On Writing Inner Conflict


In romance inner conflict of the character (s) is important, more important than the outer conflict, the physical things that keeps them apart.

Right now I’m working on two manuscripts. The one I’ve written down a couple of chapters, while the other is still in the first three chapters phase. I had sent the latter to someone to read, wanting to know if they’d be interested in the characters from having only read chapter one. Lucky for me they were interested *smile*

Like with all my novels I wrestle with conflict and making it believable. Romance is not easy to write in spite of what people may think. In fact romance readers are some of the smartest most well read readers you could ever encounter, so to sell them a lackluster conflict could earn you some scratching reviews *ouch*

So how do I in the end come up with believable conflict for my characters? Simple (or not), I work out who the characters are first. Once I have that down, I know what type of conflict would keep them from either falling in love or giving in to love, what would push their boundaries and keep the inner conflict in the story going. For example, in Falling for Mr. Unexpected, Emma does not believe in Mr. Right or even Mr. Right Now. She’s a bit cynical. And when I delved deeper into her character I also realized that wait, this chick has some serious black and white issues. She lives her life in the either it’s right or wrong realm. So what did I do? I handed her a movie star with the reputation of a Regency rake, whose life and view on life is anything but black and white.

So in order to keep conflict going your characters have to be confronted by someone who will challenge that part of themselves that will keep them from ‘surrendering’ to the other character, even though they might feel a strong attraction towards that person.

What keeps the intrigue of such a conflict going till the end of the novel, is tying it in with a bigger theme. In Dance of Love I had the overall theme of going after your dream even if it scares you. In Ashley’s case her dream literally caused her to physically throw up whenever she thought of dancing in front of an audience. But to fulfill her father’s death wish she needs to find courage, inspired by her antagonism towards the love interest Antonio, to overcome her fear.

In romance characters have to earn their happy ending. Like I said, not easy to write *smile* The characters need to overcome their inner conflict, whether it’s fear of rejection, of getting hurt again, of trusting, etc.

In the first half you show why the conflict is a problem, why it’s either keeping them where they are or believing what they believe (why there’s no such thing as Mr. Right). The second half the characters have to resolve this conflict and in a believable way. The reader has to experience the character’s move from “ha yeah right”, to “uh okay maybe”, to “I have hope of this happening”; to finally, “I believe this can happen, I want this to happen.”

Picture that airport scene in a romantic comedy, now backtrack to when the character had the “aha” moment, and then back further to when they had a revelation of ‘seeing’ the other person, etc. Better yet watch those scenes and read them in romance novels. As you write see them (your characters) going through each phase.

The big thing I’ve realized as a writer about inner conflict is this: If I as the writer can’t believe what I’m writing than the reader won’t either. I need to make myself believe that the two characters belong together and why they will be good for each other before I can even write the first page.

Inner conflict is great to explore when you’re outlining your novel. It gives you a clear idea of where you’re going, what to expect and where your characters will end up.

In one of my current WIPs I outlined the inner conflict and then allowed the story to marinate for a month before I started working on it again last week. Some writers don’t need that long to start typing, but I do. The heart of a romance novel, I believe, lies in the inner conflict of the main characters. To miss this would surely cause the story to tamper down in the first half and not have much going for it in the second.

If you’re going to write a best friends to lovers story, then by all means show exactly why they are such great friends and why it would be a crime for them to become more than that. But as you reveal this to me, also show how these exact same things is the reasons why they are absolutely without a shadow of a doubt made for each other. Even if the lady doth protest too much, then by the end of it all protesting must be done with because she just couldn’t resist the inexplicable attraction she felt towards her best friend. Goodness AND they share an awesome friendship too *bug eyed* Bonus! But if the lady doth protest too much and by the end of the book her protest made more sense than them getting together, than you have a problem. The reader will not suspend logic for your ‘happy ending’.

So to sum up, your character’s inner conflict must be explained in the first half of the story and dispelled in the second. It’s the driving force for your characters; it keeps them from committing right off the bat. And it also ties in with the overarching theme of your novel.


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