Some writers make the mistake of using too much EXTERNAL conflict in their romance novels, something always has to be happening from the outside to affect their hero and heroine’s lives. But what about what happens inside their hearts and minds? This is INTERNAL CONFLICT and is just as important, if not more important on occasion, than what’s happening on the outside.
I’ll give you some examples of INTERNAL conflict from my own novels:
1. In ‘It Happened One Summer’, Sandy Perkins has recently lost her fiancé in a motorbike accident, so when she has the chance to fall in love again, it holds her back as she fears losing the man she loves. Without giving too much away, there is a black moment in the novel where all her fears come to the fore, which puts her through the mill. There is a theme of LOSS throughout the book.
2. In ‘Return to Winter’, Stephanie Baynham is brought back into contact with the man, Dylan Pryce-Jones, whom she had a brief encounter with the following year. She had escaped to her grandparent’s hotel In Italy, only to return to the UK to find out her best friend, Sandy has arranged for Dylan to pick her up at the airport. On seeing him again she is extremely conflicted at having to explain herself to him. There is a lack of TRUST on both parts.
3. In ‘A Taste of Honey’ Fran Santini is a hopeless honey trapper who sets up men for their partners to find out whether they would cheat or not. Fran, who also works as a waitress at the family restaurant, faces internal conflict as she comes from an Italian Catholic family who would disapprove of her side job. Even worse, is the fact that her father employs Travis O’Connell , a Irish chef, who Fran encounters on his first day, realising he is the man she mistakenly tried to set up the evening before. He accuses her of having low morals and she has to convince him otherwise. Travis doesn’t TRUST Fran and Fran doesn’t TRUST men in general.
4. In ‘Watching You’ Angeline Hamilton not only loses her father, she loses her family home and job too, when new owner, Sebastian Tremaine takes over Tarrington Manor House. Angeline’s father had lost his family fortune through a reckless decision, causing Angeline to not only lose her status in life, but cope with other losses too. She has a huge sense of LOSS and ABANDONMENT throughout the story, which affects her relationship with Sebastian. Learning to TRUST him is difficult for her.
I find it helpful to compile character charts before writing a novel to find out more about my characters. What was their family background? Does he or she have a favourite saying? What’s important to them in life? By asking those sorts of questions quite often other subconscious issues come to the fore, which later becomes the theme for one of my stories.
If something External is happening throughout the novel, is there any way this can affect the Internal? If the hero or heroine has to face their own fears in some way via an External Conflict, this will ramp up the tension in the book. For example if the hero were drowning and the heroine has to try to save him but it’s difficult for her as she watched her brother drown when he was a child. Or if the hero lost his wife in a car accident but now he needs to let go to allow the heroine to get into a new car after learning to drive.
Fear ramps up Internal Conflict. Allow your characters to face their fears head on and you’ll have some great Internal Conflict to use in your novel!