by Laurie Alice Eakes
Recently, a writer asked why conflict so often seemed to be understood as sniping and snarky comments between the hero and heroine. She knew that conflict had to arise from something more than attitudes verging on hostility, but how? I promised her a blog post on the subject. Mind you, this is targeted at romance-oriented stories, where conflict seems to be the most misunderstood and is so very crucial.
Conflict arises from character. If the hero and heroine are the sort who snipe and snark for hundreds of pages, they probably have the sort of character that does not make for sympathetic heroes and heroines. A little argumentation is normal. The majority of it is unhealthy.
So if one has two people with the basics of good, or at least sympathetic character, how does one build the sort of conflict that keeps them apart?
A: One can cheat and have that conflict completely external. They hero and heroine are madly in love, but war comes and he is sent overseas. They write letters of devotion for three years, worry about one another’s safety, and then he comes home-THE END.
Or one has B: Opposing goals, sense of self-worth, beliefs, motivations. . .major aspects of life. This can further break down into numerous categories of religion, culture, career, family obligations. . . You fill in the rest. These goals torture them with guilt, unbreakable obligations, a sense that they are unlovable. . . Again, the possibilities are multitudinous. Conflict between two people arises when that which is their perceived purpose in life, major personality trait, or even physical attributes, and so forth, is in opposition to that of the other person.
Two people meet. They find one another attractive. They begin a friendship, a working relationship, an alliance to save the country from an enemy invasion. They may not like one another at first, they may fall instantly in love, they may develop feelings somewhere in-between. Along the journey, however, they discover they could fall in love and want to spend their lives together except for. . .the conflict, that which holds them back from giving up their heart and life to the other person.
For example, she is a lady lawyer in a time when those were rare. He is a carpenter with questionable parentage and no formal education. They begin with a working relationship, develop a friendship, and fall in love. Conflict rises from his sense that he is not good enough for her and too close an association with him could offend the people in town who can afford a lawyer. She determines to succeed in a male-dominated profession, which means more than a superficial relationship with the hero interferes with her future plans. They do not argue much. They like one another. They love one another. They must overcome their personal goals and/or hang-ups to resolve the conflict keeping them apart.
Conflict is one of the most crucial aspects of a novel. Without it, one does not have story. In romance, conflict is necessary, but that does not mean they fight or even snipe at one another. Conflict can be external like war, weather, parental disapproval; however, the most dynamic conflict arises from the characters personal issues.
Laurie Alice Eakes won the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency for her first book. Since then, she has sold three more Regency romances, nine other books, three of which are also set during the Regency time period, and three novellas. She and her husband live in Texas.