In Guest Articles, OWLS by RWA Blog Coordinator2 Comments

That’s not a knife! Join Lauren Clarke as she gives you the tools you need to know to make your conflict shine in Killer Conflict, an online course from RWA.

Conflict is key to any novel. Without conflict, there simply is no story, just two characters who fall in love and live happily ever after—and no one wants to read that. A happily ever after without a curse from Maleficent, or a governing body sending your sister into the Hunger Games, isn’t enjoyable because we’re not invested enough. Nothing has happened. We haven’t seen our characters face internal and external demons, both figuratively and literally, to reach their end goal so we just don’t care.

In KILLER CONFLICT, my November OWL for RWA, we’re going to dive deep into the formula for conflict and work out the key cornerstones to strong conflict in a romance novel.

The simplest formula for conflict in a romance novel looks something like this:


You want your hero or heroine’s romantic interest to be the conflict. They are the reason your character cannot achieve what he or she wants.

Say your hero has an internal goal of security, based on a bad relationship with an ex and his own father leaving him when he was a child. His internal conflict is a fear of abandonment.

The perfect conflict match for him would be:

a) A person with a fear of abandonment, or:

b) A person with a fear of commitment

If your hero is with someone like himself, and they both fear abandonment, they’re likely to both make choices that complement each other. They both want someone to reassure them and are more likely to be that person for each other.

The commitment-phobe is the natural best choice for strong conflict. This is someone who runs from relationships, and therefore, those tendencies will draw natural conflict between the two protagonists.

Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Person A could still be a terrible choice for Person B; they could be too alike, exacerbating each other’s insecurities until things escalated out of control.

The key thing to note here is when it comes to your characters’ internal goals, they should relate to and be in conflict with each other. This ensures your conflict is solid, and also adds a benefit—you have a natural character arc waiting to happen. One or both of your characters will have to change/develop in order to be with the other. Our protagonist may still have that fear of abandonment—but in the end, despite all the stakes and obstacles thrown their way (more on that in the course, of course!) it won’t stop him from taking a chance in the end. Not now that he’s found his one true love.


At the end of each module in my OWL, I do a little cheat’s guide just to ensure we’re all on the same page. The cheat’s guide for this post would be:

  • Work out your characters’ internal goals, rooted in a rich back story
  • The opposite of your characters’ internal goals are their conflict
  • Relate your characters’ goals to each other with incompatible traits
  • Develop a natural arc when your characters’ overcome their internal conflict for the sake of their loved one.

Killer Conflict with Lauren Clarke

RWA OWL Course Dates: 4 November to 1 December 2019

Cost: RWA Member—$55. Non-RWA Member—$88. 

Venue: Online – RWA Moodle Platform

For more info and bookings 

Lauren Clarke

Lauren Clarke is an editor of fact and fiction, specialising in the romance genre. With more than fifteen years experience in the publishing industry, she is passionate about helping writers to create their perfect story.


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