One of the most essential elements of a category romance is conflict. External conflict is difficult to create in a modern contemporary because there are very few valid reasons to keep two people who love each other apart. This often results in us, as authors, creating convoluted (often unbelievable) plots to keep our hero and heroine apart. But try writing a straight romance, without a murder or suspense element, and you'll find very quickly how difficult it is to write without strong motivation to drive the character's action and a believable conflict that keeps them from acting on that immediate attraction. And yes, in a 50,000 word romance, that attraction has to be almost instant since we don't have much space to lolly gag around.
It's difficult to buy into a heroine lusting after the hot hero when he's just threatened to ruin her company, family, reputation, the community...So, the conflict and his actions can't be so cruel that you can't understand how a reasonable woman would ever fall in love with someone who treats her like she's dim witted - or a prostitute. The mountain of character growth can't be too hard to climb that it can't be resolved in a 200 pg book. Once two reasonably intelligent characters decide they want to be together in a contemporary setting, they can usually come up with a way to resolve that external conflict. That's when the internal conflict comes in and keeps them apart.
The internal conflict is really the reason why they can't be together. This is the heart of the entire book. And this is where I would often get stuck. My elaborate external plots would just shudder to a complete stop.
I use two valuable resources that have helped me tremendously. Before I came across these I always felt like I was floundering, that something was missing from my stories.
The first was recommended to me my Cat Shield, Harlequin Desire's newest author and it's a conference session given by Susan Meier, called Let Conflict Tell Your Story for You . Follow the link and you can download the session. It's an hour and 40 minutes that, take my word for it, will change the way you look at internal conflict. Susan talks about the heart of an internal conflict being an "incorrect core belief." Magic.( As an aside, I've taken several online courses from Susan and they have all been gold.)
The second resource is from Kathy Carmichael's, Writing the Short Synopsis. Her website has lots of great advice and instruction. The fill-in-the-blank PDF form can be found here: http://www.kathycarmichael.com/VorhausStoryStructure.pdf . I use it before I start any story. Keeps me focused on the conflict and gives me a nice, tight story.
These two resources changed the way I approach my writing. They are both simple but powerful.
Do you have any resources, online or otherwise, that helped you significantly with your writing?