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The Importance of Goal, Motivation & Conflict.

 

The long days of summer make it hard to stay at the keyboard, but for many of us, they're also a time when we have more time to write. It's with this in mind that I'm doing a re-post.


The reason I'm reposting this particular post is because last week I attended a webinar hosted by FHLCW that featured Shana Asaro. Shana spoke for over an hour and answered tons of questions about writing for Love Inspired and Love Inspired Suspense.

During much of her presentation, she focused on the importance of GMC - the goal, motivation, and conflict needed for a successful submission.I found it particularly fascinating when she mentioned that several years ago, the Love Inspired editors read and studied this book together. That was enough motivation to get me to pull my copy off the shelf and dust off the cobwebs. I figured we could all use a refresher, so here is my original post on the topic.


 Before I begin, a caveat - I can't say GMC by Deb Dixon is one of my favorite craft books (for reasons which I will explain), but there's no doubt it's an important and beneficial one.

The Importance of Goal, Motivation & Conflict.



You see in many ways I could be that cautionary tale veteran writers use to terrify newbies. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I first began to write, I had no idea that there was such a thing as structure or that stories followed any prescribed formula. 

I should amend that comment. I was not consciously aware of it. But because I was an avid reader, and had been for my entire life, I had a somewhat intuitive sense of story structure even if I didn't know that's what it was.

The Importance of Goal, Motivation & Conflict.



So, picture me happily writing away without a care in the real world, lost in my own wonderful story world. 


But then I took a break from writing for a while - children, work, grad school, there just weren't enough hours in the day to make it all work, and writing took the back seat. 

Cue the violin music.

The Importance of Goal, Motivation & Conflict.



No, seriously, the reason I'm explaining that is because I so very clearly remember coming back from my self-imposed writing exile to attend a writer's conference. And I remember being confused because of all the buzzwords I was hearing - and the buzzword that was on everyone's lips was GMC.

GMC. I had no idea what they were talking about. It was like everyone else was speaking a different language.

Finally, some kind soul clued me in to Debra Dixon's book (which had been published while I was off on writing hiatus).

I read it. I saw it's value (which it clearly had since everyone was talking about it!), and I ignored it.

I didn't want to write conflict. 

I liked happy stories.

I didn't want to make them be mad at each other.

Are you laughing at me yet?


I learned my lesson, and that got me book contracts. So here's hoping it will help you too.

I'm going to use a photo of the back cover, because I think this shows why the book is so important.

The Importance of Goal, Motivation & Conflict.



I could try to give examples, but that would sort of be plagiarism, so I'll just recommend you get yourself a copy if you don't have one to dig out of the cobwebs.

GMC is apparently also a really popular topic here on Seekerville.

If you're interested in looking more into it. check out some of these posts:

Mindy's Engaging Openings

Missy had one in the Archives - Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time

(Note: Missy really gave a detailed explanation of how she uses a GMC chart.)


Then there are all these GMC posts in the Seekerville archives!


So tell me, are you a GMC chart maker? How do you handle planning the goals motivations and conflict for your characters?

Make Them Care

 

Make Them Care

by Mindy Obenhaus

A novel is an invitation to embark on the journey that lies within its pages. As the author, our job is to capture the reader’s attention on page one and make them want to keep reading.

How do we do that?

By crafting multidimensional characters readers care enough about to be willing to invest themselves in.

We all know that each character needs a goal, motivation and conflict. In my latest release, A Future to Fight For, my heroine’s goal is to purchase an abandoned castle. Her motivation is that she wants to get back into the wedding planning business, but she lives in a small Texas town so she needs something special to draw interest and a castle will do just that. The problem (conflict) is that someone else (the hero) also wants to purchase the castle.

Those are the basics. But let’s dig a little deeper so we can really get to know our heroine. Because the better we know our characters the more our readers will know them. And the more they know, the more they care what happens to those characters and that will keep them reading.

So if our heroine wants to get back into the wedding planning business, that means she was once a wedding planner. So what happened?

Her husband and son were suddenly taken away in a tragic accident, robbing her of her passion and causing her to walk away from the successful business she’d worked hard to build.

Okay, so why does she want to return to it now?

After running a bed and breakfast and catering weddings and other events for the past five years, her love for creating fairytale weddings has reignited, filling her with a purpose she’d been lacking. However, our heroine isn’t just thinking about herself and her desires. No, no, no. She knows that hosting weddings and other events will also boost the revenue of the tiny town she’s grown to love, which shows that she cares for others. 

