Couples in Fiction Need Conflict

Why do couples in fiction need conflict?

Because if you don’t have conflict, you don’t have much of a story. Let’s say I write a story about an engaged couple and all the mishaps that occur during the week leading up to their wedding, I’ll have the caterer cancel, the best man bow out because he has a terrible case of poison ivy, and the bride’s mother and mother-in-law locked in a passive-aggressive war over how to plan the wedding.

Now if the couple are never in conflict, then when they learn about the caterer, the bride suggests to the groom that they ask all the guests to bring one dish and the reception will be potluck. The groom loves the idea of friends and family helping them out in an emergency. The bride also suggests the groom ask his father to step into the best man role, and the groom agrees because he’s been quarreling with his father and now is the perfect time to bury the hatchet. The groom mediates between the two mothers, and the bride completely supports how he handles the situation.

Do you sense any story at all in that synopsis?

Couples in fiction need conflict for several reasons. First, to make a story. Stories must have a beginning, middle, and end, and those are usually described in terms of introducing the problem, efforts to solve or overcome the problem, and finally reaching a resolution of some kind with the problem.

Second, conflict is life, and if you want your couple to make any connection with your readers, you must add conflict to make the couple seem real. Third, conflict keeps readers reading. If you set up the conflict correctly, then readers will want to know how the couple deals with the conflict and what their ultimate solution is.

So how do you give a fictitious couple conflict?

Conflict in Goals

Giving the man and woman differing goals will create conflict, especially if the goals are mutually exclusive, such as the woman gets her dream job in Miami but that means the man leaves his dream job in Maine.

Conflict in Personalities

Opposites often attract, and a conflict in personalities is even more effective if the personality trait both attracts and frustrates the other person. For more on creating an attractive couple, click here.

Let’s say you’ve created an artistic, disorganized, laid-back woman character who’s fallen for a Type-A man character. She admires his take-charge personality and how well he accomplishes things. But she’s learning he also doesn’t ask her for advice on anything since he’s so sure he knows all the answers. He could admire her mellow attitude but also be frustrated when she doesn’t exhibit drive or ambition.

Conflict in Values

This one is serious in real life. It’s very hard to remain a couple if the members don’t agree on similar values. In fiction, you can reveal this conflict with children. Couples can gloss over different values until they have to apply them to their kids. Using the couple from above, what if Type-A Dad wants his kids signed up for every advanced class and sports opportunity while Mellow Mom wants to give the kids time to explore their own interests at their own pace? Now you have conflict you can work with.

Since couples in fiction need conflict, what kinds of conflict do you recommend? Or what kinds of conflict have you read about that really made the story effective?

Write a Romantic Scene

For today’s writing prompt, write a romantic scene inspired by this photo. I chose it because it has teens or young adults in it and I like the odd setting. I can’t really tell where they are, but that ambiguity allows my imagination room to concoct.

I don’t write romance, so I’m not sure how well I can write a romantic scene, but I’ll try.

Jay sat at the edge of the abandoned parking garage. How many times had we met here since we were kids? Back then, it was the perfect place to play, despite the warnings from Jay’s grandmother and my aunt. Now it was the perfect place to get away from everything.

I walked around the chips and holes in the concrete floor. Funny how you can know someone most of your life and then suddenly he can seem like a whole different person, someone you want to be much more than a friend.

I knelt beside him, and he started.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

“I bet you didn’t.” He twiddled a pebble of concrete between his fingers. “I was just thinking too much to hear you.”

I scooted closer.”It’s not as bad as you think.”

He gazed out over the empty lot and crowded buildings. “Don’t try to be nice.”

Biting my lip, I slipped my hand into his. “Can’t I help?”

Starting again, he turned his deep brown eyes to me.

I’ll leave my scene there, just a hint of romance. For more romantic writing prompts, click here.

How would you use this photo prompt to write a romantic scene?

What Makes an Attractive Couple in Fiction?

Creating believable couples in fiction is often hard work. You’ve created two cool characters. Why shouldn’t they end up as a romantic couple? But sometime, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get the romance to work. What makes an attractive couple in fiction?

I found the answer last week when I reposted author Penny Zeller’s post on seven must-haves for a romance novel. One of her must-haves stood out to me.

“While it may be a while before they like each other, there does have to be a level of attraction [between the male and female leads]. Make sure that attraction covers more than just appearance.”

Penny Zeller

In a romance, there must be more than physical attraction between the leads and the author’s determination that they have to become a couple. In fact, when I’ve paired two characters as a romantic couple and found I can’t get them to behave as such, I realize I can’t force it. Something is wrong with my character development. If you find you have two characters who should be romantic and refuse to cooperate, try the techniques below.

Mutual Respect about Something

I’ve read about the trope in romance novels called enemies-to-lovers; when a male and female can’t stand each other at first, but eventually fall in love. I’ve never bought this trope. If you can’t stand the other person at first glance, how do you get over that first impression? But as I thought about it, there could be something that both characters agree on, allowing them to see something positive in the other person and that can lead to lowering barriers.

That mutual respect can center around their jobs–maybe both are teachers and have very different approaches to education but come to realize the the other person’s approach is effective. Hobbies are also something that can generate respect. One character can be more advanced in the hobby–for example, fencing–but respects the hard word the other character is applying to the hobby as a newbie. Or it can center on family. Both characters have a relative with special needs that they help and recognize how hard this job is.

Admiration for a Quality that is Lacking

I’ve found I often admire in my husband what I lack or have very little of in myself. Such as he has a very logical mind and positive outlook. I’ve also discovered that many real-life couples are cases of opposites attract when it comes to personalities. The extroverted man is attracted to the introverted women. The laid-back woman is attracted to the goal-oriented man.

If you want to venture into the dark side of a relationship, you can turn admiration into jealousy. When one half of a couple grows jealous of the other, serious trouble is brewing. Even worse, it can lead to competition, which will gravely injure the relationship.

What makes attractive couples for you? Which stories have the best couples?

For more tip from romance writers, click here.

Poetry Prompt for Valentine’s Day

To go along with this month’s theme of love and romance, I have a poetry prompt for Valetine’s Day. You can share in the comments any kind of poem about Valentine’s Day you are inspired to write–haiku, limerick, acrostic, sonnet, any kind. To read my Valentine’s Day haiku from last year, click here. Below is a poem I wrote in free verse a few years ago. I hope it inspires you to look at the holiday from a humorous perspective.

Valentine’s Day: a Reality Check

Once upon a time you promised you’d …

Climb rugged mountains,

Cross the wildest seas,

Crawl through burning deserts

To prove your love to me.

That’s nice. But what I really need is someone who …

Suffers my uncle who never stops talking from the second he walks in, 

Endures my bachelor brother who knows the best way to parent,

Puts up with my grandmother who hasn’t said a kind word in years.

If you can do all that, then I won’t promise to …

Brave a tornado,

Hack through the thickest jungle,

Battle a blizzard

To prove my love to you.

But I will swear to …

Suffer your mother who thinks no one is good enough for you,

Endure your sister who is always trying to convert me to her latest cause,

Put up with your stepfather who sticks to his favorite subject: him.

… and we will live happily ever after.

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