There’s another type of conflict that I consider important enough to get it’s own sub-category within internal and external conflict when I’m thinking through my writing, and that’s relationship conflict. With any of the Romance genres, this is especially important to establish and work through. Honestly, I think it’s just as important with any character-driven story.
Nothing holds our attention quite like relationship dynamics. As humans, we depend on each other. Without relationships, life as we know it would be impossible. We rely on engineers and mechanics to give us the tools we need for our modern-day existence, on farmers and truckers and grocers to get our food, on doctors and nurses to help us during health crises.
Relationships are key to human survival, and they will get and keep a reader’s attention better than anything else.
When I write a Romance, I outline the main characters’ relationship arc right along with the plot arc for that book, the series arc the book furthers, and each character’s individual story arc. All of these arcs have their own conflict, escalation, and resolution (and introduction of new issues, depending). That’s a lot of throughlines to keep track of, but I think it pays off 🙂
In Romance, we all know the main characters will get together in the end (otherwise, it isn’t a Romance!). That doesn’t mean readers want the protagonists to just meet, fall in love, and pledge themselves to each other in the first chapter. There need to be issues for them to overcome, and juicy conflict to keep the reader’s (and writer’s) interest.
If everyone gets along in the book, that’s another form of boring. Even friends have friction from time to time, and giving that space on and off the page can deepen the narrative and make the book much richer. Books are supposed to show pivotal, life-changing moments in the characters’ lives. That can cover a lot of territory.
Conflict arises from desire. The protagonists want something. The antagonists (usually) want something that conflicts with the protagonists’ goals. Even other supporting characters may have wants and needs that go against what the protagonists want. This opposition is what generates an interesting story.