How can we build well-developed conflict in romance novels?
Building the Right Conflicts
No matter what type of story you write, there will always be conflict. That’s where the core of the adventure comes from. There should always be some kind of struggle whether it’s internal, with someone else, or against the character’s environment. In romance, I feel there are some conflicts that fall flat and need stronger stakes. Some situations could be fixed with a simple conversation exchange, but the characters just don’t do that.
Here are examples in romance novels that I believe are too shallow and ideas on how you can strengthen the conflict in your writing.
We’ve all seen this situation whether in books or movies. The woman thinks she catches a man kissing someone else. Hears information second hand from a friend (or an enemy trying to cause a breakup). Sees the man doing something and misinterprets the entire situation. Instead of confronting the situation, she ignores him, gets angry and storms off. Not giving herself or anyone else a chance to tell her what the situation is really about.
To me, this just makes the character seem immature and forces conflict into the mix that doesn’t need to be there. It reinforces the “hysterical woman” cliche instead of an empowered, dynamic main character. When I see these situations happen, I wonder what real purpose this can serve. How can we amplify these conflicts so that they have more depth and real consequences?
For one, if these conflicts happen near the beginning of the story, this could be a chance to build a beautiful story of growth. She must learn how to trust people again and discover who she is. She may be forcing herself to find problems where there is none because she’s afraid of getting hurt. If there is a lack of communication on either side of the relationship, there has to be a reason for it.
Think of the motives of the characters and if their fear is what’s causing them to stir up trouble unnecessarily. Use this as an opportunity to help the character grow and understand what it means to be in a mature, healthy relationship.
Too Quickly In Love
When you’re building a romance between two people, it’s so important to show their connection and the build up to their soulmate like relationship. Sometimes the romance can happen too quickly and the reader may be like “Wait, what? When did this happen?” If too much happens outside the scenes displayed in the book, it can be confusing to the reader.
What are some ways we can remedy this?
If you want to pick up the pace of the romance, introduce the love interests in a way that shows they already know each other. They’re friendly, familiar, co-workers even. If they already have that relationship, it’ll be so much easier to enhance that into a beautiful romance.
Another idea is to write your story with changing perspectives between the man and woman, or whoever you’re trying to get together. I’ve seen this done many times and it works quite well. If you can show the progression of the feelings towards the characters on both sides, the development will read more strongly with added information.
Show don’t tell is also another classic tip! My boyfriend and I just watched Harry Potter (a marathon of all the movies) so that’s why I’m using this example. Watching the movies so close in succession allowed me to see the romance between Ron and Hermione unfold.
Not ONCE do they say I love you to each other. Or confess their crush in spoken words or letters. Everything they express for one another is with action. The awkward smiles and hugs in their younger years. The concern for one another about who they’re dating or when Ron’s playing Quidditch. Hermione is angry when Ron leaves their Horcrux hunt, and then returns to talk about the ball of light that flew through his heart. Then finally, they sealed it with a passionate kiss in the Chamber of Secrets.
Action. So much more powerful than you can imagine.
Breaking Up Without A Reason
There are times when characters break up with someone they truly love because of outside pressures or just dumb reasons. Their parents don’t approve. They have to live in a new country for work. They don’t feel worthy enough. When the characters do this, they don’t even share with their partner the real reason for why they’re doing it. What is the point of this? Sure, maybe the character is afraid and it can be hard to share your true feelings.
This comes back to the lack of communication and doesn’t even give the partner a choice in the matter or the courtesy of a conversation. The character is being selfish or is too afraid of what others will think of them. If you’re choosing to go down this route for your plot, make sure there are real consequences behind the choice the character makes and that it aligns with their values and is not out of character.
Pressure from outside sources. The character in this situation may be a huge people pleaser and care way too much about his or her social status. This is the perfect place for a character arc where their selfishness and need to appear to have a perfect life is their main goal. Then they start to change and realize who they truly are and what they want out of life.
Living somewhere else. It kills me when characters have to move somewhere else for a job and the other character has to give up their entire life to follow them across the world. The obvious option is to break up, right? Well, if you’re in a committed relationship, that’s not very fair. This trope is always portrayed as the end of the world. If it really matters, the characters would make it work, and that’s where the really challenges can come in.
Unworthy. Again, this is a perfect way to explore character growth. Allow the character to grow, be single and get to know themselves, learn what they want. They find worth in themselves. Yet when they break up with the person, they don’t share this with them. It could be part of their vulnerability and fear of opening up.But think about a journey they could take together to heal and grow? Instead of always shutting the character down, they could blossom together.
Bonus Point: The Goal to Marry
This is still a prominent theme in stories, and of course it’s a beautiful tale! People want to get married, they want to live a life with a partner and kids. But when finding someone to marry becomes the only defining feature in a MAIN character, that’s where I take issue.
A main character, especially a female, needs to be dynamic. She has hobbies and identities outside of her love interest. She has a career, family, friends, ideals, adventures. If her only goal in life is to marry the first guy who asks, you may not be representing a very empowering female character, especially if your story is in modern times.
Ensure that your character is her own woman. Someone who searches for worth in herself, not just in an engagement ring. Multiple traits and empowering goals! That’s all I ask for!
Thank you for reading my opinions about conflict in romance novels and tips on how they can be elevated. Do you have any questions or comments to share? Leave a message below!
Thank you for reading about conflict in romance novels!
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