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Old 02-10-2013, 05:36 PM   #1
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Balancing Relationship Developent with Conflict in Romance

Don't really need practical help on this, as much as I thought would be interesting to hear thoughts on it.

The strange thing about romances is that , on the one hand, we have to root for the couple, and believe that they belong together. On the other hand, there also has to be personal issues keeping them apart.

If the characters are too perfect for one another, then the only way to keep them apart is some big misunderstanding or contrived reasons. The characters hold off on becoming a couple just because they're not allowed to be one until the climax. If the characters have too much conflict between them, then a relationship seems totally implausible or actually undesirable. For instance, the 'bad boy' is so bad he should probably be in jail, instead of being reformed through the Power of Love. Also, Constant bicker = They must be in love!

For those who write romances or romance subplots, how do you try to balance this?
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Old 02-10-2013, 06:50 PM   #2
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I never go too far with the conflict. If he's a bad boy, okay, from the wrong side of the tracks, not a felon. You want the stakes to be high enough that the reader is interested but not too high or it'll seem hopeless or unrealistic.

Then again, if done well I think anything can work.
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Old 02-10-2013, 07:31 PM   #3
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I'm not too big on contrived anything, so that would be the bigger "sin" for me in a book. Bickering isn't a deal-breaker because even between two people in the real world, it isn't about the situation at hand, instead, it's about their feelings for one another.

For instance, this previous year, I got into stupid arguments with this woman at work. At first, I had no idea why she was so frustrating to me, then I finally figured it out: She reminded me of my mother, who always tries to control me. (Yeah, so cliche, I know, but it really happened.) I'm sure I reminded her of someone else in her life as well and whatever I was doing pushed her buttons.

So, if you understand your characters, then you understand what motivates them and what their triggers are. To end up together, they work through the thing holding them back. They bicker because they're afraid of their feelings or they've been hurt in the past, maybe.

Now, I would never want to end up in a romantic relationship with aforementioned coworker; my goal was to be able to sit in the same meeting with her without wanting to pick apart all her irritating foibles. But she definitely helped me grow as a person. Even though I'm glad I don't have to see her any more.

I don't know, maybe that was a bad example. Ha.
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Old 02-10-2013, 07:36 PM   #4
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Did you ever watch a TV series where the writers never let the couple get together? Season after season, until it just got to where you lost interest in the show altogether? Let's take a show like Castle, as an example. You want them to get together, and, thank God the writers let it happen before it got to that point. Good job writers!

I write romantic suspense, so I've got the suspense sub-plot to work through, which ultimately keeps my couple from getting to that happy place - at least safe and secure - until the end.
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Old 02-10-2013, 07:47 PM   #5
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This came up with respect to my query letter, a tiny part the function of the abbreviated format required in that letter but mostly because of a failure on my part to get the query letter right. Still, the response I received surprised me and resulted in just what you're saying here. The query critiquers who noted it were saying something to the effect of "The MMC has done this terrible thing! Why would the FMC spend one more minute around him?"

So I think it's valuable to think through what you're addressing here. There is a balance point between contrivance and outright disbelief in the romance. In my case (if I can get the query right so someone might actually read the story!) the reveal of just how "bad" he is doesn't come until a third of the way in. By that time, my early readers seem to have grown attached to my bad boy. They're willing to cut him some slack while they see how that badness plays out. The conflict between the characters is a direct result of his badness so I've moved away from the contrivance end. Now I just have to worry about the implausibility end. Since it's Romance, it's all about character. The reader has to love him as much as the FMC.
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Old 02-10-2013, 07:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamilton View Post

If the characters are too perfect for one another, then the only way to keep them apart is some big misunderstanding or contrived reasons.
...
For those who write romances or romance subplots, how do you try to balance this?
The trick is not letting the reader KNOW they're perfect for each other. There's gotta be some mystique, otherwise, there's not much story there to tell (this is true even in friends-to-lovers romances).

There's got to be a reason why one or both characters doesn't want to give too much of themselves away too soon, and it doesn't have to be contrived. It could be a simple, real-life reason. Maybe the heroine has a history of getting dumped for the same reason repeatedly. Maybe the hero knows his job is only going to keep him in the area for six months. Maybe she's dated his best friend in the past [hell, even I've done that in real life, and boy was it awkward].

