1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?
Probably few things annoy readers more than conflict that is contrived or is something that can be easily resolved. Readers are pretty savvy at picking up conflict that is being pressed on the characters because the author needs there to be conflict for story purposes.
The conflict might not be linked to things that the characters would truly care about, so readers would be annoyed if they feel that the conflict isn’t serious enough or tied enough to the characters’ real goals and motivations to get in the way of the romance.
You expect characters to change, but you don’t want the conflict to be related to something that can’t be looked past and makes you wonder how there could be any attraction in the first place.
If a conflict makes one of the characters too unlikable, a reader might bail if they think, Oh, I could never like someone who cares about that.
2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)
A character would be less unlikable, even if holding an opposing view, if there’s something in the character’s past that makes the character’s holding of an opposing view understandable. A character who likes horses might think, I could never love someone who hates horses but then have a change of heart when they learn that the other was kicked by a horse as a child (not the best example, but hopefully there’s a germ of what I’m trying to express there!).
I think maybe it’s more okay for a character to “appear” to be unlikable than to actually “be” unlikable, so there’s that tension of thinking, I hate that person, but then the release of changing your mind and discovering the person isn’t so unlikable after all (someone might be gruff but a softy on the inside). There’s maybe a lot of danger in excusing or unintentionally condoning bad behavior, making it all the more important for that character to actually change or to have understandable reasons for their goals and motivations.
3. How can you authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?
Most important is probably to ensure that the plot actually is tied to motivations and goals and is not an external structure that doesn’t truly reflect these. Readers can usually see when the author has come up with a plot and then shoehorned motivations and goals in after the fact.
Even if the situation and circumstances come first in the author’s mind, starting anew and looking at everything through the character’s real goals and motivations will make the purpose of scenes clear, especially when traversing that big bridge between the first and third acts.
4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?
One way might be to give them interests or hobbies that seem atypical for that type. Because people and readers bring expectations to any type, it’s endearing when the character breaks those expectations (a hardened soldier might surprise you when you find that he also has a passion for hybridizing roses).