Conflict And The Happy Ending

Joanna here. Having spent yesterday, Valentine's Day, exploring all the ways we can be in love. (Yeah love!) I thought I'd take today to look at the conflicts that hold our hero and heroine apart.
What kind of conflicts do we choose for our hero and heroine? How do we write them?

So I asked the Wenches.

Wench autumn brideAnne had this to say:

"Conflict" is a term often misunderstood by new writers, who think it means a lot of arguments and yelling. A better term is "the source of tension" which can be really powerful with no yelling at all. It's the central story problem that is preventing characters from reaching their goals.

For me, there are two main main sources of conflict — situational (where he wants X and she wants Y — or they both want X for different reasons) and character-based conflict. For me the latter is almost always the main one, though I'm happier if I have both kinds working together, playing off each other. Character conflict is where the hopes and dreams and deeply hidden fears drive the characters, and they have to work through them to find their happily-ever-after. Think "What does s/he want? Why can't s/he have it?"

For instance, in my book The Autumn Bride, apart from the usual misunderstandings between the hero and the heroine, there are two main sources of conflict. The first is that she's living under a false identity, but that's a relatively small conflict, fairly easily solved. A bigger conflict, especially for the hero is that he's made a promise to marry another woman,  a promise to which money was attached — part of a significant loan agreement with the woman's father. It's not just a matter of changing his mind — it's breaking his word, which is his bond. He's a man who lost everything as a youth — his future, his position and his whole sense of self was stripped from him, but his honor — his word of honor — is the one thing in his life that nobody could take from him, so to break it now is a major conflict for him.

I love that conflict in The Autumn Bride because it's a choice between love and honor. I'm a sucker for those.

In some books, the conflict can be less clear cut. There's plenty to keep them apart. What's needed is equally strong bonds to draw them together.

Jo Beverley says: Wench bookcover beverley tvnawnewsm

Conflict in a romance novel is a complex subject for all the reasons given, but it's whatever believably gets between the couple and their final happiness. It's different in every book.

My next book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, is a marriage of convenience story, and they always come with built-in stresses and problems. Sometimes the couple are enemies, but even if not, making a marriage with a stranger is a pretty tricky thing! Kitty is a widow, so marriage itself isn't odd to her, but her husband seems to suit his title — he's daunting. In addition, the behavior patterns from her eight year marriage lurk to make difficulties. As they would.

The new Lord Dauntry is already troubled, because he doesn't want a title or the responsibilities that come with it. He had a comfortable life as a bachelor in London, and occasional security work for the government to ward off boredom. He thinks a sensible wife will take his rural responsibilities off his shoulders and should be no trouble at all. Ha!

But this is the beginning. I find conflicts change and grow throughout a book, and as Kitty and Dauntry find ways to get along, new problems rise. And then, as surprising to me as to them, they discover that they share apparently impossible hopes and dreams. It's scaling those new high walls that powers the latter part of the book. The Viscount Needs a Wife will be out in April, but it can be ordered now. There's more here.

Rice_MagicintheStars600When I asked Pat how she chose the conflict for her characters, she said:

Choose a conflict? We get to choose our own conflicts?

Sorry, I just had a moment of process panic…  We all approach a book differently. I start with characters and a situation. These people pop into my head, nattering at each other, and they keep getting stronger and demanding that I listen, so I start taking notes.

I try really hard to define their characters, their motives, their goals, their flaws, all that good stuff, before I start writing. And the best way to develop conflict, for me, is to look at that list of traits and goals and see where one character opposes the other. He’s an astronomer…she’s an astrologer. How could that go wrong? He’s building telescopes and gazing at the stars…she’s drawing zodiac charts and telling him he’s going to die. Cheerful little devil, isn’t she? (That's Magic in the Stars, coming out March 29, 2016)

And somewhere thereafter, they’re off and running and I just let them go. I’m not saying I advise listening to those voices in your head, mind you. Because that’s just crazy. <G>


Cara has a somewhat similar approach to mapping out the conflict of a story.

She says: Scandalously yours

For me, conflict comes in two elemental forms, and I like to think of it with a Regency metaphor—the plot is like steel, and the characters are like flint, striking against the steel to set off sparks.  It’s the internal conflict of the hero and heroine that heats up the story. How they overcome doubts, fears, or whatever challenge stands in the way of achieving happiness is what makes us keep turning the pages.

 So . . . how do I going about creating these sparks?  I am a total pantser, so don’t ask. I get a story idea, I figure out basic conflicts that are torturing my main characters. For example, in Scandalously Yours, the heroine secretly writes fiery political essays pressing for social reform, but if her secret is made public, her family will be disgraced. The hero is an oh-so conventional lord who believes it’s important never to break the rules of Society. I had a perfectly good plot in mind for them, but by Chapter Two, they gave me the Evil Eye and started to rewrite everything. I was happy to hand them the pen. 


