Conflict is what drives the story. It does this by creating tension that the reader will want to see resolved. It is a delicate balance though. A story must have enough conflict to keep the reader hooked and be realistic but also be resolvable by the end of the novel. For example, there is undoubtedly tons of conflict between an animal rights activist and a fur coat manufacturer but that is an irresolvable conflict no matter how much they desire or love each other.
How to Create a Resolvable Conflict
For a conflict to be resolvable between a hero and heroine, the underlying goals, values and desires must be aligned, even if the outward actions seem to be completely at odds. For example, take a heroine from one side of a war and the hero from the other. They are enemies. Sure. But beneath their different uniforms could be the same values and goals. They both want freedom for their people. They both want to protect their homeland and families. They both want peace in their respective lands. So outwardly they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Inwardly though, they are at the same essential place when it comes to the important things that are needed to build a relationship: values, principles, goals and desires. This creates a resolvable conflict.
How to Structure the Conflict
The initial meeting between the hero and heroine will showcase their differences and nothing else. Some plot intervention will throw them together. During their enforced time in each other’s company they will begin to see that they are not so different after all. They both love their families. They both have someone for whom they are fighting this war, etc. The key is that each time a character realizes that he or she is not as diametrically opposed to the other, this should increase the tension between them, not ease it.
How to Resolve It
The Big Black Moment will bring to a head the two versions of each character. For example with the hero, he will be forced to face who he thought he was, with the person he has become. And he will have to choose between two tangible rewards. Basically, his internal and external conflicts will merge to create a huge catastrophe for him. In the case of the war, he will likely have to choose between the lofty army position he worked his entire career to get—the one that will finally earn his father’s approval perhaps—and the woman he has come to love who is technically his enemy.
Give Them What They Want
The easiest way to make a character miserable is to give him what he thinks he wants. So if the hero thinks he wants success and familial approval, offer it up at the worst possible moment. Just when he has realized he loves the heroine, grant him his promotion and throw in a letter from his father praising him for the first time in his life. This will force him to figure out what is really important and who he really is.
Conflict between characters is like playing with magnets. The writer pushes them together with their like sides showing, but they repel one another. They will continue to do this, until the writer creates an incident (or series of incidents) that alters each character’s awareness of the other. This moment is like a magnet being flipped over so that suddenly they are drawn to each other. Same magnets, different perspectives.