Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

Romance novels consistently represent one of the most popular genres, with over a billion dollars in sales each year. There are two basic types of romance novels—category, and single-title books.


Category Romance:

Some publishers release several books in a particular line each month, with strict guidelines as to their word count and structure. This format must be followed for every book in the category, regardless of the author.

Single-Title Romance:

These books are sold individually rather than as a group. The page length is not fixed, and the author has more control over the structure of the story.


In every romance novel, the growing relationship between the heroine and the hero is the most important element of the book. There must be believable conflict causing them to change and grow closer, but subplots must not take on more importance than their romantic relationship. Conflict, both internal and external, should increase emotional tension, but readers expect things to end with the hope of the couple living happily ever after.

The setting and time period can be anywhere, anytime. There can be elements of suspense, mystery, fantasy, etc., but the couple in love must be the main focus of the book. If it isn’t, it isn’t a real romance.


 Resources for the Romance writer:








For Romance Readers:

Harlequin ebooks 16 free category romances


Reviews and News for Romance Readers



Why do you enjoy/hate romance novels? Do you prefer the category romances or single-title books? What’s your favorite romance author or book?


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In my previous post I enthusiastically promised an absolutely awesome video experience, which apparently was an effective hook as several people mentioned they’d be looking forward to watching it. It’s finally ready for viewing:



While turkeys obviously enjoy their rituals, there usually isn’t much going on that would interest a casual observer. Just like a novel that has a plot with poor pacing, little conflict, or a weak story line, watching the toms court their hens can be pretty boring.

In fact, some people would not consider my turkey video worth posting, much less “awesome.” You may have found it disappointing, too, after the buildup in my earlier post. And, many of you probably expected the video to relate to writing since that’s the focus of this blog. Surprise! However, there are at least 39 other turkey courtship videos on YouTube today, so I must not be the only person in the world who loves turkeys. Just goes to show that there’s probably an audience for whatever writing genre that you love, too.

When we talk about our projects to others, whether it’s in the form of a query, jacket blurb, or oral pitch, we’re trying to entice them to take a look at more of our work. When the finished product fails to live up to the hype, though, we may be rewarded with a rejection or a disappointed customer. (On the other hand, if we don’t present our work in an enthusiastic, positive way, no one else is likely to get excited about it either.)

Once someone decides to take a look at our work, we need to hook their interest and then hold on to it. We can start with a great opening, but to keep readers turning the pages we have to make sure the rest of what we’ve written lives up to their expectations. If we’ve promised suspense, there better be something suspenseful happening and it should be building up to a major climax. If people are expecting a romance, there needs to be some serious emotional involvement between the main characters. In nonfiction, whatever we’ve promised to show the readers needs to be evident.

If we fail to deliver what we’ve promised, we’ll disappoint our readers and lose our credibility.


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A homeless dog showed up this weekend and started camping out on my patio furniture. We’re trying to find him a good home, and in the meantime we’re meeting his most basic, and apparently insatiable, need: food.

Looking for a Good Home

The last few nights have been chilly, so yesterday I decided to make a temporary shelter for the little guy. I gathered up a laundry basket, towels, and blankets to construct a cozy den. I imagined him snuggling into it, looking at me with adoring eyes as I gave him the pièce de résistance—a beef flavored rawhide chew toy to help him occupy his time. I grabbed my video camera so I could record this touching scene to send my daughter, who fell in love with the beagley vagabond this weekend when she was visiting us (to get her birthday presents!).

The dog was blocking the patio door, so I trundled out the front door with my supplies, barely able to keep from dropping everything. As I rounded the house, Beagle Boy raced toward me, knocked the basket out of my hand, grabbed the rawhide, and disappeared into the weeds I call a flowerbed. I raced after him with my video camera, desperate to record his enjoyment of the only treat I’d bought him. Thinking I was trying to take it from him (yes, that’s a break in point of view—but I’m sure that’s what he thought), he ran into the woods and hid it.

He came back in a few minutes to watch me finish his shelter, and even crawled inside it. For several minutes I filmed him laying there, staring into the woods. The odd part of that is that when I wanted a still picture to email everyone I know, I had to take 45 pictures to get one that wasn’t blurred by movement. Now I have a 3 minute video of him not moving so much as a muscle.

So, you’re probably wondering how I could possibly relate this to writing. Fortunately, nearly everything I see or do reminds me of writing, so I can make that transition quite smoothly.

As we prepare our manuscripts, we gather our ideas and supplies, and work hard to reach that final, fantastic climax. We anticipate the finished product being worthy of our efforts, providing us deep satisfaction—possibly even winning us the adoration of agents, publishers, and countless fans. Then reality takes over.

No matter how wonderful the ending is, how cleverly written or exciting the final climax may be, it can’t sustain the whole story on its own. Like the rawhide chew toy, it can get buried in the woods and remain unappreciated if everything leading up to it doesn’t work out right.

Start with a great hook and end with a satisfying resolution, but don’t forget that the middle must do the brunt of the work. When the hook you’ve polished so hard isn’t followed by an enticing middle, with rising action and/or tension, you may lose readers. When the story threads unravel, when the writing is disorganized, readers will notice. They may not continue on to that fantastic ending you’ve planned.

Go ahead and save the best for last, but make sure you’ve got something good to offer throughout the whole story.  


How do you keep the middle of a story from sagging? How do you add interest or tension without getting to the main climax too early? How many chapters or pages do you think are suitable for tying up the ending, after the major climax has occurred? Are you a dog person, or do you prefer cats—or neither?

