In romance writing terms, conflict makes the world go around. Brand new Harlequin Presents author Joss Wood talks us through her perspective on internal conflict.
Are your characters hurting? If not, they should be!
Conflict, for me, is the backbone of good fiction, the spine of any story.
As I write this, I’m presuming you understand the difference between external and internal conflict and the way the two strands intertwine within a romance novel. I’m going to focus on internal conflict for the next few minutes. Internal conflict, I believe, is at the heart of making your characters human and is the driving force behind the characters growth from the beginning of the story until the end.
I’ve been a professional author for six years and I still battle with creating strong emotional conflicts which are powerful and real and relatable. Internal conflict makes books richer, deeper and more satisfying and I know editors, especially romance editors, won’t often buy a story without strong internal conflict.
I’ve read so many books/articles/ blog pages on internal conflict and, for me, internal conflict is the war raging within your character, a battle between what they believe and what they feel. It’s a fight between what they think they need and what they want. What is familiar and comfortable and what is new and scary. Easy peasy…. Not.
To simplify, I think emotional conflict is an unsatisfied emotional need, it’s something that happened to make the character the way they are and has caused a hole in the character he or she struggles to fill. So, meeting their love interest will fill that hole, right?
For me, falling in love doesn’t fill that hole, but falling in love forces your character to look into that hole, to decide on how to fill it, by himself, for himself, to make him be the best version of himself for the person he loves. Love doesn’t make you happy, it doesn’t heal you but it does give you the strength to heal yourself.
I find a lot of my internal conflicts in childhood experiences. Experiences in our childhood impact on the way we view our adult world, how we react to circumstances. Hurtful experiences can result in a harmful beliefs about relationships. This can handicap our adult relationships. For example, a young teenage girl who discovers her father—who can do no wrong and is her absolute hero—is cheating on her mother can cause that teenage girl to believe that all men will cheat. She becomes distrustful and suspicious. She always sabotages her relationship before her love interest cheats on her, hurts her.
Because that’s what her beloved hero dad did to her mom.
Or a hero who grows up in a chaotic home (an addict parent, constantly moving from house to house, living rough) can become a man who needs to control everything around him because he felt so out of control as a child. Or he could become a victim, resigned to accepting that life is horrible and he deserves all that he is experiencing, the worst from life. Feisty kids fight back and learn that they must control or be controlled, submissive kids can become victims…
They are your characters, you choose. And it’s your job, with the help of the person they fall in love with, to force them to face those issues, to make them grow, to understand that they don’t always have to have their hands on the wheel or, in the case of the victim, that they are strong enough to take the wheel.
*How much fun is this job?*
I believe that one strong internal conflict is better than ten weak conflicts. And often, I start off with a vague idea of a conflict and dive into my first draft. They I hit the black moment and, frequently, my character will come up with their real conflict, they issue they have the most problem with. Something I didn’t know about until that moment. And that’s pure gold, baby.
On that note, the black moment, the dark soul of the night, should relate back to their biggest fear, should go to the heart of what they are most terrified of releasing or changing. Basically, the character says to himself “Do I want to keep holding onto this belief that has kept me from love, or do I want to release it and be happy?”
Hint: in romance, they always choose love…
I could rumble on about internal conflict for ages and bore you to death but I have a deadline…But, if you are looking for strong conflicts look back into your characters past and find the one thing that’s made him scared of love, the fear he needs to overcome to be happy. That’s where his truth lies…
There are a couple of books that I highly recommend, that have been recommended to me by author friends but the one I use most often is The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Psychological Trauma By Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman.
It’s quite simply brilliant.
Joss Wood is a South African author and her book Second Chance Temptation is out right now. You can find out more (and congratulate her on her sale to Harlequin Presents!) at JossWoodBooks.com and on Twitter.
What are your favourite #ConflictInRomance tropes? Which ones make your heart hurt and your fist pump airwards?