Why They Can’t Be Together


Internal conflict and Character Growth

We all know falling in love involves drama. I don’t think there’s been a romance in all of history that did not involve some kind of conflict. There is no romance without it. In the romance genre it’s about how the characters overcome conflict to end up together. The real life relationship of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson come to mind. Though their relationship was mired in controversy they certainly encountered some pretty large obstacles. The fictional couples of Jamie and Claire and Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Abdication, time travel, and social standing make great conflict. Dealing with these issues makes for lots of internal angst.

All but the most minor of characters need goals, motivation and conflict. Goal is the future. Motivation is the past. Conflict is the present. It’s what characters want, why they want it and why they can’t have it. It’s the backbone of the romance novel. Creating it takes skill, planning and careful thought.

Conflict (Why They Can’t Have It)

Conflict, of course, should exist on two levels: external and internal. I’m going to stick to internal conflict because as always I’m working through revisions and trying to amp up the emotional stakes. The tricky part is creating an emotional (internal) conflict strong enough to carry an entire book. For readers of the romance genre, emotional conflict is the point. It’s why we pick up a book. It needs to be strong and not easily overcome. We want to see them suffer first.

Conflict is the clash between wants and needs. Ask yourself: What stops a character from doing what he/she must versus what he/she wants? Another important question to ask is this: Why is loving this person the worst thing this character can do at this moment? Your hero and heroine want to be together but there are obstacles in their way. These obstacles need to be HUGE. They need to evoke fear and dread. They must expose vulnerability and escalate emotional risk. They must repudiate strongly held beliefs. Conflict is the reason the hero cannot have what he wants. Conflict or obstacles force an emotional confrontation and lead to achieving goals.

Things to think about when upping the emotional conflict:

Choosing both positive and negative beliefs and values. A strict code of honor. You know, something along the lines of “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Deciding which of these beliefs or values will undergo a change in order for the character to grow and commit to a long standing relationship.

An honest-to-God inner torment that is so close to second nature it’s next to impossible to expunge.

Having to act against those long standing values. Forced to run instead of staying to fight.

Picking a weakness. Deciding what makes the character vulnerable and rubbing their faces in it.

We shy away from huge drama in our own lives, at least I do, but we do want to see in books, in the movies, and on TV. What fictional struggles appeal to you? Reunion stories, revenge stories, fairy tales, myths and legends? What famous romance in history is your favorite?