(Dream bathroom from Castello Baths)
I had something of a revelation this evening. In the bath as always! Reminds me of one of the codebreakers at Bletchley during World War 2 who did his best thinking in a warm bath, so had one installed in his office. Or Archimedes and and his Eureka moment. Instead of lightbulb moments, bathtub moments.
Anyway, the where is irrelevant. The what blew me away!
Okay, it’s basic. Embarrasingly basic. So basic anyone reading this is probably thinking, “Der, how could anyone not know that.”
I finally got internal conflict at the relationship block level and why it’s so important to a good romance.
It’s important not just because it is where the emotional intensity is, but because it is also the key to reader identification. The thing I realised about internal conflict is that it is universal.
The external conflicts are specific to the situation of the characters in the story. Not many readers are going to be surprise princesses, billionaires’ mistresses, or blackmailed heiresses. Nor are many of us lucky enough to meet princes, sheiks, or drop-dead gorgeous mega rich CEOs in our day to day lives. But we all know those internal conflicts, because in one way or another we will all have experienced at least one of them at least once. Those potential or real blocks to realtionships, that are just part of being a human. The core, gut-deep beliefs about ourselves and love that will feel the same for a waitress as a princess, a bricklayer as a billionaire.
Things like “I don’t deserve to be loved because of the things I’ve done”. “No-one loves me for myself, only for what I do for them.” “I want to take the chance of loving, but I’m afraid of being hurt again.” “It’s selfish to choose love over duty.” “I’m not worthy of love.” “It’s not safe for me to let someone know I care for them, because that makes me weak.” These are the things that would get in the way of this character having a relationship with anyone, not just the hero or heroine.
The internal conflict is the character having to make a difficult choice between options- choose the relationship, or choose the relationship block. Do they go for what feels safer based on their core belief, choosing aloofness, power, strength, safety, silence, duty, affairs? Or do they choose the risk of a committed loving relationship, with this one man or woman who is challenging their most central beliefs?
So the real internal conflict isn’t “Can I give up being a Princess to marry this man?”, it’s “Do I deserve to choose personal happiness over doing my duty?”, and “Can I believe I am worthy of love?”. It’s not “Can I give up my single life in New York to marry this woman?”, it’s “Can I risk letting go of control over my life?”, and “Dare I risk letting someone close again when the end of a love is so painful?”