In the gripping new novel by Melanie Crouse, all Abby really wants is to fall in love and get married.
There's this guy at church--they've been friends since they were young, but she never really thought about him that way before. Lately though, the way he's been looking at her makes her feel all bubbly inside, and she can't stop thinking about him. His name is Jake. Isn't that a gorgeous name? She starts doodling it on random papers at the office, and finally gets up the nerve to ask him on a date.
As Abby gets to know Jake better, she realizes he is just as amazing as she always thought he was. They seem to have all the same views on important subjects. After several weeks of dating, he asks her to marry him and they live happily ever after. Ta da!! Instant bestseller, no?
Welcome to Rule #3: A story without internal and external conflict isn't really a story at all. To make a love story sizzle, forces should combine to keep your characters apart, BUT other forces should combine to compel them to be together.
Authors have to be sadists. So, instead of blissful romance, Abby and Jake get this:
Abby's sister Katie has been missing for weeks. The police won't help her, her parents won't even mention Kate's name, and Kate's old friends are completely ignoring Abby. Finally, Abby decides to take matters into her own hands. Before Kate disappeared, she had started attending this church down on
and Katie hopes she can find the answer there. Instead she finds even more
secrets, and every one of them seem to lead her to Jake, the spoiled, rich kid
in her Calculus class--the one who used to torment her in high school...
Poor Abby and Jake.
There are two types of conflict in a love story, and they should play off each other like a ricocheting bullet.
Internal conflict is the emotional baggage the characters bring to the story. It's the walls and scars, prejudices and value systems, and even the dreams built up from their backstory. It's the causes they fight for and their crazy phobias.
“The boy never cried again, and he never forgot what he'd learned: that to love is to destroy, and to be loved is to be the one destroyed.” (Jace Wayland, City of
, by: Cassandra Clare) Bones
"I keep trying," he said with great sadness, "But I brought it on myself by making a bargain some years ago, and I know I shall never be able to love anyone properly now." (Howl Jenkins, Howl's Moving Castle, Dianna Wynne Jones)External Conflict
External conflict refers to the circumstances your characters find themselves in, especially ones that force them to confront their internal issues. The more forces you've got working on your characters, the more believable your love story will be.
"I know I announced to the entire track team that your bikini top came off, but most girls would just get over that, not call upon magical forces to toss somebody back into the Middle Ages." (Tristan, My Fair Godmother by: Janette Rallison)
"Ron," said Hermione in a dignified voice, dipping the point of her quill into her ink pot, "you are the most insensitive wart I have ever had the misfortune to meet." (Hemione Granger, Order of the Pheonix by: JK Rowling)The push and the pull
In my pretend story about Abby and Jake, any reader will be looking for the answers to two questions: What happened to Kate? and Do Jake and Abby ever get together? The first question is by far the most important, and so Jake and Abby's story becomes a subplot.
There are lots of things keeping Jake and Abby apart--Abby thinks Jake is a spoiled, rich kid. He used to make her life miserable. In fact, he still does, she's just gotten better at not letting it bother her. Jake knows that Abby is the only person he's ever wanted, but his family life is such a dangerous mess that he constantly pushes her away to keep her safe. Basically, these are the forces that keep them apart.
We know that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless there is an opposing force. So unless there is an opposing force, Abby and Jake aren't going to get together. Luckily, there are plenty of opposing forces pushing them together. They have Calculus class together. This particular class meets 4 days a week. Jake is a whiz at Calculus, and although Abby has straight A's in every other subject, this is her second time taking Calculus because she just doesn't get it. Even more important, all the secrets about Kate lead her to Jake. And Jake, for all his wanting to push Abby away, can't make himself push her away permanently. These are the forces that are keeping them together.
Some more examples from books:
Forces keeping people apart:
1. A curse has changed her in some way (Howl's Moving Castle)
2. He's not rich or respectable enough for her family.(Persuasion)
3. She's pretending to be a boy. (The Lioness Quartet)
4. She thinks she's his sister.(The City of Ashes)
5. The bad guys will hurt her if they know he loves her.(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
6. She's pretending to be royalty.(The Book of A Thousand Days)
7. He is going to be put to death (The Perilous Gard)
Forces keeping people together
1. He kidnapped her, and now they are travelling across the desert together. (Girl of Fire and Thorns)
2. They work together (All's Fair in Love, War and High School)
3. He just can't stay away (unfortunately, this one is very popular. Pick your own book.
4. Her sister is ill and they are forced to stay in the same house until she gets better.(Pride and Prejudice)
5. They are working on the same air-ship.(Behemoth)
6. They are both stuck in the middle ages until he becomes a prince. (My Fair Godmother)
7. They are on the same sport's team. (Harry Potter)
Can you think of more romantic forces in books or movies?