Make Them Care

As an author, asking “why” forces us to dig deeper. There has to be a reason our characters think/act the way they do. The more we know about them, the more real they become to the reader who, in turn, becomes so invested in the characters they have to keep reading.

Yet while there’s a lot of stuff to make the reader cheer for my heroine, my hero isn’t quite so likeable. He’s a prickly sort and, when the story opens, there’s no love lost between him and the heroine. So how do you make someone likeable when they’re behaving like a jerk?

Give the reader glimpses of their heart. Something that’s easier to do when we’re in their POV. Unfortunately, the first time we meet the hero, we’re in the heroine’s point of view and we know right away that she’s not particularly fond of him and why. So, I had to show him doing something endearing like helping the heroine when she’s about to topple a load of baked goods and buying some lemon cookies because they’re his daughter’s favorite. Little hints that let us know our cranky fellow might have a heart, after all.

Of course, as the story unfolds, we learn that our hero has some deep wounds, too. Throw in a couple of kids he’ll do anything for, and you’ve got a recipe for plenty of push and pull between the hero and heroine.

“Why” can be a writer’s greatest tool to help dig beyond our character’s superficial GMC’s to unearth a treasure trove of details that will not only help you the author know your characters better, but will transcend to the story to capture the reader’s attention and make them care about the characters they often come to think of as friends. 

What tricks or tools do you employ to get to know your characters better?

Make Them Care

Award-winning author Mindy Obenhaus is passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. She lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, two sassy pups, countless cattle, deer and the occasional coyote, mountain lion or snake. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, cooking and watching copious amounts of the Hallmark Channel. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com

Cate's Favorite Craft Books - GMC by Debra Dixon

 Before I begin, a caveat - I can't say GMC by Deb Dixon is one of my favorite craft books (for reasons which I will explain), but there's no doubt it's an important and beneficial one.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books - GMC by Debra Dixon


You see in many ways I could be that cautionary tale veteran writers could use to terrify newbies. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I first began to write, I had no idea that there was such a thing as structure or that stories followed any prescribed formula. 

I should amend that comment. I was not consciously aware of it. But because I was an avid reader, and had been for my entire life, I had a somewhat intuitive sense of story structure even if I didn't know that's what it was.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books - GMC by Debra Dixon


So, picture my happily writing away without a care in the real world, lost in my own wonderful story world. But then I took a break from writing for a while - children, work, grad school, there just weren't enough hours in the day to make it all work, and writing took the back seat. 

Cue the violin music.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books - GMC by Debra Dixon


No, seriously, the reason I'm explaining that is because I so very clearly remember coming back from my self-imposed writing exile to attend a writer's conference. And I remember being confused because of all the buzzwords I was hearing - and the buzzword that was on everyone's lips was GMC.

GMC. I had no idea what they were talking about. It was like everyone else was speaking a different language.

Finally, some kind soul clued me in to Debra Dixon's book (which had been published while I was off on writing hiatus).

I read it. I saw it's value (which it clearly had since everyone was talking about it!), and I ignored it.

I didn't want to write conflict. 

I liked happy stories.

I didn't want to make them be mad at each other.

Are you laughing at me yet?

I'm going to use a photo of the back cover, because I think this shows why the book is so important.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books - GMC by Debra Dixon



GMC is apparently also a really popular topic here on Seekerville.

If you're interested in looking more into it. check out some of these posts:

Mindy's Engaging Openings

Missy had one in the Archives - Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time

(Note: Missy really gave a detailed explanation of how she uses a GMC chart.)


Then there are all these GMC posts in the Seekerville archives!


So tell me, are you a GMC chart maker? How do you handle planning the goals motivations and conflict for your characters.

Engaging Openings

Engaging Openings

by Mindy Obenhaus

Recently, a fellow author and I were discussing opening scenes, why some really grabbed hold of the reader’s attention while others lacked punch, despite having key elements such as the h/h meeting quickly, goal, motivation and conflict, etc.

An opening scene needs to be engaging and make the reader care about the character enough to embark on their journey with them and see it through to the end. But that doesn’t mean that all openings are cast from the same mold, does it? Curious, I went back and looked at the opening scenes of some of my books.

