It seems like such a simple concept, yet it is easily as elusive.
It is essential to most books. Especially romance. Without it, you don't have a story. You have a series of events that lead nowhere. I know. I've done it. My current WIP, in its first draft stage, had no conflict. Heck, it only barely had a plot. It's now in its third revision and I'm happy to say there is both plot and conflict. Oh, happy-happy, joy-joy.
What makes a story truly powerful is the conflict. It's raising the stakes and threatening the hero and heroine with eternal unhappiness if they don't grow and change to resolve that conflict. It's the obstacles (internal and external) that they must overcome in order to be together in that happily-ever-after that ends almost every romance novel.
In my first book, Shelter From the Storm, the conflict was easy. Ash was American. He had the stigma of divorce attached to his name. He had no desire or ability to ever trust another woman.
For Kendra, her conflict was that she was supposed to be getting engaged to a childhood sweetheart that she thought she loved. But then she winds up being accidentally kidnapped by an American privateer whom she develops a huge attraction to.
That is enough in itself. You have the conflict that isn't so easily remedied. More on that in a minute.
After being accidentally kidnapped by Ash, and developing this huge attraction to him, Ash kisses her. Wowza. Okay, the stakes have just been raised. Now, not only has she been stolen away from London, and now has a crush on the guy responsible for it, but now she physically wants him as well. And maybe, just maybe, she doesn't love her fiance to be as much as she thought she did. What is a girl to do?
To make matters worse (and thus raising the stakes further), Ash's ship is sunk off the coast of New Jersey. She and Ash are stranded. At the beach. Does it get better?
See - with each obstacle, the threat of complete loss grows stronger. You want these two people to find their way back to London, and back to each other. That's almost easy enough - but then there's the internal conflict.
Ash doesn't want to open himself up again to hurt. Kendra's too bullheaded to do anything but try to get him to do just that. They butt heads over it, but it isn't so easily remedied. And then there's the annoying little problem of the guy waiting for Kendra back in London.
Now, the reason I mention this is that I am (yet) again judging a contest and so far I see a marked lack of conflict. What I do see is misunderstanding and that is not the same thing. A misunderstanding is overhearing only part of a conversation, or getting an earful of gossip. Only, instead of going back to the other party and demanding an explanation, either the hero or the heroine gets outrageously furious and stomps out of the room, determined never to speak to the other party ever again.
Yes, it'll keep them apart, but I think they're acting like idiots and I don't care if they ever get back to each other again.
That is not good in a romance novel. As a writer, my job is to make a reader care about these two, even when they have bonehead moments. But the bonehead moments can't keep them apart for any set length of time. It's silly. It's childish. Don't like it and I don't want to read about it.
And if I don't, I can pretty much guess that a super-busy editor or agent won't want to, either.