Story Elements: Conflict

So when we plan a storybook romance, what are some of the elements, besides the First Meet, we try to put into it? We can’t make everything smooth sailing, or we’d have no story. A good story always contains conflict of some type. We have to make one or both of the main characters hard to get, or give them problems to overcome, or dangerous adversaries to defeat.

In The Quietest Woman in the South, I put in a murderous family that pursued them across several states, trying to kill them. They tried to escape, then fought back. This element is called External Conflict, and can be a source of suspense and unexpected plot turns.

Or the woman may not realize that this is the man for her. She thinks he is too handsome or rich or popular to see anything in her. Or she doubts his intentions until he has rescued her from danger, or has demonstrated that she can trust him. This element is called Internal Conflict, and can be the more emotional of the two types of conflict.

The best books usually have both types of conflict in them. Tennessee Touch held an emotional uncertainty for the heroine. She had had numerous stepfathers, including one who tried to attack her, so that she distrusted men in general.

In “The Prettiest Girl in the Land,” Ruth Trahern is plain compared to her sister, Mary. So Ruth doesn’t think any handsome man would be interested in her. This is how she feels:

He sat there atop his horse, with hat, boots, bandana, and chaps, looking so much the western cowboy that I hadn’t recognized him, even though he’d tipped that hat to me several times during the morning. He was handsome enough to bring a dead polecat back to life, and my heart did a little flip.

But this was Gage, who was a rolling stone, handsome as the devil and not responsible for anything except to break women’s hearts. I reminded myself of that, and my heart just flopped right back down in place.

Another element is the Other Woman, or the Interfering Parent, or Best Friend who really isn’t a friend. Then there is always the Boss who can be a source of conflict, either in the office or as an officer in the military. When doing a longer novel, it is handy to have one or more of these mixed into the story.

ROMANTIC CONFLICTS Part 2 @PRosemoor #mgtab

Last month I talked about romantic conflict in romance novels. Here are some conflict don’ts…and some examples of complex conflicts.

Conflict don’ts

•    Don’t have a conflict that can be cleared up with a discussion – that’s a misunderstanding rather than a conflict.

•    Don’t use cliches – an example is once spurned, the heroine would never get involved with another man

•    Don’t use the ‘I hate you but let’s go to bed’ syndrome

•    Or – the hero who is reluctant to commit because he feels he’s not good enough for the heroine

To me, those are examples of weak romantic conflicts and an author can turn them around.

What if the spurned heroine is determined to make the hero run a gauntlet to prove he loves her. He may not know why she’s making prove himself over and over again, but he’s willing to do it to win her heart … until he finds out why. He feels she’s comparing him to a skunk, and nothing she says is going to make him feel better about it. So she’ll have to do something outrageous in return to prove her love for him.

Example of bringing together external and internal conflicts:

Heroine is a historian who has always loved a wonderful old mansion near the lake and is working to get it historical status. Hero is a developer who wants to tear it down to put up a high rise condo. Why do they have their particular points of view? Maybe she comes from a background where her family wanted everything new, didn’t appreciate anything with history, didn’t appreciate her, which made her feel like the odd woman out. She can equate the hero with her family. Maybe the hero has to prove himself to his family, and that condo he’s going to build is his chance. If he gives it up, then he has failed. No matter if they’re honest with each other, that’s not going to end the conflict. They each have to work to make the other person happy/fulfilled, each have to be willing to give something up for the other. Of course what I would do is have the hero decide to give up on the project for her, which makes her feel like she is appreciated for who she is. At the same time, I would have her be willing to give up her fight to get the property historical status. He refuses. And then she would use connections to find him another property for his condo.

Here are some examples from my The McKenna Legacy novels when falling in love for a McKenna means putting that person in danger…

Brazen – Siobhan is a branch of the McKennas under a curse. Fall in love, act on that love and put the love interest in mortal danger. So in the past, she broke up with Clay so he wouldn’t die like her father did. And then she married someone else who did die. In the present day story, Clay returns to protect her. And while he still loves her, he’s not willing to fully open himself to her because he doesn’t trust her not to spurn him again.

Deal Breaker – Hailey thinks Bryce marries her strictly for business because he wants money, when in fact, he’s trying to save the family business and the only other way he can do it to sell the Lake Geneva house, which was his late mother’s legacy to her children. He can’t do it. He feels responsible for her disappearance. This is all they have left of her.

Purebred – Cat is divorced from a man who married her for her money and is still trying to take what she has left. Aidan has come from Ireland with his racehorse on her dime, and she starts making comparisons between the two. Also, Aidan was in love with a jockey and she died riding one of his horses. So he convinces himself he won’t put another woman at risk, until dangerous things start happening to Cat.

And more examples from my stories in the three serial novels recently published:


Gypsy Magic serial novel: Andrei
Elizabeth’s mother was murdered and Andrei’s father testified against the man convicted of her murder. Now Andrei is trying to prove that man, his cousin, is innocent. In addition, Andrei is cursed by the man’s gypsy mother never to consummate his relationship with any woman.



Renegade Magic serial novel: Rico
Rico abandoned the mystical beliefs of his heritage, an obstacle in his relationship with artist Charlotte, who is drawn to the old ways. His disbelief makes her fear they will never mesh. Meditation pulls Charlotte straight into her paintings where she senses the murdering witch following her. Terrified of losing her when she is in a dangerous trance, Rico forces his mind to follow.



New Orleans Magic serial novel: Zachary
Officer Zachary Doucet arrives at a murder scene‒‒the victim another voodoo ceremony participant‒‒only to face his ex-partner Detective Rebecca Romero. Zachary intends to clear his half-brother Jordan. From something he did in the past to get his arrest, Rebecca fears he’ll do anything to free Jordan. With Rebecca a straight arrow and Zachary a maverick, is there hope for a future together?



Writing a romance? This goes to the heart of the story, the thing that keeps the reader reading…

•    Conflict/tension between the hero & heroine drives plot and keeps the reader turning pages

•    Romantic or emotional conflict is something inside the heroine and/or hero that creates a problem  exacerbated by their situation

•    Emotional conflict grows from feelings, doesn’t need to be logical, can’t be reasoned away. It comes from experience, how the character sees him or herself

•    What prevents your characters from making that leap into love is more than just external forces. Love is a matter of the heart, and not about the events, no matter how dramatic

•    The conflict must be both believable and substantial enough to carry the book

•    Emotional conflict should always be in the characters’ and the readers’ minds.

•    External conflict prevents your characters from accomplishing their goals

•    Internal conflict which comes from the characters themselves (Theme) should go along with the external conflict of the story that comes from the circumstances, or is created by other characters. (Plot)

•    Don’t substitute external conflicts for internal ones; enhance emotional conflicts by using externals to provide a context

•    The best romances are built around a complex emotional conflict played out against  an equally interesting story (external conflict) that forces the characters to deal with each other and their issues.

•    Whatever is happening externally in the plot should somehow reinforce what’s going on internally in your characters’ hearts and minds. Think of the plot as a journey where your characters face obstacles that help them confront their inner demons and conflicts.

•    So make sure the final resolution of the romantic conflict comes from inside your characters and not from the events.

Next time, I’ll cite some examples of how to make conflict work for you.





My current release, In Dreams, has a ton of conflict, both internal and external. Um, the heroine is running for her life…