Just in my two most recent releases things varied considerably. In A Father’s Promise, book one in my Bliss, Texas series, the hero and heroine don’t even see each other until the end of the first scene. And when they do, it’s barely a glimpse and they don’t speak to each other. While in book two, A Brother’s Promise, the h/h are conversing by the bottom of page one.

I write for Love Inspired Books and one of their must-haves is that the hero and heroine meet in the first scene. However, whether they lay eyes on each other on page one or page fifteen or somewhere in between depends on the story. Wherever it happens, though, readers need to be engaged from the get-go. If they’re not, they’ll put the book down and we don’t want that.

So how does one craft an opening that will make readers want to keep reading?

Goal, motivation and conflict– You’ve heard this over and over again. Every character has to have a GMC not only for the story, but for each and every scene. In chapter one, though, it’s their story goal, motivation and conflict that needs to be established so the reader knows what the character wants, why they want it and what stands in their way. It’s what makes us want to cheer them on. Now, that’s not to say that their GMC might not change at some point during their story, but in the opening scene, it’s what starts them on their journey and invites the reader to join them. And it needs to presented ASAP.

Engaging Openings

Stakes – What’s at stake goes hand-in-hand with GMC. Stakes are what will (or could) happen if they don’t achieve their goal. In A Father’s Promise the heroine wants to name a guardian for her infant daughter so that if the heroine (who has no family) were to die, her daughter would be taken care of by someone who loved her. The stakes are that if she doesn’t name a guardian and something does happen to her, the daughter would become a ward of the state. Stakes are the driving force behind each goal.

Inciting incident – Once we know our character’s goal, motivation and conflict and what’s at stake, it’s time to contemplate the inciting incident. This is when something about the hero and heroine coming together changes the trajectory of their goal and/or life. Needless to say, when my heroine in A Father’s Promise sees her baby’s father, she knows her life is about to change in some way. In A Brother’s Promise, it’s when Christa learns that Mick is now the guardian of his five-year-old niece and she can’t help but reach out to them in hopes of making the transition easier for little Sadie. The inciting incident is what brings the hero and heroine together and often results in a common goal. But we can’t simply bring them together. No, we want to…

Engaging Openings

Rock their world – Example, my very first book was a secret baby story. Of course, the heroine knew her life was about to change as soon as she saw the hero she believed turned his back on her and her son nine years prior. However, the hero didn’t learn about the boy until chapter three. Then an editor asked me to revise it, stating that she wanted him to find out sooner. So I reworked things, bumped it up a little, though not by much and said editor bought the book. Imagine my surprise when I received my edits where she stated she wanted the hero to learn about the boy at the end of the first chapter. At the time, I wasn’t too thrilled about that, but I soon saw how right she was. Instead of simply seeing the girl he loved and whose heart he’d broken, his world was rocked by the knowledge that he had a son!

In my August 2021 release, the hero and heroine both want to purchase an abandoned castle. The owner refuses to sell but issues a counteroffer. The h/h—who can’t get through a church committee meeting without butting heads—must work together in exchange for exclusive rights to use the castle as an event center and a museum.

When trying to come up with a rock-their-world moment, it helps to use an approach you all have heard me mention before. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen to that character at that moment and then find a way to make it happen. It can be a challenge, but it works.

When crafting the opening of your book, remember you only get one chance to make a first impression. If you don’t grab an editor’s/reader’s attention within the first few pages, they may not keep reading and that’s never good. Instead, we want to capture their attention with an opening that makes them want to journey with the characters all the way through to that satisfying ending.

Writers, what strategies do you employ for an opening with impact? Readers, what sorts of story openings capture your attention?  Leave a comment to be entered to win one of two copies of an anthology due out later this month. My April 2019 release, Her Colorado Cowboy, has been paired with Lois Richer’s, Rocky Mountain Daddy, and will hit store shelves April 16th. (US mailing addresses only, please)

Engaging Openings


Engaging Openings

Award-winning author Mindy Obenhaus is passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. She lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, two sassy pups, countless cattle, deer and the occasional coyote, mountain lion or snake. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, cooking and watching copious amounts of the Hallmark Channel. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com

 

Using Dialogue to Your Advantage

by Jan Drexler



Every story needs dialogue, right?

But if dialogue isn’t used well, it can be a liability to your story. A space-filler. Nothing but a word-count booster. We want to avoid useless conversations in our stories at all costs!

