Okay, so far we've looked at the individual characters, but how do you get the sparks to fly when you put hero and heroine together?
The Romantic Conflict
In a romance we have two protagonists – a hero and a heroine – but often no villain. So where is the conflict going to come from? Each other, of course! Neither of them is evil or bad; it's just that their differing goals are going to put them in conflict with each other.
However, this is a delicate balancing act:
On one hand they have to provide enough conflict to push the other character out of their comfort zone, so they start to see life/love/themselves in a new light, and so they begin to change their behaviour.
On the other hand, these people should also be the solution to the other one's inner conflict. They will ultimately fulfil that deeply-held longing the other has had (and that’s how we make readers believe they are right for each other).
I've got a little tip when it comes to romantic conflict (I stole it from the wonderful Michael Hauge - read his book, buy his DVDS!): Your hero and heroine often go to battle with each other wearing that emotional armour! It's often that self-defeating behaviour that causes the problems, those character flaws they just haven't ironed out yet. But when hero and heroine connect, it's because they see UNDERNEATH that emotional armour. There are moments as they start to get to know each other that they let that armour slip and give their true selves away. The other person falls in love with that person, not the one who's causing them all the trouble on the surface. And when readers know that your hero and heroine love each other for who they really are, they will buy into the love story wholeheartedly!
Since the romantic conflict is closely related to your hero and heroine's inner conflicts, you need to build your hero and heroine so everything about them feeds into that romantic conflict that's going to arise between them. Likewise, the plot, any subplots and secondary characters should only exist to advance the romantic storyline.
So how are your hero and heroine going to cause problems for each other? Well, we need to look at the hero first:
Finn McCloud is a sexy, survival skills expert, who likes nothing better than to jump out of planes, raft in white waters and hanging off mountains by his fingertips.
Finn's inner goal: What he needs is to connect with other people. Finn, meanwhile, is always looking for the next adventure, trying to find that ultimate destination that will give him a sense of peace and connection. He hasn't got a clue he's looking for a person, not a place.
Finn's motivation: he was an army brat who moved around a lot and learned quickly not to put roots down too deep, or to care to much about anyone. He's an outgoing, friendly guy, and people like him, but all his relationships are shallow. He won't get truly close to anyone.
Finn's greatest fear: losing one more person he cares about. So getting attached to anyone on a deeper level is going to scare him. Falling in love is going to freak him out big time!
Finn's coping mechanism: while he's brave and adventurous in his professional life, when it comes to Finn's relationships he's a coward. He steers well clear of anything resembling true love. He has the sense of freedom Allegra craves, but he's chosen not to explore areas of himself and his emotions, preffering to leave them fenced off and out of bounds.
So, how is Finn going to make life difficult for Allegra, and vice versa?
Allegra is struggling with her new-found freedom – she's not sure what to do with it now that she's got it – and Finn is pushing her to make choices, follow her instincts and generally do things she had very little experience of doing. Allegra is mortified that one of the reasons she left home is that she was disappointing everyone back there, and now she seems to be disappointing Finn too. And, despite the fact she is up close and personal on a desert island with her secret crush, she thinks he'd never be interested in an unadventurous mouse like her.
Also, Allegra has spent so long never being able to express her opinion or what she wants, but she doesn't even know how to tell him that she's attracted to him. In other words, meeting Finn and spending time with him is what makes Allegra realise her problems will not be solved by a change of location. He brings her internal conflict to the fore by making her realise she is part of her own problem. She feels just as trapped on a desert island as he did back in London!
Finn, meanwhile, is blissfully unaware of his survival skills protégé’s internal struggles. He's just doing what he always does – skimming along the surface of life, enjoying the moment, never getting too deep with anything. His troubles begin when Allegra starts to rise to the challenges he's giving her, when she starts to learn all those lessons she needs to learn (taking charge of her own life, making choices, finding her inner spirit). Suddenly he finds himself attracted to her and, rather than be the adventure hero everyone thinks he is, he runs scared. If he let's himself get close to Allegra he will be in really big trouble.
Can you see how putting these two personalities with their own individual emotional baggage is going to make sparks fly?
But once you've got the conflict going, what do you do next? More on that tomorrow!