Posted On February 8, 2016 by Print This Post

The Art of Conflict by Rachael Thomas

Happy Monday! Rachael Thomas explains why conflict plays a crucial role in a story. 

Every story needs conflict, but what exactly is conflict and why does it matter in romance? Conflict is an incompatibility between the objectives of your characters and is needed because it creates tension in your story. In short, it’s what keeps your characters apart emotionally despite the physical attraction they have for each other. A character with a believable conflict will keep the reader turning those pages to see what happens next.

Just to make things a little more difficult there are two types of conflict and a romance novel will need a good mix of both.

External Conflict

This is something which keeps your hero and heroine apart but comes not from the characters, but from outside sources. It is plot driven. It will affect the hero and heroine, causing them to react to the situation and change, which will have an effect on the developing relationship with each other. For instance a storm may rage, trapping your hero and heroine together, or a marriage may be needed to unite families or countries, or it could be a company that is wanted by both the hero and the heroine but for very different reasons.

External conflicts will be solved by an equally external remedy. The storm will subside, the marriage will go ahead and the company will be saved, one way or another.

Internal Conflict

This is where it all starts to get interesting. Internal conflict is the struggle which goes on within a character and so is character driven. It is what creates the emotional tension and comes not only from the hero and heroine’s personalities but also from their beliefs, events in

their lives and their reactions to other people. It will make them vulnerable and will mean they have to take a risk to get what they want. It raises the stakes.

How to find your character’s internal conflict

To find this you have to dig deep into the character’s emotions. Expose their vulnerabilities. This could come in the form of fear – of their past either catching up with them or repeating itself. It could be a fear of being rejected. It could be guilt over a past event or even pride. These emotions will be deep and complex and will show your hero and heroines motivations and aspirations.

Internal conflict will be solved by the characters themselves. They will have to face the dilemmas they have and overcome them if they want to achieve their goal. For example saving the company or achieving the takeover. More importantly the hero and heroine will have to overcome their internal conflict to achieve not only their goal of getting or keeping the company, bur of finding happiness with the person they are attracted to, despite that being the worst person possible, one who challenges them emotionally.

It may mean that your hero has to put aside his fear that he can’t be loved, that he is not only incapable of loving but unworthy of love because his mother abandoned him at birth. During the story he may have to discover the truth of what happened to him as a baby and accept that it wasn’t his fault and is capable of being loved by the heroine – and loving her too.

The goals which create conflict and tension

Your characters will have goals and will aim to reach them even though they may compete against those of the other character. It Rachael Thomas1is these goals will expose their internal conflicts and create the tension.

For example, the hero may have launched a ruthless takeover bid for a failing company but the heroine is determined to save it. The company is the goal and the external conflict. It’s what brings them together. The hero’s goal is to take it over and heroine’s is to save it. The internal conflict will be much deeper and more complex and as you uncover it, will reveal the story between your hero and heroine.

Exposing the layers of conflict

In the example of the company takeover, the hero may have clawed his way out of the poverty of his childhood and has become so ruthless in business, due to a need to succeed, that he will stop at nothing. This burning desire to succeed will be layered in his past, maybe his father was a useless drunk who couldn’t provide for his family.

The heroine may have worked in the company started by her grandfather and has grown up with the expectation that she will one day run it, but recent losses mean the company is no longer sustainable and should be sold or closed. Each option will challenge her believes and create conflict.

The hero offers her a deal which will mean the company can continue but will no longer be hers. Should the heroine accept and give the company her beloved grandfather started a fighting chance? Can she step back and watch people lose their jobs if she refuses the offer?

The external conflict, the company, has brought out their internal conflicts and the attraction the hero and heroine feel for one another will challenge these internal conflicts, exposing even more layers.

Reaching the happy ending

As the story progresses the conflicts that have been exposed will need to be solved to create the happy ever after needed in a romance. The hero and heroine will have been on a journey of emotional highs and lows and self-discovery. They will have solved smaller conflicts arising from the main conflict and exposed others, until ultimately they reach a point where all their insecurities, or conflicts, have been exposed and the emotional tension between them will be intense. Add to this the sexually tension arising from the attraction they feel for one another and you have all that is needed for that final crisis, the moment where all is lost, physically and emotionally.

Finally that last bit of conflict can be solved. For example, the hero realises that what happened to him as a baby has no relevance on his ability to love or be loved and the heroine understands that loving the man who has taken over her grandfather’s business is not a betrayal to anyone, least of all herself. Their conflicts are solved and they can walk off into the sunset together.


