Saturday, March 19, 2011

Conflict and Category Romance

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: .  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?


Michelle Helliwell said...

Anne - I write historical but I think I may have to look into that class on inner conflict. I think that's useful for any time period.

I haven't pursued as many online classes, etc (I don't have time) but I have two recommendations: a book (Self-Editing for fiction writers: and there is a podcast I really like called "Writing Excuses". They are mostly sci-fi fantasy, but good writing is good writing, and I've picked up some useful stuff there. Honestly though - I've gotten more help from my CP and RWAC than anywhere. I'll be checking back to see what other recommendations there are.

Anne MacFarlane said...

Michelle, the conflict workshop would definitely work for any romance genre.

I have the self-editing book. Julianne recommended it years ago during one of her first RWAC education sessions.

And I LOVE podcasts so I'll check out writing excuses.

Jennie Marsland said...

These sound like great resources, Anne. Writing conflict is never easy, but that's what it's all about. Like Michelle, I haven't looked into many classes or craft books, but I've gotten invaluable advice through critiques of my own and others' work. Bless the writer's support network!

Cat Schield said...

Anne, so glad Susan Meier's workshop helped you. It was gold for me.

I use The Complete Guide To Heroes and Heroines by Cowden/LaFever/Viders on every book I write. It actually gives you the conflict and then tells you how to resolve it. Awesome!

Anne MacFarlane said...

Hi Jennie, I read a lot of craft books and take online classes but I learn the most from critiques as well.

Anne MacFarlane said...

Cat, thanks for the recommendation. I can use all the help I can get.

Julia Smith said...

For me, Save the Cat was a life raft as I bobbed along, adrift in the sea of revisions I couldn't wrap my head around. For some reason, thinking of my story as a film instead of a book let everything fall smoothly into place. Don't know why. It just did.

Anne MacFarlane said...

Julia, I like Save the Cat. It's very similar to an online course I took many years ago called Story Magic. For me, that really helped with the structure of a story and I still use it today for longer books.

Kathy Carmichael said...

Anne: So glad you find my synopsis workshop materials helpful! You're right in that it works fabulously before you start the book. Some of my friends who sell on synopsis only have told me they use my forms to draft their synopses. Glad to be of help! -- KC

Anne MacFarlane said...

Thanks for stopping by Kathy - and thanks for the great resource.