Every good story has a lead character with internal conflict. In a good romance, the internal conflict revolves around the development of her relationship with the hero (or the hero’s developing relationship with the heroine).
Internal Conflict has been defined as, “An emotional resistance within a character which makes him or her hesitate or be unwilling to enter into, continue with, or commit to a romantic to sexual relationship.” (Evan Marshall)
A woman whose policeman husband was killed responding to a domestic fight call might never want to become involved with another cop. Her internal conflict is further complicated by her young son, who has suffered from nightmares since his father’s death. She fears he will be traumatized again if he becomes close with a father figure who has a dangerous job. Her justifiable concern for her son is her rationale for not loving again. Then she meets a nice man who turns out to be a firefighter. Her son likes him. He likes her son. But the woman is terrified by the possibility that he could be killed on the job. How she resolves her inner conflict is the interesting, inner subplot of the story.
A college student is abandoned by a callously unfaithful girlfriend. He grows up to be love ‘em and leave ‘em dater. One by one, his friends settle down and marry. He wants them to keep hanging out, watch Sunday football games in his man-cave, prowl bars on Friday nights for one-night stands. His refusal to let any woman get close enough to hurt him again leads to outer complications. At first, his friends try to play matchmaker because all Joe needs is a good woman. But he resists, and they grow apart. He tries to find younger friends, but eventually looks foolish. He gets a woman boss. His inner fear will be tested and trialed through the story as he lets women try to love him. Eventually he’ll find love, because this is a romance. (He could stay a playboy if the story is a tragedy.)
Without inner conflict, a story lacks emotional depth. Each of us has some deep-seated fear we have to overcome in life. This is part of why we come to earth, I believe. To progress, to heal, to grow stronger, braver, happier. To love.