Boy meets girl. They kiss. Fall in love. Marry, and live happily ever after. Really? This is why writing a romance novel is easier said than done. It’s no wonder that writers get confused about how much romance to put in a novel, and how much sub-plots to add in. And what the heck is external and internal conflict? Hopefully, this article will answer the questions lurking around inside your head, and keep your story from wandering off in the weeds.
It doesn’t matter which romance genre an author decides to write, a romance is simply the story of how one man and one woman meet, fall in love, encounter conflicts, resolve their differences, and commit to each other in a happily-ever-after ending. Boiled down to its essence, a romance is a story about commitment, and about how and why that commitment comes about.
Because romance, by definition, must have a happily-ever-after ending, there is no surprise for the reader in that ending, as there might be in, for example, a mystery. So why do readers read romance?
The answer is easy.
Readers read romance for something else: for the journey that the characters take to reach that moment of commitment.
Readers want to see:
- the steps the characters take
- the H/H’s conflicts, both internal and external
- how the H/H resolve those conflicts
- precisely how and why the H/H, in this particular time and place, and set of circumstances commit themselves to each other unto eternity.
Readers of romance want to close the book believing that not even death can separate the hero and heroine. Because this is how strong the reader wants and needs to believe this commitment is.
Does a romance novel have to have the traditional hero and heroine? Absolutely not! What if your heroine is a shape-shifter who has problems controlling her shifting? What if she falls in love with an ordinary guy? What if the hero is bedazzled by her beauty, proposes marriage, and during an intimate moment, she shifts into a mermaid? How does the hero handle this phenomenon? Here you have the great GMC (Goal Motivation Conflict) for a paranormal romance.
Another example: What if the heroine’s family is destitute, and being uneducated, she goes to another town and plies her wares as a hurdy-gurdy gal at the local saloon. She’s able to send money home to help support her widowed ma and younger siblings. Now what if she goes home to visit and falls in love with the young minister? A perfect conflict for both the H/H in a Historical Romance.
When writing romance, keep in mind that the romance is NOT the plot. There must be some action, some kind of issue, some problem to worked out during the course of the story. Keep in mind that beyond the plot or woven through the plot, lies the romance. It builds and changes as do the events about which you are writing.
Readers want to experience what the hero and heroine experience. Therefore, the H/H’s goals should not be easily achieved. Readers want to see the protagonist struggle to overcome the obstacles, that you, the writer, have put in the protagonist’s way.
Conflict is important when writing a romance–both internal and external. External conflict is the easiest to create, to develop, and to resolve. External conflict is a situation where the protagonist has to struggle with an outside force. For example, the hero is chased by a grizzly bear. How does he survive? What motivates him to survive? This is: man vs nature.
For some authors, internal conflict may be a bit more difficult to write. Internal conflict, simply put is a mental struggle. A struggle that takes place within the protagonist’s conscience. For example, the hero kills an innocent bystander as part of a gang initiation. The hero is reformed, becomes a success, when he falls in love with the heroine, he finds out that it was her brother he killed. How does he tell her, and how does handle his guilt? This is: man vs self.
Romance is a popular genre. It’s up to you to create a dynamic heroine, her perfect lover, and the conflict that separates them. Following these tips will help ensure that your romance will keep readers turning the pages and buying your next romance novel.
Loretta C. Rogers
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