Romance Writing 101, Writing Tips

What is External and Internal Conflict?

You know that feeling when you’re reading a book and it’s perfectly enjoyable, but you can’t help but think something’s missing? Maybe this has happened in your own writing. You’re making your way through your book and you realise it doesn’t read like some of your favourite romance novels. The answer to this often lies in the conflict. Not sure what I mean? Keep reading then!

There are two types of conflict: external and internal.

External conflict is what tends to bring your characters together. Maybe the hero’s father passes away and leaves a will that dictates he must marry before he can inherit. He asks his best friend to marry him until the inheritance is his; thereafter, they can live their lives separately again (haha). Or maybe the heroine has a one-night stand, realises she’s pregnant and has to tell the man she slept with.

Basically, anything your characters face that comes from outside themselves.

External conflict can be linked to well-loved romance tropes, too. In my earlier examples, you can see marriages of convenience; friends-to-lovers; a surprise pregnancy; or perhaps even a secret baby.

Internal conflict, on the other hand, is what keeps your characters apart.

Internal conflict is more complicated than external conflict. It’s the emotional issues your characters have that keep them from simply being with one another. Perhaps our hero feels abandoned after his father’s death, and can’t bring himself to love someone again, lest he be hurt. Or maybe our heroine has dated a controlling man before and is terrified of it happening again. When she falls pregnant, and the hero asks her to marry him, she thinks he’s trying to control her, and she can’t accept it. Usually where your internal conflict is concerned, your characters start in one place – the place of hurt or fear – and end on another.

The journey the characters go on in the romance should dictate where that end place is.

In the above examples: the heroine shows the hero that love is worth taking the chance of being hurt for. Or the hero proves that he doesn’t want to control the heroine; only love her. The stronger the internal conflict, the more satisfying the romance. So while the external conflict is important, it’s really the internal conflict that’s king. At least in romance.

The point?

Conflict of both kinds need to appear in your romance novel. While most readers might not know what it is in so many words, they’ll definitely miss it if you don’t have it!

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