I get the feeling it's conflict week here at Star-Crossed. I don't know why I think that...it's just one of those psychic feelings I get.
In all honesty a week probably doesn't do Conflict justice. It's the bread and butter, the underlying structure of any good novel. While stories can and have been told about characters whose lives are simple and uncomplicated, where nothing much happens to them except the day to day activities of their benign existance, these aren't the books that fill up my keeper shelf by a long shot.
Conflict is the key to a novel, the reason for its existance. Life is about conflict. We all have problems [and we're all characters of some sort] and how we tackle these problems often defines us.
In romance especially, conflict is essential. Halfway through writing a novella last year, I had to trash my plot and start over because I realized the hero and heroine just liked each other too much. Their relationship was smooth and comfortable. Things were going to well between them and nothing stood in the way of their happiness.
Who wants to read that? Not me. I didn't even want to write it. I realized what I needed to do was make life hard for my characters. Their relationship had to be rough, fraught with hardship and an underlying reason why they shouldn't be together. I gave them enemies who wanted to tear them apart and put them in a society that would look down on their union. I chased them out of town and in fact all the way to the brink of death before I let them finally enjoy a moment's peace.
Not all conflict has to be this severe. But as Angela said in her post, it can't merely be based on a misunderstanding. There must be forces at work, both integral to the characters and apart from them that will serve to tear them apart. The trick is to make the conflict so compelling that readers will truly wonder if they're going to get that happy ending.
Hit 'em with both barrels and see what happens. That's conflict.