Wednesday, June 08, 2011

It's About Conflict and Tension 3

Thanks to Phoebe for sharing her thoughts on brainstorming. I could use a good brainstorming partner right now as I'm dealing with a new WIP. And remember: leave a comment on her post for a chance at her giveaway. You have until Friday.

Conflict: the word conjures up images of people fighting. But, as I pointed out in last week's posts on microtension, conflict encompasses a much broader scope.

When Jay Boyar of Orlando magazine reviewed 4 romance novels, including my FINDING SARAH, he pointed out that in my book, unlike the others, “Sarah and Randy don’t, for some strange reason, immediately hate each other.”

Having hero and heroine not like each other definitely increases conflict and tension. But it’s not necessary to take that approach. (Confession: when I started writing FINDING SARAH, I’d never read a romance, so I didn’t know about this “hate each other” convention.) Hero and heroine can have a common goal, but with different motivations, and conflict can grow from that.

Example: In FINDING SARAH, both Randy & Sarah want to solve the crime, “Who robbed Sarah’s shop?” Randy wants to do it because he’s a cop, and that’s what he does. Also, the robber seems to be someone he failed to catch on another spree, so his professional pride is at stake. For Sarah, it’s a matter of saving her business—her livelihood. As the case progresses, Randy has a new problem: he’s violating his own code by taking a personal interest in Sarah. And Sarah is violating her internal promise to be independent and not rely on anyone. But there’s no real reason for them to dislike each other.



After FINDING SARAH, I decided to follow convention a bit more closely. In NOWHERE TO HIDE, Colleen and Graham are also trying to solve the same case, although Colleen is no longer a cop. Here, Colleen does take exception to Graham, because she’s declared herself finished with cops. Her goal begins as getting him out of her life by beating him at his own game. They learn they’ll do better by working together, yet there is still enough going on to keep the tension rising. I had several discussions with my editor who took exception with the way Colleen helped Graham at one point, thus reducing the tension in the scene. BUT, she’s an ex-cop, and it would have been out of character for her to withhold evidence, and to me, the character takes priority. And, because I’m always at least half a step out of the box, Graham had absolutely nothing against Colleen from the moment he saw her.

Then, there’s the approach that both characters want the same thing but for different reasons. Maybe they both want to buy the same farmhouse. But she wants it because it’s where her parents lived, and she wants to restore it. He wants to turn it into a shopping mall. Their actual goal isn’t really the farmhouse, it’s what they want to do with it, and they’re in opposition right away. I haven’t written one of these yet.

In WHEN DANGER CALLS, Frankie and Ryan meet by chance, and a lot of the tension comes from them being total opposites in personality. Yet they’re not antagonistic. Each of them has an agenda, and while some of their goals end up overlapping, it’s not until the friendship is established that they consider the deeper conflicts between them. She’s a single mom who’s a caring and nurturing person. Ryan’s a covert ops specialist. One who had a child die in his arms on a previous mission, so simply tossing Frankie’s child onto the page adds conflict for him. Throwing in other issues—Frankie thinks her mother’s boyfriend is a crook—can raise the stakes if she needs Ryan’s help.

In WHERE DANGER HIDES, I was again starting with more conflict between hero and heroine. He resents her because he’s pulled from what he really wants to be doing when his boss assigns him to look into some missing people. She wants his help, but once she sees he’s only paying lip service to the assignment, would rather be rid of him. But there’s no outright antagonism.

In any of these approaches, there’s still going to be the romance/relationship conflict. (Another reason romance, especially romantic suspense, is harder to write than people think. You have to deal with your basic storyline and its conflicts and final resolution, PLUS you have to get the hero and heroine together at the end.)

14 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I've always thought there was a *lot* going on with romantic suspense... really, 2 different stories at once. And the pacing would be complex, too.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth, it's actually 3 stories: hero's arc, heroine's arc AND the mystery/suspense. And they all have to be entwined. If you could have the same story without the romance, or without the mystery, then it's not working.

Kristi Helvig said...

Interesting post, Terry. I don't write romantic suspense but it sounds very complex. For me, the main characters hating each other from the beginning is a little predictable, so it's great that you didn't do that with your first one.

Terry Odell said...

Kristi - it DOES get complicated. Crafting a mystery is tough enough, but including the romance adds more challenges. However, that's what I found I enjoy reading (I call them mysteries with relationships) so that's what I write.

Lynne Marshall said...

I agree that having the h/h hate each other doesn't always work. In fact all the sniping gets annoying. The H/H need to have opposite external goals, but they don't have to hate each other. The most important thing is creating a solid Internal goal for each character, and that Internal conflict creates a road block for their romance - that's where the true and believable tension/conflict comes in, and that is what fascinates me about a book.
Hats off to you for intwining that mystery/suspense part. Seems a daunting task!

Terry Odell said...

Lynne - well said. External and Internal goals can be totally different, another great place to kick up the tension

Kris Bock said...

I've certainly read plenty of romance books where the main characters like each other from the start. Maybe something external is keeping them apart, or professional conflicts of interest, family obligations, misunderstandings, shyness...

With romantic suspense, I think it's even easier to have the main characters like each other and possibly work together from the start, because much of the tension comes from the external action. In my romantic suspense Rattled, the heroine is sometimes intimidated by the hero and puzzled by his interest, and at a couple of points she wonders if he could secretly be with the bad guys, but basically they always get along. The heroine has enough drama to face from bad guys, wild animals, and desert storms to keep the story moving!

Kris Bock said...

PS -- Terry, I love the fact that you break the rules. I like books that promise a happy ending but aren't too predictable along the way!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Kris - and maybe it was a 'good thing' that I didn't know the romance "rules" before I started writing. I know I had more fun doing it that way!

Calisa Rhose said...

Interesting, and helpful, breakdown Terry. I don't write suspense, but I still don't have my characters hate right off the mark. Often it's their like that causes the problems for them. He likes her, but she's sworn off 'his type' whatever that may be. She likes him, but he's not good enough for humanity, much less her... Their personal internal conflict is what keeps these going for me. The attraction is there, the elements of a great love story- but for whatever their life reasons are, there's no chance in hell it will work. Then when it does I love that happy ending. Of course there's external conflicts too. Maybe because of his job is why she won't date him, he thinks he let his wife die and he beats himself until she can't get through without a lot of work. I love throwing a child in the mix!

Your book sounds fascinating! I love reading suspense.

Anonymous said...

Nice and thanks!

Terry Odell said...

In romance, finding a hero or heroine, and then finding their "perfect match" and then figuring out why it won't work until the resolved their issues is part of the fun.

lprobinson64 said...

Terry, I can this [] close to missing this post on conflict today by saying I'd read it later. I'm so glad I decided to read it now.

When I first started my first novel,I hated always reading about the heroine and hero at each other's throats all the time when every reader knew they would get together by the end of the story. For this reason I made mine childhood friends. Then I did badly by trying to cause conflict similar to other romances I'd read and learned that conflict for childhood friends is a difficult thing to produce. This post of yours has given me ideas on where I can find the conflict and what type of conflict I need. Thanks.

Terry Odell said...

LP - thanks so much. It's gratifying to know my ramblings actually help people!