Writing Lesson #3: Creating a Compelling Romantic Conflict


Conflict is disagreement. In literature there are two types of conflicts: Inner Conflict and External Conflict. Inner conflict is a disagreement in oneself: a person who is torn between two conflicting ideas or desires. Inner conflict is usually a psychological conflict where usually the only the person who experiences it is aware of its existence, unless choosing to share it with others. External conflict is a disagreement between two forces outside of a person’s psyche, forces in which a person has no control on. External conflict can be national, religious, and/or social.

In romance the physical attraction between both protagonists is a given, what creates the romantic story is the conflict that both protagonists deal with before completely succumbing to their love. Throughout the romantic story the protagonists have to deal with different reasons (conflicts) why they should not be together. Romeo and Juliet experienced love at first sight, but they had to find a way to overcome the resistance of their families who were enemies (external conflict - social). In the movie Life as We Know It Holly and Eric end up living together to take care of their goddaughter. Despite their physical attraction,  they dislike each other (inner conflict) but need to find a way to be able to live together and take care of Sophie.


Conflict is a fundamental part of any story; it raises the dramatic question that the whole story evolves around.  If you don’t have a conflict you don’t have a story. A simple scenario of a man meets a woman, they fall in love and get married shortly after – is not a love story. It might be how your grandparents had met, which must be a sentimental family story – but there is not much material to write a story out of it. On the other hand if two people meet and fall in love, but the girls’ parents oppose to this relationship (external conflict - social), then the young man goes to fight in a war (external conflict - national), when he comes back he is wounded and decides to stop their romantic relationship because he thinks the woman he loves deserves a better man who is strong and healthy (inner conflict) - now you have a story.The dramatic question in this story is whether these two people will overcome all the obstacles (conflicts) and end up together.

In previous lesson you learned that romantic protagonists must be polar to each other. Polarity is a good place to start a romantic conflict. Take for example Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice: She comes from a poor family he comes from a rich family.  She has a mother with gaudy manners that are embarrassing in public; he has a proud family that cares about their good name and reputation (social economical polarity). They are physically attracted to each other, but proud Mr. Darcy doesn't think Elizabeth is a good match for him, while Elizabeth despises his pride and snobbish manners (Inner conflict). Mr. Darcy's family, including his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, wish he would marry someone who is more socially appropriate for him (external conflict - social). The dramatic question in the story is – Would Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy be able to overcome social expectations and their own hesitations about each other and end up together?


When developing your romantic story, after you have created polar protagonists ask yourself what can come between them? What would prevent them from manifesting their mutual love? Would you choose external conflict – do your protagonists come from two different religions, races, social economic levels, or two different nations that are at war?  Or would you choose inner conflict – where your protagonists have their own psychological reasons for why they resist their mutual attraction? Psychological conflict can be a fear of commitment, desire to protect the other from oneself, misunderstanding,  etc. As a writer you can use one conflict in your story or more. If you choose to use several conflicts make sure that they work well together and that you know how to solve the dramatic question in your story in a believable and reasonable way.

When you choose a conflict make sure that it is solid enough to carry several complications and crisis that will stem out of it.I will discuss this in length in future lessons.



Next lesson: Using Archetypes to Enrich Your Romantic Story

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