Stories need conflict of some sort to make them interesting. Romantic conflict is most often associated with romantic fiction. It is the force -- external or internal -- that keeps two characters from being in a relationship. Conflict in fiction has a broad meaning; it is not limited to notions of arguments or physical clashes.
Romantic conflict can manifest itself in the story in a variety of forms; for example, one character's conflict may be fear of being seen naked or two characters may be destined to be in a relationship but hate each other at the beginning of the story.
Conflict is an essential part of any plot. Imagine a boy and a girl, each from different families: they grow up never getting in trouble at school, never dirtying their Sunday best, never uttering a rude word. They meet, fall in love and get married. They have two children who never get in trouble, never dirty their Sunday best and never utter a rude word . . . . There's no point in telling this story; you already know what will happen next, and it's boring.
Twists and hurdles make fiction interesting, and they are created by conflict. Conflict fleshes out the story; it gives it the ability to hold the reader's attention over hundreds of pages.
Understanding Romantic Conflict
Take a look at relationships from your own past. Think about how you met, how old you were, whether you were already with someone else when you met and who asked who on the first date. All of these are factors that could create romantic conflict.
For example, if you met as lecturer and student, conflict was created by rules stipulating that lecturers and students can't date. In this type of scenario, your characters may get together only for the student to be ridden by guilt; unable to risk her lover's career, she leaves him. Or perhaps they stay together; the lecturer loses his job and blames the student. The idea is that something complicates your characters' love for each other, which they must overcome to be together.
Age difference also presents another example; a 17-year-old girl wants to date a 25-year-old man so she lies about her age to him. Plus, the girl's mother is opposed to the union. The conflict could be created by the mother, who tries to prevent them from seeing each other, or by the man who really cares about the girl but feels that dating a minor is wrong once he learns her real age.
Internal and External Romantic Conflict
Internal conflict comes from one of the characters. Low self-esteem, desire to travel and fear of physical contact are all examples of internal conflict. External conflict is influence from the outside, such as a disapproving mother, losing a job or a natural disaster. The character is not responsible for external conflict.
If a character has low self-esteem, create romantic conflict because he may not be able to pluck up the courage to ask out the person he likes, or it could lead to him turning that person down if she asked him on a date.
A character losing a job could also create romantic conflict by making the other character in the relationship responsible for paying the bills; this could create tension, giving the couple an obstacle to overcome. Equally, losing a job could make the character seem less attractive to another character. The character then has to find a way to regain the respect of her potential love interest.
Keep the Conflict Believable
You need to establish your characters' relationship histories as this will affect how they react to the romantic conflict, or it could create the conflict itself. Characters should not be perfect; you want the reader to relate to them. Romantic conflict could be the vehicle to reveal characters' fatal flaws or weakest traits of their personalities.
Romantic conflict could also reveal your character's greatest strength, which could be used to overcome the obstacle that keeps her from being in a relationship. Create some kind of common ground between the characters you want to match up so the reader can conceive of them getting together.
Conflict in your story will be similar to real life. However, avoid writing scenes with the most mundane everyday exchanges between characters unless something important happens to move the story along. Like in real life, there is usually more than one romantic and a combination of internal and external conflicts for the characters in a romance story.
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