Write Byte

Conflict in Romance

(October 5, 1998)

Visitors who have spent any time at all at All About Romance know that one of my pet peeves about romance is the "I hate you, now let's hit the sack" scenario so many romances serve up. Once in awhile these hit the spot, but too many of these and I get a terrific migraine.

Writing a romance wherein the conflict is outside the love relationship and/or is within either the hero or heroine as opposed to the conflict being between the hero and heroine can be tricky, however. Many authors make the attempt, no more than a handful succeed.

When the attempt is less than successful, the book stands a great chance of being boring. Too many times when an author reduces, eliminates, or re-channels internal conflict, sexual tension disappears. Obviously, a romance novel cannot succeed without sexual tension.

Just what does it take to make such a book sing? Great story-telling, strong characters, often a mystery to be solved, and, generally, a great deal of wit and humor. One author who succeeds quite often in this arena is Andrea Kane.

I asked her to talk about the role of unity versus conflicts in the H/H relationship. Here is what she had to say:

When I began my career as a writer, I don't remember contemplating the kind of conflict I was going to create in my novels. Protagonists are simply born, nurtured, and given room to grow and flourish. But retrospectively (after accumulating a healthy backlist), I can examine the characters I've created, and see the pattern that's inevitably emerged.

I first became aware that I'd been developing "unified" couples when so many of my readers began writing me to say how glad they were to read books where the hero and heroine actually liked each other. Not just loved, not just lusted, but liked. And not just during the last 20 pages of the novel, but for most of it. How unusual and refreshing, they wrote.

Unusual? Refreshing? That made me wonder. Not only about what I write, but also about what I read, what my personal tastes are like. My favorite authors, I realized, were those who did precisely what I was being heralded for doing. They wrote engrossing stories without resorting to the often used "I-want-you-beyond-reason-but-have-no-idea-why-and-it- couldn't-be-love" syndrome. The two authors who immediately spring to mind are Julie Garwood, whose characterization and humor make it a sheer joy to watch her heroes and heroines fall in love, and Amanda Quick, whose Regency-flavored suspense plays a big part in propelling the relationship between her heroes and heroines forward. Both Julie and Jayne handle their protagonists in a way that makes their discovery of each other a natural progression rather than a battle between antipathy and hormones.

Why did the more uncommon "unified protagonists" stories appeal to me? Simple. I couldn't imagine falling in love with someone I didn't know, didn't respect, didn't like, or didn't care to like. That personal conviction carried into my writing. I wanted to portray love rooted in more than passion alone. I wanted to allow my readers the sheer joy of actually seeing my heroes and heroines fall in love, rather than just watching them want each other to distraction, and then - three-quarters of the way through the book - seeing them suddenly struck by the realization that all that wanting is love.

Love is a lot more than that - at least the kind of love that lasts a lifetime. What's more, having characters who actually like each other, fall in love for many reasons (passion being only one) does not eliminate sexual tension. Trust me, lots of conflicts (both internal and external) precipitate sexual tension. Love/hate is far from the only one.

So, enough about unity. On to conflict.

Having read romances since I was old enough to get my hands on them, I've watched the genre grow and expand into dozens of exciting new directions. But I must admit, I don't understand why many people still think a relationship-oriented book demands what is commonly referred to as the "classic conflict" - i.e. a clash or barrier between the hero and heroine that prohibits their falling in love, admitting they've fallen in love, or liking the fact that they've fallen in love.

Let's begin with the time-tested fact that conflict is necessary to create a good story. But what constitutes conflict? A direct clash between the hero and heroine? Yes, that works. But what about internal conflict, the kind that tears a hero/heroine apart as he/she tries to come to peace with his/her own issues before being able to fully commit to a relationship? And what about external factors that shake the foundation of the hero/heroine relationship and/or threaten the well-being of either one or both characters? Aren't all those examples of conflict as well?

In my book (no pun intended) - yes.

Granted, the use of conflict is different for me in that I write romantic suspense. The circumstances that surround my plots greatly impact and usually endanger my protagonists. The danger must be dealt with before "happily-ever-after" can occur. It's the responsibility of the hero/heroine to eliminate the peril. Before the "good guys" can win, they must outwit the "bad guys." Only then can they join hands and walk off into the sunset to begin their new life. In addition, often one or both of my protagonists have their own internal, private issue to resolve. For example, in The Theft, Ashford has taken over his father's role as the Tin Cup Bandit. As a man committed to a bigger cause, does he have the right to abandon that cause in pursuit of his own personal happiness? And, if not, can he pledge himself to Noelle, whom he loves with all his heart, when he's intentionally putting himself at peril every time he commits a theft, albeit for a good cause?

Heck, if that's not conflict, what is?

I don't condemn novels that employ classic conflict. But just as the romance genre has grown more diverse in so many other ways, it's grown more diverse in this way as well. No longer is the emotional battle between hero and heroine the only way to generate conflict and create a good story. Actually, it never was the only way - except in the limited imaginations of those who stereotype our genre. Bottom line: a good book needs rich characters, deep emotions, a compelling story, and an intangible sprinkling of magic.

Andrea Kane

You can visit Andrea's web site at http://www.andreakane.com

E-mail Andrea
Read Andrea's Quickie on Run for Your Life and the importance of character
Read an AAR review of Andrea's No Way Out
Read an AAR review of Andrea's Run for Your Life
Read an AAR review of Andrea's The Gold Coin
Read an AAR review of Andrea's Scent of Danger
Read an AAR review of Andrea's The Silver Coin
Read an AAR review of Andrea's The Theft