Thursday, January 27, 2011

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Is Conflict A Dirty Word In Science Fiction Romance?

Since action-adventure components are found in many science fiction romances, and because the SF elements are often very serious in nature (e.g., war, new technologies run amok, the dangers of space travel, political unrest), I expect a lot of conflict in this subgenre. Not just external plot conflict, but specifically internal and relationship conflict. I want them as heated as some of the love scenes these stories also offer. Unfortunately, my wish doesn’t always come true.

I wonder, why is that? I suspect the romance part of the equation sometimes has a dampening effect on the conflict level. It’s also possible that I have a high tolerance for conflict, and I’m reading stories that, while entertaining, aren’t intended for someone with my particular tolerance level.

Mainly, my concern is when there’s a promise of really stupendous relationship conflict, but then it’s resolved way, way, way too early in the story. Then usually what follows are complications rather than true conflict. I start to disbelieve a character who claims she/he shouldn’t fall in love with this person when their behaviors/physical reactions make it a done deal by page 20.

There are times when I wonder if there are obstacles to maintaining conflict between heroes and heroines in an SFR, especially given that authors are expected to deliver the romance and love scenes in a timely manner—timely meaning according to genre expectations. In SFR, I get lots of great action sequences, explosions, galactic chases, and people being maimed and killed, but I don’t always experience that same level of tension between the hero and heroine. Or at least not for as long as I’d like.


For example, hero and heroine are at odds. Maybe they’re enemies, with one or both set up to detest or even hate the other. But the physical attraction they experience periodically undermines this initial promise of conflict. Essentially, it boils down to “I hate his guts for [insert atrocious act], but he’s so dreamy!”

That said, I don’t think it’s easy to strike the balance of attraction and repulsion between a hero and heroine who begin the story on opposite sides of the intergalactic fence. A big part of the appeal is learning at what point they’ll begin to see each other in a new light. However, there are story situations that demand sustaining the conflict longer than a few pages (e.g., when someone’s life, safety, or freedom is threatened). Or, if internally the attraction is strong, my hope is that the characters’ outward behaviors will keep the conflict going until they’re given a real reason to trust the potential lover.

Now, if the story dictates that the hero and heroine can’t keep their hands off one another, I still expect very real, very intense, and even hurtful kinds of conflict alternating with the growing attraction. I want my emotions manipulated so that I question the HEA just about every step of the way. As in, “Well, they’re making out now, but there’s no way this will last.”

So while I expect there to be some glimmer of attraction or insta-lust in some stories, I also expect for the hero or heroine in question to manage his or her feelings and behaviors convincingly until irrefutable proof exists that they can trust the other person.

When in doubt, hit me up with tons of conflict in science fiction romance. I won’t flinch away from it. In fact, I love it. I want conflict between the hero and heroine so intense that my heart threatens to jump out of my chest. While they don’t have to be constantly sniping or in physical combat with each other all the time (not that I would complain anyway), there can still be plenty of anguish-laden relationship trials and tribulations on the road to their HEA.

Done well, the characters won’t come across as mean or brutal. They’ll come across as justified in their behavior. Even if they make mistakes out of anger, fear, or hate, I know that because it’s a science fiction romance, they’ll make atonement and find redemption.

In conclusion, I don’t see a need to hold back on the conflict simply because SFR is a blend of romance and “what if?” concepts. If anything, that’s about a volatile mix as one could imagine.

Joyfully yours,