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I’ve often heard that each chapter in a book should end in a cliffhanger. According to the Encarta Dictionary, a cliffhanger is a noun meaning:

1. ending left teasingly unresolved: an unresolved ending in a part of a serialized drama or book that leaves the audience or reader eager to know what will happen next
2. tense situation: a situation full of tension or suspense because it is not clear what will happen next

The goal of using a cliffhanger is to keep the reader turning the pages instead of stopping at the end of a chapter. The cliffhanger is a mini-climax, and the following chapter (if it’s by the same point of view character) usually shows the reaction to it, followed by an evaluation of the character’s options, and the decision he or she must make to move forward toward the long-term goal. That gives the character a new short-term goal, builds tension, creates rising action, and moves the story towards its major climax.


Do you like cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, or do you think it becomes too predictable/repetitive? What makes the best cliffhangers—danger, emotional tension, a new clue to what’s going on? What books have you read that use cliffhangers effectively?

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Writing fiction is hard. I can’t make my characters do what I want. They keep coming up with their own ideas and messing up my plot, and I’m getting pretty tired of it. I’m having to re-write a whole bunch of scenes because they didn’t like what I told them to do.

If anyone else told me that, I’d think they were nuts. How can characters talk? How can they do anything at all when they aren’t real? I know that, yet I still get mad at the way they behave. It’s like I’ve gotten to know them well enough that I know what they would do in a situation, but it isn’t what I want them to do. I gave them certain personalities when we started this story, and don’t you know they went and changed!

They can’t be allowed to do things that don’t fit their personalities, or the story won’t be believable. Yet, the changes were necessary to develop the plot. So now the plot doesn’t fit the characters anymore.

This is frustrating. I did not want to write a romance. This is supposed to be a suspense novel. Somebody needs to be punished for this and I think it’s going to be the main character. She has it way too easy, and the guys just love her. It’s not that I’m jealous or anything. Lorraine is though, and I’m going to whisper something into her ear that will really make her hate Danni.

Oh, sorry. Here I am rambling about my characters when you haven’t met them and probably don’t care about them. But you’re supposed to care about the characters in a novel. If readers don’t care, they stop reading. And giving them problems and making them dislike each other, or love each other, or fight each other, builds tension and conflict.

No one wants to read about perfect people, unless it’s to see them get tormented and brought down a peg. Peg! That’s another character in my story. It’s a conspiracy. They want to take over my mind and keep me typing this story forever. They want to live forever and ever, and all I want them to do is go:

To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1)


Do your characters take on a distinct personality? Do they change as the story progresses, or are they the same at the end as they were in the beginning? Do you enjoy stories where the characters are perfect, or do you prefer flawed characters? Aren’t you glad we don’t talk like they did in Shakespeare’s time?

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 Conflict is a key component in a good story. It may be internal, meaning the character faces a mental or emotional dilemma, or external, meaning there are obstacles the character must deal with. Often there is more than one conflict, and the character must overcome them to move the story forward. These conflicts create “rising action,” and lead the character towards the climax of the story.

A story without conflict won’t stimulate growth in the characters, and won’t hold a reader’s interest. Conflict increases suspense, heightens tension, and reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the characters.

The type of conflict appropriate for a story depends on several things, including the target audience, the genre, the purpose of the story, and the requirements of the publication you’re sending it to. If your target audience is Christian women, the story will need a different type of conflict than if the audience is adult men or young children. If you’re writing a thriller, the main conflict will probably involve violence; if it’s a romance, the conflict will affect the relationship between the main characters.

No matter what type of story you’re writing, the reader will expect the conflicts to be believable. They’ll also want them to be important. Few people will care about the minor conflicts facing a character—such as what to wear, where to eat lunch, or what brand of toothpaste to buy. Those types of things don’t move the story along and don’t help the characters grow.

Dump the characters into the middle of a dilemma or event that makes them struggle, help them figure out how to get through it, and then pile on more conflict. Use layering to fill in the background information and clarify the cause and effect relationship of what’s happening. Keep the tension building and the action rising toward the story’s climax. After the climax, the falling action will culminate in the resolution of the loose ends.  

There is an excellent article on conflict and plot at:



Do you think a story can have too much conflict? Can a story still be interesting without any major conflict?

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In fiction, characters experience struggles, or conflicts, that they must deal with and attempt to overcome. Some conflict is internal, between the character and his or her own conscience. Some is external, occurring between the character and someone else, or with an outside force such as nature, society, technology, or the supernatural.

The plot depends on conflict to hold the readers’ interest and to move the story forward. As the conflict builds, the story escalates in tension and eventually reaches the climax. The events after the climax decrease in tension, and resolve the story’s main conflict.

Without conflict of some kind, the plot will be flat and uninteresting. No matter the genre, there won’t be a climax without the rising tension that conflict creates. Whether it’s a romance, a thriller, a literary work, or science fiction, readers want to experience the thrill of the struggle, either internal or external, and see how the characters overcome it.

(Encarta dictionary): Conflict

LITERATURE  plot tension: opposition between or among characters or forces in a literary work that shapes or motivates the action of the plot


Edit November 17, 2009: Agent Nathan Bransford has a helpful blog post about conflict: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/03/on-conflict.html


Do you prefer stories that focus on internal conflicts or do you prefer those that deal mainly with external conflicts?   

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