As I mentioned last month, my current burnout level means that I’m trying to reduce the amount of time this blog takes while still ensuring that I’m sharing good stuff with you all. *smile*
If you missed the announcement, my current blogging schedule is:
- Tuesdays: New blog content like usual.
- Thursdays: Sharing other content:
- guest posts,
- rerunning older posts,
- favorite post I discovered online that week,
- linking to all the writing-related posts I tweeted about that week,
- etc., etc.
Today, I’m sharing a post by Diana Hurwitz from the Blood Red Pencil blog that made me think about the nature of antagonists in romance novels. (And read to the end of this post to catch a few announcements of book promotions you might like. *smile*)
What Are Antagonists?
I’ve written before about the different types of antagonists—from sidekicks and mentors to ticking clocks and and traffic jams. And last year, Kristen Lamb shared her many insights into antagonists with a series of guest posts here, including one that introduced the idea of a scene antagonist giving us the conflict we need in every scene. Yet, antagonists can still be tricky.
Who or what is the antagonist when there's no “bad guy”—like in a romance? Click To TweetIn some genres, it’s easy to identify who the antagonist of the story is. Genres such as thrillers or mysteries feature the villain-style of antagonists, obvious “bad guys” threatening to blow up a city or murder an innocent.
Stories in the survival genre feature a similarly obvious “overcome nature” type of antagonist. The protagonist must escape storms, earthquakes, jungles, etc., and the obstacles in the way all come from harshness of the natural environment.
However, in other genres, the antagonist might not be as obvious. There might not be a villain or bad guy, and what the protagonist is trying to overcome might be more subtle. Often, the antagonist can be tricky to identify in the romance genre, with its complex combination of internal conflict, external conflict, and conflict between the couple.
Antagonists in Romance
While internal conflict from false beliefs is expected in romance stories, given the character-focused nature of the genre, external conflict can be complicated. External conflict can be driven by something or someone internal or external to the relationship.
Some subgenres of romance—such as the paranormal romance I write—include bad guys for that conflict external to the relationship, but for the most part, romance doesn’t have “big bad villains.” Even in my paranormal romance stories, the villain often doesn’t come into the picture until the end, so other antagonistic forces have to create conflict until the big finale.
Without villains, we might rely on conflict internal to the relationship. That’s why it’s common for the couple to act as each other’s antagonists, as they each need what only the other one can provide (love, acceptance, respect, etc.).
However, if we rely too much on the couple being each other’s antagonists, we might accidentally create an unhealthy relationship, as Bran L. Ayres pointed out in their recent guest post. Or we can simply create a couple that’s not believable because readers don’t understand what they see in each other.
Those conflicts between the couple have to balance on a thin line:
- enough conflict to sustain a story
- limited conflict to keep the couple a good match
In my post about that balance, I shared three techniques for how we can find the right amount of conflict and compatibility between the couple. Now with Diana’s post, we get to look at external romance antagonists from a different perspective.
What’s Keeping the Couple Apart?
Romance stories come in all “flavors” of conflict, angst, and obstacles. While some include bad guys, enemies-to-lovers tropes, or other obvious problems, other romance stories are less angsty, more sweet, or on a smaller, more-human scale.
How can we avoid creating too much conflict between a couple in a romance? Click To TweetMaybe the couple acknowledges their mutual attraction right away. Maybe they even act on it, starting a relationship from the get-go.
In stories like that, it can be especially difficult to identify an antagonist, but Diana points out that essentially, antagonistic forces in romance are whatever keeps the couple apart.
In any genre, anything that stands in the way of the protagonist getting what they want (or think they want) is an antagonist. In the romance genre, even if the characters don’t yet see themselves as wanting a relationship, readers know that’s the ultimate goal (the promise of the genre), so anything that keeps the couple apart is an antagonist as far as readers—and the story itself—are concerned.
The Right Balance: Any Antagonistic Force for Any Story
The better we understand what’s keeping the couple apart, the more we can develop and balance our story’s conflict to the appropriate level. As needed, we can cut back or emphasize the “keeping them apart” obstacles for our story.
For example, for the same antagonist from Diana’s post of “a disapproving family member keeps them apart,” we might have:
- a meddling mother who keeps trying to set up her daughter with that boring son of her coworker —or—
- a wrathful mother who blackmails her daughter’s love interest with faked photos implying an affair.
Either level of antagonist counts as an obstacle and creates conflict, but obviously they’d lead to very different types of stories, with different themes, subtext, and tones. Despite how the second one might feel more dire or larger in scale, there’s no “best” choice, other than what works for our story. Not every story will have, or should have, life-and-death stakes or ooze with melodrama.
Now, check out Diana’s post for 10 ideas for external romance antagonists and see if this helps you brainstorm other obstacles that could keep a couple apart…
With the right level of antagonism, we can explore many different options for external antagonists in a romance—and ensure we’re not creating an unhealthy or implausible relationship, filled with too much conflict between the couple. *smile*
Bonus: Current Book Promotions
The first novel of my Mythos Legacy series, Treasured Claim, is part of several romance bundles, so if you like that story, you might find other books to enjoy in these groups too. (Or if you don’t have Treasured Claim yet, you can grab a copy from one of these bundles.)
Hexed on the Beach
Like supernatural, fantasy, or paranormal stories set on beaches, islands, lakes, etc.? Check out this bundle of 18 books by July 7th!
The Hotter the Better
Want steamy romance? Check out this bundle of 176 books(!) covering every genre of romance by July 31st!
Summer of Love and Magic
Want to get lost in fantastical new worlds and be swept away with romance? Check out this bundle of 36 books by July 31st!
Love dragons in your paranormal romance? Starting this Sunday the 8th, check out this bundle of almost 40 books by July 21st!
P.S. And don’t forget to enter my Blogiversary Contest! We’re up to two winners so far, and the more comments we get, the more winners we’ll have.
Do you ever struggle with identifying the antagonist of your scenes or stories? Do you agree that antagonists in romance are anyone or anything in the way of the couple getting together? Have you read—or written—romances with too much or too little conflict? Does it make sense how external conflict sometimes might be more helpful than conflict between the couple?Pin It