Dialogue can be strong, bringing clarity to our characters and our scenes, but dialogue can also be a pitfall.

What are some of the liabilities of dialogue?
1) Dialogue can take the place of action.
2) Dialogue can take the reader and the characters around in aimless circles.
3) Dialogue can stop story progression in its tracks.

...unless we, as authors, take control of those liabilities and use dialogue to help our stories sing.



How can you make sure your dialogue adds to your scene rather than bogs it down?

The trick is to have your character’s goal in the forefront at all times – but this is easier said than done, right? I find it helpful to write out my character’s goal, conflict, and the disaster for each scene before I start writing it and post it on my computer screen, or my desk, or my planner - someplace that keeps it in front of me while I write..

Here’s an example from my Work in Progress, a cozy mystery. Emma, the main character, and sleuth in the story, has discovered a body in her room at the Sweetbriar Inn B&B where she’s working. Her goal is to clear her name, the conflict is that the evidence is against her, and the disaster is that Deputy Cal ends up accusing her of murder.

The deputy at the door buzzed me right through to Cal’s office.

“You must have been expecting me.” I sat in the brown vinyl upholstered chair across the desk from him.

“Becky texted me with your ETA,” he said, sitting behind his desk with the ever-present toothpick firmly in the corner of his mouth. “Can I get you anything? Coffee?”

“No thanks. I have my water with me.” I always carried a bottle of Evian in my bag, a habit left over from traveling in foreign countries on a regular basis.

“Then we’ll get started.”

Cal shuffled through some papers on his desk. He found a blank tablet and a pen, then looked at me.

“For the record, I need your full name and address.”

“Emma Blackwood.” I hesitated. “Do you want my Chicago address, or the inn?”

“The inn is good enough.” He wrote it down, then glanced at me. “What time did the victim arrive at your suite?”

“Victim? Then he really was murdered? I hoped it had been an accident.”

Leaning his elbows on his desk, Cal looked at me. “Ms Blackwood, this is an interview. I ask the questions and you answer them. Understand?”

“It’s Emma.” I squirmed in my seat. “Am I a suspect?”

“Like I said last night, everyone is a suspect at this point.” He drew a circle on his tablet. “How long have you known the victim?”

“I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him before.”

“Then what was he doing in your suite?”

“I don’t know.” And I wasn’t about to begin speculating.

“What time did you leave your room?”

“At seven in the morning.”

He wrote the time inside the circle and drew lines across it as if he was cutting a pie. “You didn’t return at all during the day?”

“We were busy all day getting ready for the guests to arrive.”

He made a note in another pie shape. “What did that entail, exactly?”

I took a deep breath. “I made sure all the beds were made with freshly laundered sheets, and fresh towels and linens were available in every room. I checked to see if the plumbing was working properly and that every room was clean. Then I made sure the common areas were ready to go. In the afternoon I took an inventory of the storeroom and took Rose’s dog for a walk before the first guests arrived.”

“What time was that?”

“Clara was the first, and she arrived just after three o’clock. Rose had picked her up at the airport and brought her to the inn.”

More notes.

“What time did Rose leave for the airport?”

I thought back. “It was after lunch. Probably around twelve-thirty.”

“Who else was at the inn before the guests arrived?”

“Just Wil.” I remembered the scones. “And Becky must have come by sometime to deliver the scones for afternoon tea, but I didn’t see her.”

“When did Mr. Brill show up?”

“I never saw him.”

“Right.” Cal made another note. “What about the wine glasses?”

“The wine glasses?” An image of two wine glasses on a tray flashed through my memory. “I didn’t see them before you came and we took you upstairs to see the body.”

Cal stared at me, bouncing the end of his pen on his tablet. “They weren’t there when you first discovered the body?”

I shut my eyes. I saw the shoes, the dim room, Tim meowing…

“No, I didn’t see them then. Only when you came back to the room with us, after Wil called you.”

“And how much time passed between finding the body and when Wil called?”

“It was at least half an hour. Maybe closer to forty-five minutes. It seemed like it was forever. I waited until all the guests had left for the evening before I told Rose about the man in my room.”

Cal bounced his pen again.

I shifted in my seat. “Is there something you haven’t told me?”

“After further examination, the coroner determined that Dick Brill’s body was moved post-mortem.”

My head swirled. “What?”