RogueSpy cover w-o blurbMe? My books are set in wartime. You got yer battling nations and divided loyalties. You got yer spies, lies, secrets, betrayals, misdirection, midnight flits, and the occasional gunfire, My heroes and heroines are now and then on opposite sides.

So my problem isn't so much creating the conflict to keep my people apart. There's distrust and cross-purposes scattered thick on the ground. The problem my unfortunate characters face is carving out some little niche of peace to fall in love in. My people have to learn to trust each other . . . and they aren't all that trustable.

In Rogue Spy, for instance, my hero and heroine, Pax and Cami, were children recruited as spies by the French Revolution, both trained to perform horrible deeds, both placed as covert operatives in England. They meet again as adults — ingenious, dangerous, tough adults who have to wonder if they can allow themselves to love each other.

(P.S. They do the trusting thing, but it takes a while.)



In your own reading, do you have favorite sorts of this-is-what-keeps-them-apart?
Do some sorts of conflicts just annoy you?

Some lucky commenter will win a book of mine. Their choice.

It’s called WHAT? Thoughts on Titles

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Titles are an important part of how books are perceived, so this month's Ask a Wench Question was:

How do you come up with titles?  How hard is it? Do titles matter? Have you had your publisher give your books a title you didn't like?  And if that's happened, did it sell well?  <G>

Pat Rice:

Rice_Christmas200I’ve written over sixty books and a dozen novellas and coming up with a title only gets more difficult, because by now, I’ve used up every romantic word that can be put on a front cover. And over the last three decades, every possible title has surely been used at least three times, so finding a unique one… requires help, lots of help. (Fresh Christmas title, anyone?)

Before self-publishing, my editor and I used to create long lists of romantic nouns and adjectives and try to piece them together when we couldn’t agree on a title. We’ve come up with the perfect title and been shot down because another author came up with that same title sooner. Now that I’m out here on my own, I call on friends and fellow authors, and when times get desperate, I have social media to fall back on. My new Unexpected Magic series and the first three books were titled entirely by readers, because my friends and I had simply run out of Magic ideas.

If you think that making up titles sounds like fun, sign up for my newsletter and see what you’re in for!


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What We’re Reading in September

September is a grand month for reading. We've come up with some great suggestions.

Wench shamelessAnne here: I've been really enjoying some NA (New Adult) college stories. I've mentioned Sarina Bowen in this column several times and now I'll add Elle Kennedy to the list — they've written a few book together, which is how I discovered Elle Kennedy. Both these authors are writing fresh, fun, yet realistic stories that deal with some very serious issues faced by young people at that age, while still remaining very sexy and romantic. 
The Shameless Hour – Sarina Bowen
Bella gets around — she's a bright, positive, lusty girl. Rafe is a hunky Hispanic boy who has been raised to respect women — which is why he's still a virgin at 20. When the double standard smacks Bella down in the nastiest way, Rafe steps in. A gorgeous story, both realistic and romantic and positive.
The Deal  Elle Kennedy
Another NA story set on a college campus. Hannah Wells has a crush on one guy, but an annoyingly persistent jock is after her to tutor him. They do a deal to help each other achieve their goals.
I couldn't put it down. Really enjoyed it.
Pat Rice brings us:
Wenches NeanderthalNeanderthal Seeks Human: A Smart Romance, is the first book written by Penny Reid. I love the brain-heavy, neurotic heroine—who has every right to be neurotic given her dysfunctional family. It’s totally a contemporary fantasy but the author’s voice is so hilarious that I kept reading anyway. Sure, it could use a lot of trimming, but who would want to trim material that contains (and I’ve seriously edited here) lines like this: “I think my alcohol-saturated forebrain lost the ability of conscious thought, but my lower brain—the Id…may have slipped my forebrain some benzodiazeprines…. I will call that part of my brain Ida.”

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Deadlines & Dreadlines!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

 Several of us are under the deadline gun at the moment, so I thought it would be interesting to do an Ask A Wench about how we each deal with deadlines.  Or in the term Pat Rice coined, Dreadlines!  As usual, we differ greatly.  <G>

The Question: Deadlines — do you love them?  Hate them?  Would you be unable to function without them?  Do you always finish early enough that the point is moot?  Or do you flounder desperately as the sword of Damocles drops faster and faster?

The Answers:

Anne Gracie here.

I've always had a tendency to start slow and finish in a screaming rush, whether it was school essays or novels. When I was first published, I made all my deadlines on time, but with recent books I've been later and later. Now I'm working to get back on track because I really hate being late. Last minute, fine, late, no.

