Conflict: the word conjures up images of people fighting. But, as I pointed out in last week's posts on microtension, conflict encompasses a much broader scope.
When Jay Boyar of Orlando magazine reviewed 4 romance novels, including my FINDING SARAH, he pointed out that in my book, unlike the others, “Sarah and Randy don’t, for some strange reason, immediately hate each other.”
Having hero and heroine not like each other definitely increases conflict and tension. But it’s not necessary to take that approach. (Confession: when I started writing FINDING SARAH, I’d never read a romance, so I didn’t know about this “hate each other” convention.) Hero and heroine can have a common goal, but with different motivations, and conflict can grow from that.
Example: In FINDING SARAH, both Randy & Sarah want to solve the crime, “Who robbed Sarah’s shop?” Randy wants to do it because he’s a cop, and that’s what he does. Also, the robber seems to be someone he failed to catch on another spree, so his professional pride is at stake. For Sarah, it’s a matter of saving her business—her livelihood. As the case progresses, Randy has a new problem: he’s violating his own code by taking a personal interest in Sarah. And Sarah is violating her internal promise to be independent and not rely on anyone. But there’s no real reason for them to dislike each other.
After FINDING SARAH, I decided to follow convention a bit more closely. In NOWHERE TO HIDE, Colleen and Graham are also trying to solve the same case, although Colleen is no longer a cop. Here, Colleen does take exception to Graham, because she’s declared herself finished with cops. Her goal begins as getting him out of her life by beating him at his own game. They learn they’ll do better by working together, yet there is still enough going on to keep the tension rising. I had several discussions with my editor who took exception with the way Colleen helped Graham at one point, thus reducing the tension in the scene. BUT, she’s an ex-cop, and it would have been out of character for her to withhold evidence, and to me, the character takes priority. And, because I’m always at least half a step out of the box, Graham had absolutely nothing against Colleen from the moment he saw her.
Then, there’s the approach that both characters want the same thing but for different reasons. Maybe they both want to buy the same farmhouse. But she wants it because it’s where her parents lived, and she wants to restore it. He wants to turn it into a shopping mall. Their actual goal isn’t really the farmhouse, it’s what they want to do with it, and they’re in opposition right away. I haven’t written one of these yet.
In WHEN DANGER CALLS, Frankie and Ryan meet by chance, and a lot of the tension comes from them being total opposites in personality. Yet they’re not antagonistic. Each of them has an agenda, and while some of their goals end up overlapping, it’s not until the friendship is established that they consider the deeper conflicts between them. She’s a single mom who’s a caring and nurturing person. Ryan’s a covert ops specialist. One who had a child die in his arms on a previous mission, so simply tossing Frankie’s child onto the page adds conflict for him. Throwing in other issues—Frankie thinks her mother’s boyfriend is a crook—can raise the stakes if she needs Ryan’s help.
In WHERE DANGER HIDES, I was again starting with more conflict between hero and heroine. He resents her because he’s pulled from what he really wants to be doing when his boss assigns him to look into some missing people. She wants his help, but once she sees he’s only paying lip service to the assignment, would rather be rid of him. But there’s no outright antagonism.
In any of these approaches, there’s still going to be the romance/relationship conflict. (Another reason romance, especially romantic suspense, is harder to write than people think. You have to deal with your basic storyline and its conflicts and final resolution, PLUS you have to get the hero and heroine together at the end.)
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