The holiday season means gathering around the table with family and friends, and, no matter what else is on the menu, one thing is for sure: there are going to be some personality clashes. It’s been said that conflict breeds story, and nowhere is this more true than in romance fiction, the genre that is built around character and relationships. These arguments don’t always need a holiday backdrop to have impact, but it never hurts. Let’s take a look.
With the popularity of family series in romance, many readers look forward to the traditional gathering of previous (and future) couples. Sometimes, these gatherings center around family events, like birthdays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, the birth of a new baby, or adoption of a new child. Other times, the reason the family gathers together is more somber, as they bid a final farewell to one of their own, or a loved one’s life or freedom hangs in the balance. Not all gatherings need milestones to warrant an occasion. A weekly family dinner will suffice, or there may be work to be done that requires multiple sets of hands. Holidays, of course, crank family dynamics up to eleven, and there is the pressure to Make Memories and Be Happy.
Put two strong willed people together, and there’s going to be conflict. Up those numbers, and there’s going to be a lot more of it. Even the best of friends are going to have their disagreements, and not only over hot button issues like religion and politics (though, in some historicals, this can cause literal fisticuffs and/or bloodshed on the spot.) Romance leads are strong personalities (do not underestimate the quiet ones) and when they clash, they clash big.
If we’re dealing with a family saga, with more than one generation of heroes and heroines, watch out, because there are going to be some fireworks. Not that there aren’t when we’re only dealing with a single generation. Sibling squabbles can be the stuff of legend, and friendships that implode or explode, for whatever reason, can have ramifications that affect everybody in the group. Having multiple generations in the same family means that some issues get put in a metaphorical slow cooker, and when that cooker blows, it blows big time.
What do romance leads and their friends and family fight about? What don’t they fight about? That would be the easier question. No matter if it’s a sibling who brought a character’s worst enemy (or ex-they-never-quite-got-over) as their new significant other, parents who plan to trade the family home for a vintage trailer and see the world, teenagers who announce they are dropping out of high school, pregnant, or joining the military, or some other spur of the moment revelation, nobody is going to take this lying down. Well, maybe a couple or two will, together, wink wink, nudge, nudge, which can cause a commotion of its own, because really, they have to do that now?
Since we’re talking romance novels, well, yes, they do, and, unless there are only two people in the entire novel (and where would the fun be in that? Unless you know of a really good one, in which case, link in comment section, please.) somebody is going to have an opinion about it. This may be on the start a family feud that will carry from a historical era into the present day, maybe even beyond, a divorced or widowed parent finding love again, with someone their adult kids are very much not okay with (at least at first) teenagers looking for love in all the wrong places, and, sometimes, ex-spouses whose flames never really died.
Throw in a paranormal element, and we may have an all out war between supernatural creatures going on, or, in certain historicals, a personal slight can pit two countries against each other. In SF romance, this can go galaxy-wide, and, coming back down to earth, even an Amish hero or heroine may find themselves with some heavy decisions to make, lest they face being shunned from family and community as a whole. Even in romantic comedies, we can get some great lines, a few laughs, and, if things devolve (especially around the holiday table) into a food fight, well at least we readers don’t have to clean the resulting mess.
With emotions running high, it’s a prime breeding ground for romance. Characters who stalk off from the herd might find themselves followed by a friend or relative, for a heart-to=heart talk that puts everything in perspective, or their love interest, who has a way to distract them from the rest of their troubles. That’s assuming, of course, that the love interest is not the source of the troubles, which absolutely can be the case. Even then, that only adds some spark to the passion.
The best part about these fictional family arguments is the making up afterwards. With the two lovers, well, we know what that means, whether the bedroom door is flung wide open, gently closed, or cracked somewhere in between. With other characters, we still get those moments of bonding, whether there’s a true resolution to the dispute, or the characters agree to disagree. What’s most important at the end of the day is, as always with romantic fiction, the love. Even if two (or more) characters don’t always like each other, they do love each other, and that’s going to cover everything else.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you like a side of family conflict in your romance novels? Why or why not? Is there a particular family argument or conflict that stands out, or an author who writes this kind of scene especially well? Do you have a favorite family in romance that fights as hard as they love? Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. Not fond of family squabbles in your love stories? We want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.