Maggie Mitchell

CRAFT: Make the conflict strong!

Writing romantic suspense: Part 6

Make the Conflict Strong

Robert McKee says that nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict. Not only is conflict a necessary part of the story, but both the internal and external conflict must be strong enough to last until the end of the story. Conflict adds excitement and suspense to a story. In romance fiction, there has to be valid reasons to keep the main characters from forming a lasting relationship until the end of the book. 

Internal conflict is a struggle that takes place in a character’s mind. For example, a character may have to decide between right and wrong or between two solutions to a problem. Sometimes, a character must deal with his or her own mixed feelings or emotions.  It can be as simple as a need for independence or as complex as some deep-seated fear from childhood. 

In allowing the reader to have knowledge and understanding of this emotional baggage or internal conflict, you also give the characters room to evolve and grow. As the story progresses, the internal conflicts assume less importance as the characters learn to trust each other and gain in maturity. If done well, this process of character growth enhances the romance plot and can provide the resolution the reader is waiting for.

The external conflict is the circumstances that keeps the characters apart. In suspense, this is often the obstacle of the situation. For example a crazed killer may be stalking the heroine and she is in constant danger. The hero and heroine are working undercover thus preventing them from being together at least until the case is resolved.

Some common examples of conflict in an romantic suspense…

Internal Conflict (character against self)

The heroine has a deep fear of clowns, but finds herself hiding in a circus community. She needs to overcome this fear to help solve the mystery and save her life.

External Conflict (character against character/s, or character against nature, or character against circumstance)

Just when the hero and heroine begin to feel something for each other, the villain captures the hero and threatens his life. The heroine must outwit the enemy, even though she’s never held a gun before in her life, and there is no one she can trust.


Write down an example of an internal and an external conflict?

You can use characters you have already created, or new characters

4 Thoughts on “CRAFT: Make the conflict strong!

  1. Thanks Krystal 🙂

  2. I LOVE conflict. I’m not sure if you wanted us to write down our samples of internal and external conflict, but here goes, just in case you did: In my story Heart of the Warrior, one main character had an internal conflict in that he struggled with his homosexuality and how his parents and best friend would react if he knew. The other main character suffered both an internal conflict (he was withholding secrets about his lineage that could cause him to lose his job and his lover) as well as an external conflict in that an assassin was tracking him down. Readers far and wide absolutely loved this story. They said it actually made them cry…they could feel the inner conflicts between the two characters that vividly. Even readers who aren’t fans of M/M stories loved this one, and it was all because the story was rich with conflict. So, yes, I definitely agree that conflict propels the story forward. I think a good story requires it.

  3. Thanks for posting Donya! Yes, I am very happy for people to post their examples here…yours are great! It sounds like a great book. Do you want to post a link?

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