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What’s the quickest way to make you crazy in a romance story?

Most of my stories, particularly the novels, have multiple plot threads: a romantic one intertwined with an adventure or mystery. Some lean more on the romance arc; some lean more on the adventure arc; some are pretty even-handed. One of the great advantages to having a second arc intertwined with the romance is that I can use outside forces that might push the characters together/apart and craft interpersonal conflict via the adventure or mystery aspect of the story. This is something that romance writers who have sole romance plot arcs aren’t able to do.

When you can’t use outer journeys or adventurous conflicts to interact with the interpersonal conflict of the romance, there’s a serious limit when crafting the necessary interpersonal conflicts. This can mean that a lot of the interpersonal romantic plots can feel over-used and rehashed and trope-reliant rather than fresh and fun. This limiting number of conflicts can also mean that some authors reach for whatever is easiest, no matter that it might be completely nonsensical and that something far and away better might exist if they’d bothered to push themselves.

One of my least favorite romance “conflicts” is the ridiculous reliance on a silly misunderstanding. You know the type—the kind that could be cleared up with ONE SINGLE ADULT CONVERSION.

That, to me, isn’t conflict. Or, if you call it conflict, it’s the weakest, frailest, lamest conflict ever to exist in the entire adult fiction world. A misunderstanding should not be the backbone of an entire romantic plot. A misunderstanding should never be the catalyst for a story.

Misunderstandings should be used sparingly and only for tiny threads within the entire plot. If they are even used at all. The best use of misunderstandings (imo) is comedic beats, to elicit a momentary smile from the reader.

The second best use is to indicate something larger at play. A good example of this is the lemon scene in the movie The Breakup, where the male lead only gets a couple lemons when the female lead wanted a lot more—this is a great example of using a misunderstanding to represent a much larger, difficult problem that exists rather than having the lemons themselves be the problem. (Also, using a sour fruit in the scene was an epic choice for symbolism.)

But yes, the quickest way (or at least one of them at any rate) to make me crazy is to have the entire plot of a romance be completely centered on a fake conflict that could be easily solved within a single chapter. Making the rest of the novel utterly eye-rolly.

~Emmi