Shakespeare’s tragedy (not a romance) Romeo and Juliet is stuffed to the proverbial gills with External Conflict. If not for the bloodthirsty rivalry between their families, it would be just an exercise in hormonal teenager attraction. Bad enough, and then Romeo kills one of Juliet’s kinsmen. One poorly thought-out action after another, with collusion from a servant and priest, ending in a double suicide. No, not a romance at all. (A true romance would end with them alive, betrothed, with the promise of a life together, not dead and clutching each other in a mausoleum.) Alas, I stray from my subject. Ahem.
So the very External Conflicts that divided them included their families’ hatred for each other, created tension and complications for the “star-crossed lovers”. Just like when a modern parent forbids a teen child to see a less than suitable sweetheart. Sometimes just the forbidden makes the situation that much more attractive.
Or Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle stuffing him under the stairs of their home, treating him like a freak, physical bullying. Between Uncle Vernon’s attempts to keep the Hogwarts letters out of Harry’s hands, Hagrid’s intervention and other External Conflicts richly drove readers on from one chapter to the next. A novel without External conflict may be pretty to read, but ultimately boring.
Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, a serial originally published monthly over a period of over two years, uses a mother dying in childbirth, workhouse conditions, starvation, physical abuse, criminals, and murder to drive the story onward. A modern editor or publisher might say that was too much External Conflict going on, but for over two hundred years it’s been read by innumerable people.
So what External Conflicts drive the protagonist in your story?