Obviously in romance we find a lot of internal conflict. Self-confidence (or lack thereof) and trust issues coupled with doubts and excitement provide all sorts of ways for characters to mess with each other. Naturally the conflict is part of what creates that wonderful layer of tension that holds the whole thing together.
The suspense part of the novel adds the external conflict – forces acting against the hero/heroine and forcing them to fight for their relationship, sometimes even their lives. I think it’s the development of this external conflict that can really make or break a romantic suspense plot line, because the external conflict is just as important to the story as the internal (unlike a straight romance, which focuses mainly on the internal conflicts).
My main personal pet peeves when it comes to external conflict are:
Unbelievable actions or plots
Unbelievable reactions to events
For me, the best romantic suspense entwines the internal conflict with the external so seamlessly that one depends on the other – they almost can’t work independently anymore. And I’ll admit, paranormal writers seem to have a good handle on this one, because most of the paranormal suspense I’ve read depends highly on the emotional side of each character to drive the actual suspense forward.
I think for my own work, I tend to use the external conflict in the suspense to drive the internal conflict forward as much as possible. I’ve tried to write straight contemporary romance several times, and they all turn into suspense plots, mainly because I get bored with only the internal side of things to play with. I like adventure, excitement, and an element of danger to hurl my characters against.
Are you an external conflict junkie like me? Or do you prefer your romance straight up, heavy on the internal conflict/emotional discontent with maybe a dollop of suspense on the side?
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