Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing Tips - Putting the Conflict in Romance

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. Great descriptions! Some books rely too heavily on misunderstandings/meddlers and lose readers.

  2. nice post....and love the guy at the top (he's on my Vegas Miracle cover---a book chock full of conflict!)

  3. Interesting post, Steph. There's a fine line between genuine conflict and the no-no's you mentioned.

    Angela Britnell

  4. Great post! I find meddlers and misunderstandings just frustrate me. Like you say, I lose faith in the characters.

  5. Excellent post. You're right about the arguing. I will never understand a relationship where two people fight all the time. It's one thing to have a fight and discover the fury ignites passion, but if that's all a couple has in common, it won't make for a good read.

  6. Great tips. Love how you share what NOT to do. Very helpful.

  7. The exceptions prove the rule perhaps? All the 'No nos' you mention can form a part of a very successful story. Depends on how these elements are handled. For e.g. I don't get angry about much. The only people I lose my temper with are my loved ones - because something they've said or done has disappointed or wounded me. I either hoped they were better than that, or they've proved they are insensitive to my feelings. So, IMO, people who are attracted to one another are more likely, not less, to get cross with each other. Just a thought....

  8. Great post, Steph, and I love the pics. Very atmospheric. I like the romantic conflict best when they both want the same thing and only one of them can get it.

  9. Great ideas. I don't write strict romances, but all my novels have the element of romance in them, so this was very helpful.

  10. I agree about non-stop arguing and meddlers being a turn-off, but I think misunderstandings can play their part in a conflict, particularly of one of the characters is reluctant to open up about their deepest feelings (for whatever reason).

  11. I love forbidden romance, when the characters are crazy passionate about each other but circumstances keep them apart. Pamela Palmer's Feral Warriors are great about this. One book pairs a mage and a feral, despite the fact that the two races are bitter enemies. Another gives the heroine a forbidden and dangerous power that makes her a risk to the hero, who's nonetheless taken by her. Especially in contemporary romance, though, I think misunderstandings can play a role. In books with paranormal elements, though, the rules of the world itself can cause the conflict.

  12. constant arguing/beckering and meddlers are my particular turn-offs. Misunderstandings are right up there unless exceptionally well handled. great article.

  13. Thanks everyone for stopping by and weighing in. Gilli mention possible exceptions to the rule w/meddlars, misunderstandings, and aruging, but I think that's got to be handled in an expert matter or it isn't really successful. I remember falling in love with my DH and we rarely if every aruged. We had a couple of misuderstandings which we worked though. No meddlars. I try to keep that experience in mind when I'm writing my stories.


  14. Constant arguing can be very entertaining, when it is done with wit and humor and mutual respect. Watch some episodes of Moonlighting if you don't believe me.