For you aspiring authors out there, I wanted to give you another quick lesson on making your own go at being a writer. Read on for some advice on conflict!
In every story, there’s always conflict. Sometimes it’s big and in your face, like a bad guy chasing someone with a knife. Other times it’s subtle and a little bit hidden, like a person who thinks they know what they want but really has no clue.
The best stories have a little of both.
It’s been three years since Chubby & Charming came out. If you haven’t read it yet, grab it now for free so you can understand everything I’m talking about here. I like examples, and yes, there are spoilers here.
Mandy tells herself she’s happy. That she doesn’t need a relationship to make her happy. We don’t need men, we have each other. She does believe her words, but she wants a relationship. There’s that distinction. She doesn’t need it, but she wants it. She convinces herself that because she doesn’t need a relationship that she doesn’t want one either. There’s your subtle conflict.
When Mandy meets Xander, her past experiences with attractive men bring in a new conflict. She thinks he’s going to dismiss her since she’s not model thin so she dismisses him first. She pushes him away before he has a chance to push her away. That’s a little more obvious of a conflict.
Layering in both elements adds depth to the story. If Mandy just convinced herself not to go for a relationship, or just had issues with cute men, she could get over them and move on. But having both, she’s fighting herself every time she turns around.
Of course, in the Big & Beautiful series, friends also add an element of conflict. Her friends are amazing, but they don’t always fit right in to what Mandy wants and needs. Claire has even more distrust of attractive men than Mandy does and warns her. Sam and Addi are a little more supportive, but at the end, when Mandy runs, none of them are willing to give Xander the benefit of the doubt until he shows up at Mandy’s house.
Xander’s conflicts are a lot more subtle in this story since we aren’t in his point of view. He has never felt like he truly connected with anyone he’s dated. He’s always thought there was something missing. That’s why he goes after Mandy. She’s the first woman he instantly had a spark with. He doesn’t give up because he wants to keep that feeling alive. He’s willing to do anything for her, but he needs to prove that since she’s timid.
Adding in conflict in romance can be tricky, depending on what kind of romance you write. Since this is a contemporary story, a lot of the conflict is internal, meaning within the character. I like to add in external conflict, like Mandy faces with her job and her coworker, Melody. It’s a somewhat minor subplot, but it works to show who Mandy is and push her to stand up for herself.
All conflict needs to be resolved. Anything you throw at your characters, you have to be able to fix it. With Mandy, her external conflict was partly resolved by her internal conflict. Being with Xander for a few months, she believed in him and how he felt. She convinced herself that he was being truthful about how much he cared about her. It gave her confidence she didn’t realize she was missing and the strength to stand up for herself when Melody accused her of threatening her. She didn’t need Xander, but having him changed her. Even when she thought he was gone.
Which brings me back to the internal conflict. She didn’t want him. She didn’t need him. But once she had him, she knew her life wouldn’t be the same without him in it. She couldn’t be with someone who would laugh at her, but she loved him. It was too late. He was the guy she thought he’d be, but she was blown away. Months of dating didn’t reveal his true nature, and Mandy was more hurt than she ever expected.
Of course, she was wrong when it came to who Xander really was. Claire convinced her to give him another shot, and she learned the truth. Conflict resolved.
Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated when you’re threading it into a story, but those are the high points. If you want a really good reference that goes into a lot of detail about conflict, I highly recommend Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon. It’s a great book to read to really understand how the three fit together and how to make it work in your story.