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?