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Conflict in Romance by Amalie Berlin

This week Amalie Berlin talks about adding conflict. Please welcome Amalie!


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The Importance of Romantic Conflict in Romance

The best thing I ever did for my writing was embrace the concept that all my character conflicts should be related. Writing got a lot easier, and my stories got a lot clearer and more focused when I began to come up with one unifying conflict theme and then work it through all my GMCs for each character. This is not to say that you can’t have disparate Internal and External GMC threads, but your story immediately gets bigger when you do so and will take more effort to tell well. You make your life harder going that route.

The second best thing I ever did for my writing was make defining the Romantic Conflict for each character at the start when I do all my GMCs and character planning. The final tweak to that was realizing that my best romantic conflicts spun out of the Internal           GMC.

Romantic Conflict: What keeps the couple apart. This is the obstacle to their Happily Ever After, and why they are going to have to sort all their crap(those GMCs) out before they can be together.
In the first two books I sold, I did not start out with that Romantic Conflict planned. I assumed just because I had really well fleshed out GMCs, that the characters were sufficiently interesting and harried to carry a story. And they did, but those first drafts? Weren’t really romances. They were stories about how two people became best friends. I basically rewrote both of those books twice each, and those rewrites were all about pulling forward the Romantic Conflict and giving it the time and spotlight it deserved. Those rewrites made the books I had always intended to be romances… actually romances.

It’s very easy to hand wave Romantic Conflict—leave it undefined, generic, just rely on the idea that the character(s) are just too messed up somehow to be involved… without ever giving the real reason words. But without making it clear exactly why these two people shouldn’t be together along with why they feel compelled to fight it… that aspect of the story can remain undeveloped. If that happens, you lose this extra conflict outlet, and that leads at the very least to less satisfying romances.

For example: In my October release, my heroine’s main driving goal in life is to stay safe. Orphaned young when her parents died in a car accident, that loss has kept her from connecting with people. To stay safe. She has one connection—her brother—who is her polar opposite, and worrying about him all the time is about enough to drive her mad. She has no use for the idea of dating and marriage, she just doesn’t think she can take on one more person to worry about and possibly lose. She doesn’t want to love someone she’ll never feel is safe.

Staying safe is a very big factor in her life, and so her Romantic Conflict spins directly out of her Internal/External GMCs(staying not just physically safe, but emotionally safe too). If she doesn’t love anyone else, she can’t be hurt when something happens to them.

Tying their romantics obstacles directly into those internal fears give you an automatic outlet to ramp up the emotion when the characters start to get close. But it also allows you to really focus your story. Instead of having your romantic conflict be unrelated and thus needing a separate thread to address, your scenes that test those GMCs can also test the romantic thread. In category romance especially, it is important to make every scene do as much work for your story as you can(short books are hard!).


In my pre-story planning, I consider the Romantic Conflict to have its own GMC. I say I have three GMCs per character, and that’s why. Having them all there together keeps me focused and helps me understand how each element of the story relates to the other. I’m attaching a snapshot of my 3-GMC chart for Adalyn below to make it a little easier to see in action. 


Amalie Berlin's latest release is:

Falling for Her Reluctant Sheikh


Falling for a desert prince… 
Sleep therapist Dr. Adalyn Quinn has had difficult patients before…but gorgeous Prince Khalil Al-Akkari presents a whole new challenge! Darkly brooding, and haunted by the night he failed to save his brother, Khalil is the last man Adalyn should desire… 
But as they share long nights under a desert moon it becomes impossible to deny their sizzling chemistry. Can Adalyn help Prince Khalil recover the peace that eludes him…even if it means unlocking the heart she's protected for so long?

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33 comments:

  1. Love that chart. I was reading a book just this week where there was absolutely NO barrier to romantic resolution. And I felt cheated. Truly cheated. I know the author loved how it played out, but what about the lowly readers?

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    1. It really shows when it's not there, though when you're just starting out it's not necessarily something you realize. My first editor had to practically beat me over the head to get some romantic conflict out of me :) Well that, and other emotions besides snarky humor.

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    2. I hear you. All of us have to grow into our art.

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  2. Debra Dixon!!! I attended her workshop on GMC back in the mid-90s. She was a member of one of the Southern RWA chapters and she traveled to ours to do a day-long workshop. So awesome! I still follow the concepts today. There's a book called GMC by Debra Dixon--not sure if it's still on Amazon or not, but pretty much everything you covered is all anyone needs to know.

