Friday, November 4, 2011

When Flowers Fail: Creating Tension in Romance

One of the things I love about fantasy is that it has a little bit of everything: a touch of historial here, thriller there, a mystery to be solved. And a lot of fantasy has romance--after all, your characters are people with ~feelings~ too, and a romantic subplot can really kick a story into action (Daughter of the Forest, anyone?)

Linda Yezak recently wrote about creating conflict in romance, because let's face it, love is never easy (and it's boring to read if everything runs smooth as butter, eh?).

First, what conflict won't work for a romance? (Taken from On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels):

  • Fighting, arguing, or disagreeing
  • Failure to communicate
  • The trouble-causing interference of another person
  • A main character's unwillingness to admit that the other person is attractive 

Surprising? Those are the first "conflicts" I would have thought of when creating tension in a relationship. But Yezak claims these problems are too artificial to give any depth to the romance. Instead, she lists sources from which real conflict in romance can stem.

  • "Character/personality differences--from something simple, like he's a morning bird and she's a night owl, to something more complicated, like she's a lady of the evening and he's a man of the cloth.
  • "Situational problems--maybe she's dying, maybe he's married, maybe she lives on the east coast and he lives on the west.
  • "Conflicting goals--he wants to tear the building down and create a parking garage, but she wants to save the neighborhood hangout. She wants her client to have a bigger slice of the pie than his client, he wants to cut her client out entirely.
  • "Conflicting motives--he wants to feed the hungry, she wants a photo-op. She wants to convert the natives, he wants to sell them cheap trinkets.
  • "Conflicting backstories--she had a fairy-tale childhood, he lived on the streets. He graduated college with honors, she has a third-grade education"
Good advice, and a good place to start for that tense-loving in any book. To see Yezak's full blog post for yourself, click here.


  1. I agree with her list! Random arguments or miscommunication or disagreeing are shallow, over-used, and...feel cheap unless they stem from larger, underlying issues such as what she's named. Problems shouldn't be created, they should come from somewhere. A natural result of something already in place within them or within the story.

  2. That's pretty interesting conflict analysis, adding complexity to give the conflict depth.

    Also, thanks for stopping by my blog...following back and really enjoyed your post.

  3. I like the conflicting romance story in, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Even though the protagonist whines a lot, Carrie Ryan did a great job of keeping you guessing who she'll end up with.

  4. Agreed... although I wouldn't say that the arguments, etc. are bad, just superficial. It's those underlying differences that should make the arguments exist, not just the author creating them from thin air for conflict's sake.

  5. I agree with Rachel's comment. Nice list, though. Something to keep in mind as I develop my romantic plot.