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I need them — I am never satisfied with what I write so if left to myself, I'd fiddle and tweak endlessly and overthink everything, and hardly ever get a book finished. Deadlines give me motivation to move on and a sense of urgency that gradually increases. A bit like the Chinese water torture. . .  

On the other hand I hate them — they loom endlessly, sniggering as I flounder and Pseudopleuronectes_americanus--a Wiki Founderfumble toward them.

You think a deadline can't snigger? Believe me, mine can!

Jo Beverley weighs in:

There was a time when I was always ahead of my deadlines. No longer. Perhaps it's an age thing. I set my own deadlines for my publisher, so I can't complain if I'm in a last minute rush, and I give myself plenty of time, but I always end up at the limit. A book takes me about a year, though I can do other writing alongside it, and for most of that year there seems so much time stretching ahead of me. Yet in the end, as now, I'm chasing down to the line on the editing and polishing. But I get there in the end. Like so much about the Vnawfinal--JoBevcreative process, it's a mystery!

The deadline book now is The Viscount Needs a Wife, and you can pre-order your copy now. I will be out on time!

Patricia Rice, the contrarian:

I am a wimp. I cannot handle dreadlines—and that is not a typo. I stress out, panic, and dive for cover—which sort of means no writing happens. People may hate me for this—but I’ve learned to combat terror by finishing my drafts early. Then when I stress out, I at least have a bunch of words strung together. That first draft stinks. It’s pure unconscious drek that spills out without rhyme, reason, or plot. But I edit as the story and characters form in my head as I write. It’s painful. It requires much re-reading. And even when a deadline loometh, I know it’s not ready. But once my editor has gone through it—which can take months—I’m ready to look at it Pat--evilgenius200x300fresh. And by that time, all the elements are in place. I just have to dig them out.

So maybe I’m not so different from my deadline avoider friends—I’m just sneakier.

My first experience in working without a deadline started well over ten years ago, when I doodled around with an insane story that had no genre. It took me years to even realize I was working on a mystery. Once I figured that out… Evil Genius happened. I could never have written it under contract!

ScandalouslyYours-CElliottCara/Andrea speaks:

I don’t know what it is about deadlines that set off a warning bell in my head. It probably has to do with my Swiss mother, whose sense of timing ran with the precision of that country’s legendary watches. From an early age it was drilled into me that One Must NOT Be Late. (My friends tease me that they can set their clocks by my arrivals at meeting places.)

And for better or for worse, that carries over to being on time in turning in my books. I know, I know, most people can treat deadlines with the insouciance of Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean ("it’s not really a rule, it’s more of a guideline.") But the heebie-jeebies I’d suffer aren't worth the extra dawdling. So as the date looms, the scribbling gets faster, and somehow I manage to make it, though it’s sometimes not easy.

Even my Mother would have given me a gold star for finishing Scandalously Yours on time. Hurricane Sandy hit a week before its deadline. The power was out in my house all that week, I was having to get up round the clock to run the sump pump by a generator to keep the basement from flooding . . . . and I actually finished the ms. on time by the light of kerosene lamps and my laptop charged by a power cord hanging out the window down to the generator. My editor was pleased. (She thought I was crazy, but appreciated my bizarre habit!)

So I’m not a Flounderer . . . though not sure what fish I represent—maybe the darter fish???

Nicola Cornick contributes:

 I worked in various administrative roles in universities before I became a writer full Clock_ticking_midnighttime and my working life was ruled by deadlines. Minutes to be circulated, exam timetables to be drawn up, award ceremonies and open days to run like clockwork to the minute… These days I still feel residual stress in June, the exam season.

When I started to write full time I thought that I would kick back a bit and devise my own schedule. Two things stopped me. The first was that I was generally on a contract to write two books a year so I had a very clear deadline. The second was that I was trained over many years to work from 8.30am to 5pm (4.30pm on Fridays!) and if I tried to be more flexible with my time I felt guilty when I wasn’t writing.

Actually I think it’s even more complicated than that. My mother’s family were sticklers for good timekeeping, seeing it as next to godliness, and embraced the Protestant work ethic with fervour (hence the guilt if I wasn’t constantly “busy”). I can remember arguments from my childhood because my stepfather was the exact opposite, always late, and always in a minority.

The outcome of this was that for 15 years of my writing career I stuck faithfully to a schedule and never once missed a deadline even though sometimes the stress of doing so was pretty extreme and the closer I got to the deadline the more my brain would freeze. Being late just didn’t seem an option.

Then, this year, I changed genre from Regency historical to time slip and my muse simply would not deliver the ideas within the required time span. I struggled. I froze completely. The words wouldn’t come. The structure of the book was wrong. Everything made me panic. I wrote a pitifully small number of words. Finally I had to ring my editor up and ask for more time and once I had done that I felt hugely relieved and the words started to flow again.

