There are many ways to create conflict in romance, but the two simplest approaches are the lovers-against-an-outside antagonist (the easy way) and the lovers-as-antagonists (the hard way).
The easy way is to give one of your lovers the main plot with an outside antagonist, and the other lover the major subplot with the same antagonist. Their separate battles with the same character will pull them into each other’s stories, and the pressure from the antagonist will create stress and adrenalin, both spurs to falling in love, until they work together (another spur to love) to destroy the antagonist utterly at the climax.
The harder way is to make one of the lovers the protagonist and the other the antagonist. This is difficult because a satisfying climax leaves one character the winner and the other the loser, completely defeated and destroyed. That’s a bad start to a permanent relationship. The work around is a protagonist or antagonist who will be better off for losing: she’s stuck in a stale or inauthentic existence that she’s holding onto for safety and her lover’s victory at the end sets her free to live life fully, or she’s locked into a nihilistic world view and her antagonist destroys that worldview so that she can come into the light.
Lovers Against An Antagonist: The Charade Plot
Reggie’s husband’s just been killed. Peter is suspiciously around when anything gets dangerous. Since Peter appears to be the only one actively not trying to kill her, Reggie joins forces with him.
Together they defeat the Big Bad and in so doing fall in love.
Lovers As Antagonists: The Moonstruck Plot
Loretta wants a safe, passionless life with Johnny. Ronnie wants Loretta, passionately. If Loretta wins, Ronnie’s life is destroyed because he’ll never be with his soulmate. If Ronnie wins, Loretta’s hope for a passionless existence is toast.
Ronnie wins, Loretta loses and gets a much richer, happier life.
Romantic conflict is most effective when it tests and strengthens the romance.
If your romance plot seems more squishy than sharp, it may be because your conflict is weak or non-existant because you’re trying to make compromise work as a climax instead of putting your lovers through a crucible that will forge a commitment.
For other posts in this unit see The Conflict Unit main post.