Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Romance’s Missing Piece: Conflict

May 10 / Jeanne De Vita
A question that frequently comes up with authors I edit is this: I love these characters and they are speaking to me, but something is missing. I’m not sure why, but I’m stuck.
When the whisper of the muse goes silent, you may have a very basic problem: no—or not enough—conflict.
A novel is much more than a story. A story can be simple and sweet, right? Beginning, middle, and end. What you did over the weekend can be a story. “A funny thing happened to me on the/in the_____________ ” (fill in the blank). That is a story.
We tell and hear stories all day, every day. But a novel is a very specific form of story. A romance novel in particular is a story, but in a romance novel the characters must solve a set of clearly defined and related problems in order for the characters to find love.
If you’re stuck writing your romance novel, take a look at not just your characters but their problems.
Example: Main Character #1 (woman, man, shifter, or paranormal creature) meets Main Character #2 (another woman, man, shifter, or paranormal creature). They fall in love, or at least experience some version of love (Happy For Now, Happy Ever After).
Whether you’re writing a woman meeting a woman, a man meeting woman, a woman meeting a bear-shifter, or any other pairing, you, as the author, need to know the characters inside and out. Background, values, eye color, trauma, hopes, insecurities. Figuring this out is not just an idle exercise to pass the time. (We have social media for that…!) Each piece that comes together to make a character whole is critical to telling a thorough, engaging love story. Why?
Because after the meet-cute, the characters will get together. But some things, and likely many things, are going to keep them apart. Those things make up the conflict.
You may have the plot worked out to the finest detail. But if the characters skip merrily through the pages, you’re probably missing a key element of the romance novel: the conflict. The fighting for and working toward love aspect of the novel is absolutely key. If you don’t have well-developed conflicts and how to resolve them worked out for your characters, you may find yourself stuck. The structure and pacing of the romance novel will suffer and you may experience those dreaded feelings of writer’s block!
Here’s a little more food for thought. Does the conflict need to be equally weighted for each character? Did Bella have the same depth of resistance to love that Edward did? Definitely not. One character’s conflict/obstacles/issues can absolutely drive the plot forward, but if there is no resistance or obstacle within/from the other main character, you’ll experience the same problems: like a bicycle built for two with only one person on it, not enough conflict for each character will definitely make for a bumpy ride.
You may have a great story, unique characters, an original setting, and an engaging premise, but if you don’t have sufficient conflict, there won’t be a fully developed love story to tell! If you’d like a manuscript evaluation or to take a course that teaches how to develop, test, and strengthen your characters’ conflicts, check out Romance Writing Academy’s current offerings!