At last I have learned that being late on deadline isn’t the worst sin. I still make sure I’m never late meeting my mother’s family, though!

Highland-groom-sarah-gabrielSusan King's turn:
For my first few books, I was diligently on time or even weeks early, but since then I've certainly encountered my share of deadline woes and extenuating pressures. So I've turned books in late (to be fair, not horribly late, just late-ish, which suited my editors, who were late-ish types too, so we would adjust the deadline a little to please everyone). Looking back, I can pretty much attribute the beginning of those softening deadlines to the year my kids started staying up past 8:30 p.m., and there went those quiet evenings to write. Once the house was gradually overrun with my boys and everyone else's boys, from little to teenagers and beyond as the years went by, I was happy to hit within a couple of weeks of a deadline.  

Mix in the complications of aging relatives — and add my natural tendency to be a seat-of-the-pants writer rather than a disciplined planner (the right brain's in charge, the left brain only wakes up for research and early draft, and then later as the deadline looms) — and deadlines are approximate, but if my editors are fine with that, it works. I'm the kind of writer who has huge cumulative creative bursts in the later stages of writing. I can produce in a few weeks what eluded me for months, so I've learned patience with my own process: I'm simply wired as an impulsive right-brain creative, and I've learned to finally accept it and stop wishing I was a more organized soul.  

I've also learned to accept that writing books surrounded by a very busy household means that my deadlines always need to be flexible. Some of my notable deadline adventures included finishing the last chapters and final polishing of a rather intense novel while all three kids had strep throat at the same time and then gave it to me …. And there was the time that I was writing the last chapters of a book when one son, home from college, came in with his friends to make their first batch of beer. It was winter and freezing, and we had to open the windows to clear the noxious hops odor — but the brewery in my kitchen did lend an air of historical authenticity to The Highland Groom — a tale of whiskey smuggling!  

Pseudopleuronectes_americanus--a Wiki FounderMary Jo here, sadly reporting that like Anne, I am one with the flounders!  Coming from a graphic design background I was certainly familiar with deadlines, but a lot of design is left-brained, while writing turned out to be a slippery slope of increasing right-brainedness.  My first book was sold on a partial manuscript, so even then, I needed a deadline to get it done.  

The slide began on an early book when I asked my editor if I could have a week or so more and she said, "Sure."  Then she explained that she'd learned that if she insisted on hitting the exact deadline, she'd get a book, but it wouldn't be as good as if she gave her author the extra time needed.  The slide began…  

That same editor once said that I always delivered in a timely manner, in a late-ish sort of way.  I'm not so sure about "timely," these days, though!  The Muse is a lazy Wench, and I've found that she is increasingly less inclined to show up a nano-second before she has to.  My current editor has started making sotto voce comments about thumb screws.  I've found that scheduling a holiday for autumn, when the book MUST be done, increases my motivation, but really, who wants to punch the "Send" button two hours before flying to Prague???  Which I did a couple of years ago, no honor to me!  

Borle+ShakespeareMust catch that Muse and settle her down for a serious talk…

Jo Beverley suggested that it would be fun to rerun Christian Borle's rendition of "It's Hard to be the Bard," that I put into my last blog on RWA and seeing the Broadway show SOMETHING ROTTEN.  This is a different clip, though.  He's singing alone at a Barnes & Noble CD signing so you can really hear the words, and all the very familiar writer lamentations!  

How are you with deadlines?  An early finisher, or do you go screaming to the finish line as some of the Wenches do???

Mary Jo, screaming to the finish line of Once a Soldier

Give a Lady a Pen and Novel Things Happen!

Udolpho illustrationCara/Andrea here, musing today about historical heroines, and how it’s a challenge to give them ways to flex their intellectual muscle while still staying true to the temper of their times. The Regency era is easier, as it was a time of great change in all aspects of society. Still, giving a highborn lady a “job” tests an author’s imagination. 

But that’s part of the fun of crafting the concept for a book! And actually, in my latest series I had one of those “ah-ha!” moments that had me off and running. In my “Hellions of High Street” trilogy, the three sisters all have a secret passion for writing. Sinfully Yours, which releases tomorrow, features Sinfully Yours-smallAnna’s story. She’s the one who writes wildly adventurous—and racy—romance novels under a nom de plume, and as you can imagine, I had great fun with that!  And that there was a real life role model for her added extra enjoyment to shaping her character.

There were, of course, very few professions in 18th and early 19th century Britain in which women could compete on an equal footing with men. The creative arts offered the best opportunities—including writing. In fact, women authors were hugely influential in shaping the course of the novel, especially Ann Radcliffe.

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