There's a lot of room for creativity when it comes to creating an obstacle. It doesn't have to be *huge*. It just needs to seem huge to the characters.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:42 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamilton View Post

If the characters are too perfect for one another, then the only way to keep them apart is some big misunderstanding or contrived reasons. The characters hold off on becoming a couple just because they're not allowed to be one until the climax.
There's also external conflict. It doesn't have to be the hero's alcoholism or whatever keeping them apart if there's a murderer after the heroine.

I don't mind bickering (especially if it's humorous) but contrived reasons to stay apart put me off. Especially if one of the characters is a total doormat about everything.
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Old 02-10-2013, 08:52 PM   #8
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I think it has to do with balancing internal/external conflicts, and short term/long term goals.

The H/h might seem, at first glance, to be the worst choices for each other, but as we get to know them, and their developing relationship, they are each more than that initial impression, and have deep, lasting characteristics that allow them to support each other, maybe being a catalyst for each other's growth--but not dependent on the other for growth.
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Old 02-10-2013, 09:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamilton View Post
Don't really need practical help on this, as much as I thought would be interesting to hear thoughts on it.

The strange thing about romances is that , on the one hand, we have to root for the couple, and believe that they belong together. On the other hand, there also has to be personal issues keeping them apart.

If the characters are too perfect for one another, then the only way to keep them apart is some big misunderstanding or contrived reasons. The characters hold off on becoming a couple just because they're not allowed to be one until the climax. If the characters have too much conflict between them, then a relationship seems totally implausible or actually undesirable. For instance, the 'bad boy' is so bad he should probably be in jail, instead of being reformed through the Power of Love. Also, Constant bicker = They must be in love!

For those who write romances or romance subplots, how do you try to balance this?
I find this very tough to balance as well. I like a lot of conflict between my characters, yet depending on how I write it the comments vary. On the same book I have been told the hero is too nice & he is too mean.

I feel like all I can do is keep getting opinions, take it all in, and ultimately write it how it feels "right" to me.
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Old 02-11-2013, 12:56 AM   #10
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Well, this is the big thing that makes romance compelling, isn't it? It's hard to balance because that perfect balance is what makes us sigh over a good romance over and over again.

And I think some of it is subjective, too - personally I'm a big fan of characters that are really good together but are held apart more by external issues or by trying to protect each other. But some people love the bicker twins or alphas that are too strappingly manly to admit their love for one woman. There's definitely a degree of personal taste to it.
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Old 02-11-2013, 03:59 AM   #11
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If you don't like to work with an internal conflict -- if you just can't come up with one -- maybe try to ramp up the external conflict.
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Old 02-11-2013, 01:36 PM   #12
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I think it's all about chemistry and sexual tension. If I can create that spark between the characters then it really doesn't matter how much they bicker (and there's a fine line between bickering and flirting... ) or how strong the external forces are that are lined up against them, the reader will root for them and know they'll make it in the end.
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Old 02-11-2013, 08:05 PM   #13
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I seem to prefer more external conflict, both when reading and writing. I do use a *certain* amount of internal conflict, but most of the elements keeping my H/h apart are driven by external forces.
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Old 02-11-2013, 08:09 PM   #14
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Quote:
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There's also external conflict. It doesn't have to be the hero's alcoholism or whatever keeping them apart if there's a murderer after the heroine.

I don't mind bickering (especially if it's humorous) but contrived reasons to stay apart put me off. Especially if one of the characters is a total doormat about everything.
This. Also, any misunderstanding that could be (and is) cleared up with a simple conversation is a big pet peeve of mine, particularily as it then relies on a contrived plot to keep them apart or a thick anal-retentive streak to keep them from Using Their Words. I am a firm believer that clear and honest communication Solves Everything (TM), although that's only as a first step. The hero and heroine might have a talk and agree that his history as an alcoholic doesn't make him unworthy of her love, but it still might take the rest of the novel for him to come to really, truly believe it. Plus the Mafia still has that hit out on them so it'll be a while before they can sort out that whole witness protection thing and meet again.
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Old 02-12-2013, 01:35 AM   #15
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So many interestin' answer. Yay!