“Somebody moved him after he was dead. Perhaps someone planted his body in your room to throw suspicion on you.” He leaned back in his chair, watching me. “Unless, of course, you’re the one who moved him.”

“Why would I do that?”

“To cover up the fact that a man died in your suite. Maybe you intended to get rid of the body later.”

“But then why would I tell Rose? Why would I have Wil call you?”

He shrugged. “Maybe you got cold feet.”

My stomach churned. I began to wish I hadn’t eaten a second peach muffin.

Cal leaned on his desk again, his dark brown eyes boring into mine.

“Emma, did you murder Dick Brill?”

The biggest advantage to using dialogue is that it adds movement to your scenes – a give and take between the characters that can highlight personalities.

The style of dialogue can add something else to your scene. In the example above, I used a back and forth style with short sentences like bullets. Very little introspection. Tension that rises and falls. This (I hope) keeps the reader involved in the action, present with Emma as she experiences the interview.

I wanted to keep this interview casual, more like a conversation between friends than an interrogation. If I wanted Cal to be an antagonist, I could have made his questions even shorter and have him pound each statement in like a rivet.



In a romance, I tend to use dialogue with more tags, descriptors, and introspection. Here’s an example from “Softly Blows the Bugle,” my October release from Revell. In this genre I use a different kind of scene structure – one that reveals Aaron’s goal (to leave Weaver’s Creek as soon as he can,) his motivation (to escape the memories of the war,) and his conflict (fighting against his own Amish background.) The conflict doesn’t appear until the end of the scene, left out of this excerpt.

Footsteps in the grass behind him. Aaron turned to see Jonas. Ever since they had met in the hospital after one of the many battles in the Siege of Petersburg in October, Jonas had been the one to keep Aaron’s path straight. But it wouldn’t be long before they would go their separate ways. How did he ever come to be friends with a Yankee?

“Are you feeling all right?” Jonas rested his arms on the fence rail next to him.

“You aren’t a medic anymore.”

Jonas gave a soft chuckle. “It has become a habit.” He rolled his shoulders. “It feels good to be home, but . . .”

Aaron let the silence grow between them.

He sighed. “It isn’t what you remembered?”

“It’s still home, but not much has changed. It is as if the war didn’t happen at all.”

“But the war changed you.” Aaron let his mind go back to the angry, fiery young man he had been, hot to kill any Yankee he could find after a scouting party shot Grandpop and left him to die with his blood seeping into the Tennessee land he had loved. “Both of us. War will do that.”

Jonas looked out over the meadow. “You’re right. We’ve both seen things that Katie and my family can’t fathom. And I don’t want to tell them. I don’t want Katie to know how terribly cruel men can be.”

“Do you still think war is wrong?” Aaron looked at his friend. “Your side won. The Confederacy is dead.”

“And the slaves are free.” Jonas bowed his head. “But the cost . . . The cost is so great. I was willing to give my life so others could be free, but when I think of how many others paid the ultimate price, it grieves me.” He passed a hand over his face. “Yes, I believe war is wrong. I pray that our country will never be in another one.”

After a few minutes of silence, Jonas changed the subject.

“What do you think of my family?”

Aaron let a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. “You described each one perfectly. Except your sister Elizabeth. I wouldn’t have been able to choose her out of a crowded hog wallow if I didn’t hear your mama say her name.”

“Elizabeth is different than I remember, but she didn’t spend much time with the family when her husband was alive.”

Aaron leaned on the fence post, easing the weight pressing on his good leg. “She’s a widow?”

“Mamm said Reuben was killed at Vicksburg.”

“I thought you said that the Amish don’t fight.”

“Reuben wasn’t Amish.”

Aaron shifted again to ease his aching leg. Elizabeth was a puzzle, but he wouldn’t be around long enough to sort it out.

In this scene the dialogue is drawn out. Longer sentences, a lot of introspection. This kind of dialogue helps to set the tone for the story.

Even though this dialogue is very different from the scene in my cozy mystery, it still moves the story along. But notice how the dialogue tags and actions make a difference in how the scene reads. As authors, we can use dialogue styles to control the pacing of the story, the mood of the story, and even the genre. 



Another use for dialogue in your story is to convey the theme. Not sure what the theme of your book is? Listen to your characters as they speak. Sometimes they'll surprise you by revealing the theme.

One of the best examples of this happening is in this scene from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Even in the movie version, the theme comes through powerfully.




