I’m thinking about contemporary romance again this morning while I enjoy my quiet cuppa tea. Last year, whenever I started noodling over the idea of writing some contemporary romance, Susan and I made a list of the kinds of conflicts you find in CR. This has always been kind of an issue for me. A read a lot of CR, but because there’s usually not an external antagonist who’s trying to kill somebody or some kind of adventure being gone on with a very clear Big Bad, I have a hella hard time mapping out the plots based on the story structure I’m accustomed to. It’s not that CR doesn’t fit story structure, it’s just more subtle.
Anyway, Susan, being inclined toward analysis for years more than I was, was able to list a whole bunch more setups than I could. They were situations of conflict where I could objectively see how it could work, had even read some books that fit those parameters. But I didn’t understand them or see them well enough to actually use those set ups myself.
No idea what I did with that list.
But anyway, I woke up this morning thinking about contemporary romance conflicts, and I decided to go through my Goodreads Read pile to look at what I’d read in that genre to see what I remembered about the conflicts in those books and identify the kinds of conflicts that work for me. And as I expected, there’s definitely a set of conflict tropes that I gravitate toward. It’s much shorter than that missing list I can’t find. There were certainly books whose conflicts I couldn’t remember, and I figured they must not’ve been something that appealed to me or must not have been obvious, so I left them out of my informal analysis.
But anyway my list of conflict setups I LOVE reading in contemporary romance is:
- pitting the hero and heroine against each other in competition
- setting up a ticking clock where one of them is definitely going to leave
- making hero and heroine (on the surface at least) exactly what each other hates
- old flames where one did the other wrong
- hero and heroine from two different (and presumably incompatible) worlds
- hero and heroine with complicated history (where they weren’t involved), where both worry that getting involved will cause problems, and the history colors how each of them sees the other (which isn’t exactly clearly)
There were a couple others that popped up but not as recurrent set ups, as it were. These are my faves, the kinds of stories I keep coming back to. The set ups I’ll often keep reading, even if the rest of the book isn’t quite hitting all the right notes with me. These are the ones that I understand and delight in, that make me grin as I see the hero and heroine working through them toward what I know is going to be a predictable ending, but I keep reading to see them go through the journey.
So I’ll add them to my little toolkit, my personal sonnet rules to set up the framework for what I’ll probably spend some time writing in the future. It seems to me that the sensible thing is to keep collecting these pieces, the stuff that I love from author authors, and sort out how I can take them and make them something wholly mine. Figure out what I bring to the table that what I’m reading hasn’t.
No idea what that is, but I’ll figure it out.