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    1. It is on Amazon! In fact, you can get it in e-format now, within the past year or two that changed. When I bought my copy in like... 2011... it was only in hardback still. And it's great, but I still have trouble separating out all the bits. If you look at my chart, everything is there that I need, but it's not necessarily in the right header ... not neat and clean within it's box, it all sprawls out all over. I don't think that's because of the book--the book explained everything--I just have trouble categorizing stuff. I blame the dyslexia :)

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  3. That's a fantastic chart and great way to set up the romantic conflict and make it central to the romance along with the character's external/internal goals.

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    1. Thank you! I didn't show the rest of my plotting, but I have loads more charts. It is way too much to put into a single post, and when my pantser friends see my process... it's almost seizure-inducing for them :)

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  4. Conflict is an essential. It is part of all of our lives, and should be part of all of our reading too (if it is to be believable).
    Loved that chart...

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    1. Totally agree. Be mean to your story people :) Your readers will thank you! (And your editor won't have to shake you...)

      Thanks :)

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  5. This is a terrific post about something all writers should keep in mind, not just romance writers. Gotta have conflict to drive a story. Who wants to read about perfect people living perfect lives?

    Your latest book, on the other hand, sounds... perfect. :)

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    1. Not me! I want to read about people who are more messed up than I am--which is kind of a tall order, so I usually read books where the characters are a bit more together than I am... but the ones I dearly love are the hot messes :)

      And thank you. My Sleepy Sheikh is my new favorite book. Surpassed even my debut in terms of favorite-child-status now.

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  6. Thanks for sharing that chart. I love to see how others plan.

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    1. I love seeing other people's processes too. Every time I make a tweak to my process(usually by stealing something from someone else), I'm convinced that it will make writing easier. Which is my ultimate goal, and ultimate lie to myself. It gets a little easier over time, I think, but I like to tell myself it will be SO MUCH EASIER THIS TIME :)

      I live in a state of professional denial :)

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  7. It's interesting to see how authors plot out a story.

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    1. That's why I have so many craft books I should really start donating them to the library... And why I love conferences and workshops. And the RWA national recordings...

      I probably need a 12-step program for this fixation, actually.

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  8. There most certainly needs to be conflict in a romantic relationship... otherwise the story would be incredibly boring... xox

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    1. Not just conflict, but romantic conflict! I swear I had really really conflict-riddled characters before I sold... I just took forever to figure out how to spiral those internal issues into romantic roadblocks.

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  9. Thanks for sharing how you chart out your story. Very helpful.
    Your book sounds like a great read.

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  10. That was definitely a helpful chart, and gave me some good things to think about!

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    1. The other aspect of the chart that I love? I print them out on huge index cards and write on them with multi-colored ink and it makes me feel like I'm in some 80s movie-montage about being organized and doing work... in the library, with a bunch of books piled up alll around... and a typewriter... even though I don't have a typewriter, and I don't like to work with people around... And with Solsbury Hill playing in the background :)

      You know... because if you imagine the work in montage-form, it's way less scary to start a new book.

      (I know I'm weird.)

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  11. Thanks so much for the advice, Amalie! I read something years ago that said, "No conflict, no story." That stuck with me, and I appreciate the additional insight you offered here. Happy weekend!

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    1. Thank you and you're welcome! :)

      I had a great weekend, went to an all day writing workshop with a great friend. (And bought more craft books so I can learn stuff!).

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  12. That chart looks really helpful to keep everything straight. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. If I don't write stuff down and make myself put it into words, nothing is ever straight in my head.

      I really envy people who can just flow with the story, but at least this lets me claim multi-colored pens and index cards as legit business supplies... not just me buying pens and index cards because I like to buy pens and paper products... :)

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  13. So glad you put the chart in as I had no idea what a GMC was (other than the car brand). Thanks for all the tips that worked for you. Wishing you much success!

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    1. Goal Motivation Conflict! There are different ways to get that necessary foundation into stories, but this one is the easiest for me to remember. Michael Hague's conflict structure does the same thing, though he doesn't focus on romance... but you can find a summary of the idea here: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/08/the-inner-struggle-guides-for-using.html

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  14. Hello, Amalie! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  15. Welcome, Squidy! And thanks for having a fun ID... so I can call someone Squidy today :)

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  16. Loved seeing the chart and for learning about the best things that Amalie has learned. :) Wishing her all the best!
    ~Jess

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    1. Glad it was helpful :) And thank you!

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  17. I always think about conflict in general, but this really opened up my eyes to the idea of romantic conflict.

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    1. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, so if I can help someone else avoid all those future rewrites, the post was well worth it :)

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