New Year at the Boss's BiddingNew Year at the Boss’s Bidding [Harlequin Presents – December 2015]

Moretti’s by midnight 

Jilted bride Tilly Rogers hopes her luck is changing when she’s offered a prestigious catering contract for billionaire businessman Xavier Moretti’s New Year’s Eve party. But then she ends up snowbound alone with her boss…and at his bidding!

It’s the end of the year and the end of Tilly’s contract, which leaves Xavier free to seduce her at his will. Hardly shy of a challenge, this notorious playboy makes it his resolution to have virgin Tilly crumbling by his experienced touch.

Before the snow settles, Xavier is determined to have Tilly under a brand-new set of tantalizing terms!

Available from Amazon Kindle – Amazon Paperback – B&N – Harlequin US

Read an excerpt and enter this Goodreads Giveaway to win signed copies of New Year at the Boss’s Bidding.


Bio: I grew up in the Midlands, but when I moved to Wales, over twenty years ago, I found a place to finally put down roots. I married into a farming family and embarked on a massive learning curve which also saw me learning Welsh when my two children were small.

Writing is something I have always wanted to do and I can still remember the thrill of one of my short stories being held up as an example to the class when I was about nine. It wasn’t until my own children were in school that I seriously started to pursue my dream. I joined a local writing group which met every Monday afternoon and being with like-minded people was the boost I needed.

Reading romance had always been my first love, and just about every short story I wrote was romance, so I decided to write my first book. During that process I also attended my first weekend writing course with Kate Walker and joined the RNA’s fabulous New Writers’ Scheme. A short time later I joined Romance Writers of Australia and learnt a lot from entering their competitions. I sought out courses and you can imagine my joy when I discovered Sharon Kendrick’s course in beautiful Tuscany.

Behind the Scandalous Façade, my So You Think You Can Write entry, is my thirteenth book and although only eight have those magic words ‘the end’ written on them the others are definitely part of the learning process I have enjoyed over the last six years.

I love escaping to distant shores with my characters, entering their glamorous world and feeling all the emotions they experience as they discover their love for one another. A love so strong it will overcome all obstacles eventually, leading to that promised happy ever after.

Connect with Rachael Thomas on the web: WebsiteBlogFacebookTwitterGoodreads

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7 Responses to “The Art of Conflict by Rachael Thomas”

  1. Very well explained! Thank you.

    Posted by Terry Bon | February 8, 2016, 2:15 pm
  2. Evening Rachael!

    Ok, this is the part that stumps me the absolute most of all the “rules” of writing. I can read conflict, I can recognize it, but I can’t make it sound logical in a book.

    For example, she wants to start a cat sanctuary. He wants to buy her farm and tear down the house for farm land. Ok, I totally made all that up. =) She wants the house/land, so does he for opposite purposes. And then someone says WHY. Why does she want a cat sanctuary. Why does he need more farm land? And from there, I just turn into a blithering idiot. =) Apparently saying “just because” does not answer the why’s correctly!

    How do you KNOW what causes the basis to the conflict?



    Posted by Carrie Peters | February 8, 2016, 6:26 pm
    • Hi Carrie. All I can say is you are not alone. It all hinges on that question ‘why?’ Dig deeper into your character and find out why she wants to start a cat sanctuary. Was the only thing that gave her love as a child an orphaned kitten? Then go deeper still. Why wasn’t she loved as a child? You could go on further here too. After that explore the hero. Why does his need for the land go against everything she needs? Start the questions all over again. It soon becomes a chain of questions which give you those layers. Hope this helps.

      Posted by Rachael Thomas | February 9, 2016, 11:07 am
  3. Hi Rachael,

    I always wonder if the conflict is realistic enough and whether it has enough steam carry the story. And on the flip side, can there be too much conflict?

    Thanks for joining us today.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 8, 2016, 11:06 pm
    • Another really good question. Thanks Jennifer. A reader will believe in the conflict if they believe in your characters. As in Carrie’s question, a heroine wanting a cat sanctuary may not initially look like it could work, but with plenty of digging deeper and asking why, you should unearth why it is so important to her. If a reader hadn’t known she didn’t receive love as a child, except from an orphaned kitten, her need of creating the sanctuary may have seemed too far fetched. As for too much conflict – the more the better providing it comes from within the characters and their past, creating lots of lovely layers.

      Posted by Rachael Thomas | February 9, 2016, 11:16 am
  4. Hi Rachael, your insight is helpful. As in life we all experience many shades of conflict. I think keeping the characters real and knowing them will produce a true sense of conflict. Rare are the days filled with flowers and happiness. It is the conflict that gives life its guts.

    Posted by C.L. Charlesworth | February 9, 2016, 2:55 pm


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