Didn't mean to give the impression that I disliked bickering. Love me some bickering romantic interests. It's only bothersome when there's no transition at all from hate to love.

External conflict, eh? I usually don't think of external conflict in terms of romance.
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Old 02-12-2013, 02:40 AM   #16
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External conflict, eh? I usually don't think of external conflict in terms of romance.
Absolutely. Let's see, in some of my stories, I've had:

My FMC get kidnapped
A hurricane
Threat of war breaking out over the H/h relationship
My FMC gets beaten to death by an abusive husband (lucky for her there was a cure for that)
A boatload of bad-ass bad guys with nefarious plans
An implant placed in my MC's heart by her slave masters that could explode when she runs
And on and on...

So, yeah. It's not all about the H/h being pouty with each other and not saying and/or admitting what they feel. But there might be some of that here and there, too. But anything that could be cleared up with a simple conversation? No. I hate, hate, hate that.
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Old 02-12-2013, 02:59 AM   #17
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Hmmm...

I guess I just have a hard time imagining a romance where the emphasis is on the external instead of the internal. I tend to think of the internal and interpersonal conflict of the couple as being of primary importance, with external conflict acting as a support.

I actually didn't realize you could write romance where all the conflict was external. That's a total surprise to me.
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Old 02-12-2013, 03:17 AM   #18
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I actually didn't realize you could write romance where all the conflict was external. That's a total surprise to me.
Star-crossed lovers. Classic external conflict.

There just has to be something keeping them apart. Doesn't matter where it originates from.

One external conflict in an upcoming novel of mine is that the MMC is the governor's son and the governor doesn't think the FMC is good enough to be associated with his family.

That's kind of a big hurdle to overcome, IMO.
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Old 02-12-2013, 03:36 AM   #19
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That makes sense. I think, because relationship conflict is the thing that draws me to a romance, I was mistakenly regarding them as practically equivalent.
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Old 02-12-2013, 05:31 AM   #20
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Quote:
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I actually didn't realize you could write romance where all the conflict was external. That's a total surprise to me.
I don't know whereas I'm dead center in the Romance genre, but my H&H are largely kept apart by external conflict.

I've done two books where the external conflict is loyalty to different nations during wartime. One where H&H are on the same side, but have vital goals that conflict. One where H&H are essentially in agreement but outside forces keep them apart.

The current WIP is another conflicting goals plot.

But, as I say, these plots may be outliers in the genre.
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:08 AM   #21
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I never thought I wrote 'romance' until some of my pre-readers told me I did, ha ha. I think it maybe a sub..sub genre of what I write. They think differently and that actually surprised me.

With that said, I think the options are absolutely limitless as long as you can evoke the emotions from your readers that you want/need to. Anything taken TOO far, or drug out too long will turn on you. Whether it's a reader with a box of tissues, screaming at the characters or gasping as they turn the page, the fine line is how far you can draw the reader into your world.

I have written the hate to love, the "Whoa.. what a minute, I thought for sure she would end up with..." and even slipped in a few sappy/doppy lovey side characters.

Conflict is essential (IMO) otherwise page one sets the scene and page two is "happily ever after"
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Old 02-12-2013, 06:15 AM   #22
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Hmmm...

I guess I just have a hard time imagining a romance where the emphasis is on the external instead of the internal. I tend to think of the internal and interpersonal conflict of the couple as being of primary importance, with external conflict acting as a support.

I actually didn't realize you could write romance where all the conflict was external. That's a total surprise to me.
Romeo and Juliet. Classic external conflict on the basest of levels.
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Old 02-12-2013, 07:31 AM   #23
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With that said, I think the options are absolutely limitless as long as you can evoke the emotions from your readers that you want/need to. Anything taken TOO far, or drug out too long will turn on you. Whether it's a reader with a box of tissues, screaming at the characters or gasping as they turn the page, the fine line is how far you can draw the reader into your world.
Agree with this ^
Effective external conflict can be something as simple as a long-distance romance. Internal conflict can be as basic as coming from two different cultures. As long as it something written in a logical manner and keeps the reader interested, it will be effective.
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