Now it's your turn. Do you enjoy writing dialogue, or does the idea of it turn your brain into oatmeal? How have you used dialogue to your advantage - or how have you seen dialogue used well in a book you've read?

And by the way, "Softly Blows the Bugle" is available for preorder!

Even if you aren't able to order the book at this time, would you do me a favor and put it on your "want to read" list at Goodreads? Here's the link: Goodreads


When Elizabeth Kaufman received the news of her husband's death at the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863, she felt only relief. She determined that she would never be at the mercy of any man again, even if it meant she would never have a family of her own. Then Aaron Zook comes home with her brother when the war ends two years later.
Despite the severity of his injuries, Aaron resolves to move West and leave the pain of the past behind him. He never imagined that the Amish way of life his grandfather had rejected long ago would be so enticing. That, and a certain widow he can't get out of his mind.
Yet, even in a simple community, life has a way of getting complicated. Aaron soon finds that while he may have left the battlefield behind, there is another fight he must win--the one for the heart of the woman he loves.Welcome back to the Amish com
munity at Weaver's Creek, where the bonds of family and faith bind up the brokenhearted.











Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

This post first appeared in Seekerville on March 14, 2016

*********************************************************************

Battling Through Your Manuscript...Once Scene at a Time


By Missy Tippens

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time
Photo credit: Bigstock/Yastremska

Have you hit a wall? Do you often get to Chapter 4 or Chapter 5 and say, “What in the world is going to happen now????” Are you at the midpoint of Speedbo (the Seekerville book-in-a-month writing challenge) and having a moment of panic, wondering where your story is supposed to go?

I’ve been there with you, and I’m going to give you two methods that have helped me battle through.

1.   Mine Your GMC Chart

If you’re stuck trying to figure out what’s going to happen in your next scenes and chapters, go back and take a peek at your Goal, Motivation and Conflict Chart (for more information, check out Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction). If you haven’t already considered your characters’ GMC, then take some time to figure this out. I’ve already done a couple of posts on this (Click hereand here.) Also, Tina Radcliffe once shared an example of her chart on her white board, so you can take a peek at that (click here.) [Note: many photos from our Archives blog are no longer available.]

So once you have your chart, look at each block on the chart. Brainstorm scene ideas that have to do with that particular block, scenes that will show that particular aspect of the character.

I thought I’d share an example. Below is my GMC chart and scene ideas cut and pasted directly out of my brainstorming file for the book that became The Doctor’s Second Chancefrom Love Inspired. (note: I = Internal and E=External, G = Goal, M = Motivation and C = Conflict)

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time


***
Example: GMC Chart for The Doctor’s Second Chance
(This changed a little while writing the full book and after critique.)

Jake:
EG—Work hard and play hard
EM—he’s enjoying his freedom; he deserves to have some fun after the responsibility that was thrust on him from a young age (parents’ death and aunt and uncle who worked all the time leaving him with brat cousin)
EC—Cousin Remy has dumped a baby on him (and he goes back into responsible mode)
Int need: secure family unit of his own
IM—deep need for security/belonging/connection
IC—He doesn’t believe that it’s possible so tries to act like it’s not important (instead goes for freedom and living in the moment—even dangerously)

Violet:
EG—build her new practice and take care of children
EM—she didn’t like impersonal large city practice/clinic and felt rootless
EC—it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, and she’s an outsider so business is not picking up like she’d planned.
Int need: connection
IG: Have kids by doctoring in a small town community
IM: she gave up a child for adoption and thinks she’ll never have her own (thinks she doesn’t deserve it)
IC: She really does want her own but is afraid to risk loving (maybe harbors bitterness toward parents who made her feel worthless for her huge mistake. Needs to forgive and let go to get rid of the bitterness)

