Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
August 15th, 2013

The Three Types of Conflict in Romance Novels

As I brainstormed the revision for Yours Very Truly, I happened to stumble upon this bit of writing advice I saved to my hard drive two years ago. I had an “Ah ha!” moment, because I realized this was the missing ingredient in my MS.

I am so upset that I cannot find who wrote this article/blog post–a Google search (and with multiple phrases in quotation marks!) turned up no trace of the author. So if you recognize this as your own or that of someone you know, please leave your/their name in the comments so I can attribute this to you/them!

1) There are three types of conflict in romance novels.

To be honest, I feel like I should have known this already. I’ve read the books everyone always recommends about conflict (such as GMC by Deb Dixon), and as a writer, I definitely understand the concept and importance of conflict. Still, I’m pretty sure a light bulb went off in my head when I heard that there are THREE and not just TWO types of conflict:

a) Internal conflict

b) Conflict between the romance hero and heroine

c) External conflict

The “aha!” moment for me was in discovering that the conflict between the hero and the heroine is not enough to act as the external conflict. I’m usually not the sort of authors who writes about murders and mysteries, so I’ve been pretty happy with having my external conflict come from the hero and heroine. To know that there is something else expected and that the external conflict doesn’t have to be a murder or mystery is truly eye-opening to me. This has also done amazing things for the book I’m currently working on. After going to this workshop, I brainstormed with my critique partner about the external conflict and can already tell that it’s a much stronger story.

Think of the external conflict as another layer to the story. For example (and I’m pulling this out of thin air), imagine that Joe and Sue already have conflict between them as hero and heroine because he’s upper class, she’s lower class, and neither trust each other because of their backgrounds. This type of conflict increases the emotional and sexual tension. Then throw in the external conflict–Sue wants to pretend to be higher class because she’s in love with another man, but Joe knows the truth and is determined to reveal her true identity (of course, he later decides he doesn’t want her to succeed because he loves her 😉 ). Make her circumstances dire so that she HAS to win the other man not only because she thinks she loves him, but because her family will lose everything (of what little they have) and the crass truth is she needs his money. Make this urgent, and make Joe’s determination to prevent her from succeeding just as urgent. This is real external conflict. The conflict between hero and heroine come from a personal level (what has happened between them that they are at odds at the beginning?) and the external conflict adds a layer of depth to the story that increases the tension between the two (even if Joe and Sue realize they’re in love, maybe she can’t marry him because he’s impoverished).

Again, I swear a light went off in my head as my brain wrapped around this concept.

2) To resolve conflicts, TRUST is more important than LUST.

Another simple concept, but also eye-opening for me. I have to admit that writing conflict between the hero and heroine is very easy for me (and fun!), but resolving that conflict is not as easy. Having someone say that the hero and heroine need to trust each other at the end of the book is something I believe I *knew*, just not something I fully understood. The romance reader wants to close a book believing in the HEA, and it is our job as writers to give that HEA to them by showing that the hero and heroine have a future together not just because they feel like they’re in love or because they can have a dozen babies, but because they’re able to trust each other and stick together no matter the downfalls throughout a future relationship. (If you haven’t read UNLOCKED by Courtney Milan yet, I highly recommend it; you’ll see how she masters this toward the end of the novella.)

The fantastic thing about becoming a plotter (which I’m slowly working toward) is that if you know your conflicts ahead of time, then you can draw upon these to plan the perfect way to resolve them–a resolution that is meaningful to your characters’ fears and motivation, and one that ends with the characters trusting each other despite the conflict that has occurred between them in the past.