart

Let's face it – the minute readers pick up a romance they know there's going to be a happy ending. So why pick up a romance at all? Ultimately it's about going on the journey the couple takes to fall in love and how they overcame the conflicts they faced.

So what is romantic conflict? The difficulty the couple faces that threaten to keep them from getting together and making a commitment to one another.

Conflict should not be:
A delay
A meddler
Or an unwillingness to admit the other person is attractive.

In all honesty, a reader is not attracted to a couple who constantly argues. It's all right to have an argument or two, but constant bickering does not make the reader root for the characters.

Misunderstandings make the main characters appear incapable of making themselves clear. It's hard to root for a wishy-washy hero.

A meddler – if another person interferes in the budding relationship of the hero and heroine, then they look too passive. Again, it's hard for a reader to root for them.

If the hero/heroine can't admit the other is attractive then why root for them to be a couple to begin with?

So what is good solid romantic conflict?

Short and long term problems.

Short term problem: This is the problem which brings the couple together. This problem lets the couple get to know one another. Perhaps its to solve a crime or overcome a bad situation.

Long term problem: This is the deep problem, the internal conflict which makes it seem impossible for the couple to get together. It may be a fear of rejection or of being hurt again.

Recall some of your favorite romances. Was there a meddler? A delay? A misunderstanding? Probably not. That type of conflict in a romance may be an incident, but ultimately, they don't give the story the realistic conflict needed for the characters' journey.

Reference: On Writing Romance, by Leigh Michaels, 2007, F&W Publications.


  1. I HATE misunderstanding romances- always have- it's like I want to say, "people- talk to each other" LOL! Kathleen Woodiwiss did this all the time- if her characters would just talk to each other, it'd be fine. Of course, then there would be no book! LOL!

  2. Excellent post, Steph. Many manuscripts are rejected by editors with a note about the conflict. At the FRW conference I recently attended, two multipublished authors gave talks about conflict. One said, if the hero is a fireman, have you heroine set a fire!!!In other words, opposites attract.

  3. I think this is why some people put romance books down (in other words make fun of them). Years ago the conflict revolved around all the things your post said not to do. This weakened the hero and heroine in the reader's eyes. Good post Steph.

  4. Jillian, thanks for popping in, Sweetie. I never did read Kathleen Woodiwiss, but I hear a lot about her.

    Mona, I agree - finding the right balance for the conflict can be a challenge.

    Sue, As a moderator for Writing.com I see this often with authors just starting out. My advice is to read the heck out of the genre you want to right about to get a feel for the rules.


  5. Good stuff, Steph. Thanks. I will make sure to reference this again, and again.

  6. Interesting and informative post, Steph! Early in my career, I had the hero and heroine argue too much. I realized before I submitted it that no one would root for them to be together.

  7. Striking the right balance can be difficult. A simple misunderstanding that can be resolved with a conversation grates on my nerves. From what I've heard editors and agents say, romantic tension and conflict is the number one reason for rejection. Great post.

  8. Interesting information,Steph. Mostly I read young adult novels, but I do enjoy a good romance occasionally.

  9. Shirley, I have a copy of Leigh Michael's book, "On Writing Romance," and I love it. It's a great reference for romance writing and I still use it.

    Diane, I have a story or two like that. While I think an agrument or misunderstanding from time to time is okay, you have to pepper it with underlying attraction to make it crediable. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Iris, that's good to know and something we can all look out for in our writing.

    Beverly, thanks for popping in. Do you find the conflict is similiar in young adult novels?