Scene ideas:
Jake
EG—Work hard and play hard (although this is really a lie—he’s just a hard worker, and has always felt he needed to earn his way)
Scenes that show him working
Gets asked to go camping but can’t. Asked to go skydiving but can’t (first inkling of having someone to care about besides himself)
Show in charge and strong in his job/contrast with lack of confidence with baby
EM—he’s enjoying his freedom; he deserves to have some fun after the responsibility that was thrust on him from a young age
Discussion with Remy so we know he took care of her
Comment from someone at church about him always being responsible
Scene where he realizes the baby is like him—“deserted” by parents
EC—Remy has dumped a baby on him (and he goes back into responsible mode)
Opening scene
Scenes where it’s difficult to get work done
Fish out of water scenes
Int need: secure family unit of his own
Flashbacks/dialogue where we hear of him missing parents and family of his own—especially when Remy resented him.
Showing him realizing he likes time with Violet and baby better than skydiving or time outdoors with friends (it gets easier to turn down offers of fun adventure)
IM—security/belonging/connection
Realizes Violet is filling needs he didn’t know he had
Doesn’t feel like the 5th wheel with her
IC—He doesn’t believe that it’s possible so tries to act like it’s not important (instead goes for freedom and living in the moment—even dangerously)
Scene where he’s scared of how close he feels to Violet; feels vulnerable and doesn’t like it. Says he doesn’t need that closeness or someone to know him and makes plans to go skydiving, which V doesn’t like. (or does something else against her wishes on purpose to push her away)

Violet:
EG—build her new practice and take care of children
She agrees to help Jake just because she’s helping a baby
She checks up on Abigail, worries for her
Tells him she did not rip off his family—tells him he doesn’t know details
Begins to ask patients to spread the word that she’s good
EM—she didn’t like impersonal large city practice/clinic and felt rootless
Show her enjoying small town life—she sees advantages of being known, appreciates that others know her business
Goes to church and meets people; show first time she goes out and someone recognizes her, making her feel good
EC—it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, and she’s an outsider so business is not picking up like she’d planned.
Show her going to church and no one really knows her; she’s an outsider
People call her Doc, but she realizes they don’t really know her at all; there’s no one around who knows her likes and dislikes or about her past; they don’t know Violet
Int need: connection
She has struggled and fought her way through medical school and now has trouble opening up and being vulnerable with new friends
Scene where she meets a new friend—in lab, Darcy, gets to know her better, feels she’s actually met a friend (could meet over the winning of the auction)
First time she attends church since the auction—a few people remember her by that. It’s a small sense of connection
She remembers that one time she went and decides to go back because of connection of the auction. It’s her only tie other than work.
IG: Have kids by doctoring in a small town community
Show her bonding with a patient; child reaches for her, which warms her heart. This could actually happen at church or in town so Jake witnesses it.
IM: she gave up a child for adoption and thinks she’ll never have her own (thinks she doesn’t deserve it)
Scene with Remy, can relate to feeling she’s not worthy.
IC: She really does want her own (family/child) but is afraid to risk loving
Scene where fear over loving Jake makes her want to give up
Realizes she needs to call parents and make effort to heal
Goes to see parents, takes Jake/baby for moral support
****

As you can see, I got a lot of scene ideas just from mining my GMC chart! If you’ve read the book, you may recognize some of these ideas that became scenes. (If you haven’t read The Doctor's Second Chance and want to, here’s a link!)

Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time



2.   Know the Middle … And Then Aim for It

I love James Scott Bell’s book Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between. Since I bought the book, I’ve read it each time I’m plotting a new story to help with the scene ideas. (BTW, it’s a short book.) I’ve found that deciding on the mirror moment in the middle gives me something to aim for once I get past the opening chapters. So no more sagging middle! The basic premise of Bell’s how-to book is that once you know your mirror moment in the middle, that moment when the character takes a hard look at himself and wonders what kind of person he is, what he will do to overcome his inner challenges, then you can go forward to figure out the pre-story psychology or go backward to figure out how the character transforms by the end. Knowing this middle scene will help all the scenes have unity. And like I said, for me, it gives me something to aim for.

I thought I’d share another example. Again, this is from my brainstorming notes, directly cut and pasted, for the story that became The Doctor’s Second Chance. (Spoiler alert! I give away a lot here, all stuff I figured out before I finished writing the book.)

***
Example: Midpoint Brainstorming for The Doctor’s Second Chance
Story Question:
Will Jake be able to take care of this newborn and locate his cousin before Violet gets the court involved? Can Violet fulfill her goal of helping children without falling in love with the baby…and with Jake? Or might the two of them discover that family comes in all shapes and sizes?

Mid-point mirror moment:
Jake: Is there really such thing as a secure family…this ideal little family bubble? For me? And if so, do I dare go for it? What if it got taken away? Show him taking a risky step: asking her out on a date. It’s a concrete move toward making them a unit.

