1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?
One pitfall is relying on conflict that could easily be resolved through communication. The main characters in the Suzanne Brockmann novel I chose get upset when they misinterpret the words and behaviour of the other MC. If they would just speak to each other about their feelings occasionally instead of making assumptions, things would go relatively smoothly. I found myself rolling my eyes at times because the story felt so contrived and overly dramatic.
A second pitfall is leaving an MC’s internal conflict unresolved. In the same novel, the heroine declines the hero’s marriage proposal because she doesn’t want to worry every time he goes on a dangerous mission. (He is a Navy SEAL.) But he doesn’t want to retire from his job, and they get married anyway. Because readers wouldn’t expect her to suddenly stop worrying about his dangerous work, that conflict remains resolved. Yes, there is a happily ever after, but it isn’t as satisfying for the readers as it would have been if, for example, the hero had left the SEALs and started his own consulting business.
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?)
If the MCs are true to themselves and treat each other fairly and respectfully, they would be expected to remain likable. I would prefer not to read stories with unlikable MCs because if their character suddenly changed, they might not feel trustworthy. When editing fiction, I often tend tell writers that good characters aren’t all good and that villains aren’t all bad, but I’m not sure that this holds true for romance novels.
3. How can authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?
Romance authors should understand how important these fundamentals of romance writing are with respect to reader engagement and satisfaction. Motivation results in action, and the main characters’ actions and reactions – and conflicts – create the story. Before authors have their characters say or do anything, they should know what motivates them. I would suggest that romance writers be plotters rather than pantsers, if not before they start writing a book then soon after.
Internal and external goals create conflict within the main characters. External goals are the result of internal goals, and that characters must work to achieve both also drives the plot. As well, opposing external goals create conflict between characters. Conflict – internal and external – engages the readers and keeps them turning the pages, and the satisfactory resolution of internal goals enables the resolution of the conflict between the main characters, which results in the happily ever after.
4. What are ways we can help authors turn favourite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?
I would advise an author to know the MCs fairly well before they begin writing. Details turn types into “real people”: e.g., life stories (family, education, milestones, work, where they grew up); physical description; personality; hobbies and interests; favourite music, food, colour, song, sport; specific talents and skills; role models; and so on. Therefore, I would suggest that authors devote at least a page to details about each MC before they begin writing the story. Fleshing out the characters brings them to life and helps the writer know how they might behave in a particular situation. (This can all change, of course!)