Violet: Do I deserve to be happy? Can I really move forward and let go of the past? Show her admitting some weakness to him. Maybe she shares about rift with her family (but not why), how she’s felt she has to do everything herself. And then she opens up with how she needs him somehow (maybe she needs him to support her in town, by letting people know his opinion of her has changed). [but I’d kind of like him to do this on his own, and she discovers he’s done it because he cares. So maybe she doesn’t ask him to do that. Maybe she just opens up and shares her hurts.]

Pre-story psychology:
Jake: Parents died, “abandoning” him. Aunt and uncle took him in but he always felt he needed to be good for them to keep him. That “being good” alienated his cousin, so he never felt part of the family. His aunt and uncle worked a lot, and he got stuck trying to keep Remy out of trouble since he felt like her destructive behavior was probably his fault. Once she ran off, he felt a sense of relief, of freedom. Has been working hard so he can play and enjoy that freedom. Thinks he has just what he wants. The baby being dropped on him limits that freedom, and he feels that renewed sense of guilt, as if he does owe her. Plus, he’s just naturally responsible.

Violet: Parents were socialites, valued what others thought of them, worried about appearances. Were often gone, lots of baby sitters. She fell for a guy who needed her, and got pregnant. Parents insisted she give up for adoption, would not consider helping her keep baby, claiming she couldn’t give up her lifelong goal to be a doctor. But she felt they were more worried about how it would make them look. She resented them. No relationship since, even though they’ve tried and dad has apologized (mom insists it was best for everyone). She has been independent, putting herself through school and medical school. Feels she was weak and failed her child. Decided she would help other children by becoming pediatrician. Didn’t like large clinic and impersonal medicine. Bought small town clinic to be part of patients’ lives.

Transformation:
How can I show it?
Both have had ideals of the perfect family that they never had. Have to learn to let go of that. Have to accept a new picture of what family means to them now that God has brought them together, and to let go of fear of the rug being yanked out from under them. Must learn to trust God instead of themselves (what I’m learning now).
Jake: In the beginning, he’s still trying to be responsible and take care of others, finding it hard to ask for help. Connection is out of a sense of duty rather than out of love. Needs to extend love. Needs to accept love freely given. He doesn’t have to earn the right to be part of a family.
To show his transformation…He’ll ask her to be his family (scary and risky but worth it). And he’ll ask it even while she’s still acting cool toward him, so it’s even riskier. He’ll do it with God’s strength (when he is weak, God is strong).

Violet: In the beginning, she’s independent and all business, only willing to reach out for the good of the child. She feels driven to work to deserve anything good that comes to her. She’s driving herself, fighting her nature to want closeness and family. She learns she doesn’t have to work hard to earn happiness just because of her past. Needs to accept love freely given. She is worthy of love, because God loves her just as she is.
Or maybe what she thought she needed was control over her life when what she really needed was to give up control, to just accept love.
To show her transformation…she’ll sleep in past sunrise. (maybe in epilogue? On honeymoon?)
****

So you can see how I started by figuring out the middle. Then I backed up to figure out some backstory and scenes that will show it. Then I figured out how to concretely show the ending of the story with my characters in a new place emotionally.

I hope sharing my methods helps some of you! If you’re stuck, try brainstorming using these two methods. Come up with as many ideas as you can. You most likely won’t use them all, but you may find some nuggets that you end up loving! And at least you can keep moving forward on your first draft, even if you change some of it later.


Back to Basics: From the Seekerville Archives: Battling Through Your Manuscript...One Scene at a Time

After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.comhttps://twitter.com/MissyTippens http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.


Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat


Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat

by Pam Hillman

A couple of weeks ago, I got together with a group of other authors for my first ever brainstorming retreat.

Best.Time.Ever!

Janet W. Ferguson, Patricia Bradley, Stephenia H. McGee, and I all live in Mississippi, and we were scheduled to go to a book signing at a library, so I reached out to them to see if they’d be interested in scheduling a retreat at the same time. To my delight, all three were ready to brainstorm a new project, so it was perfect timing for all of us.

Now, before I get to the nuts and bolts of what worked for us, let me say I had the most fun at this retreat than anything I’ve ever done in the writing world. If you get the chance to go to a brainstorming retreat, do. If there’s not one in your area, or you can’t travel a long distance to one, then reach out to your circle of friends and organize one yourself.

So, how do you go about that…

Hostess - Someone needs to be “in charge” of your retreat. In this case, since it was my idea, I took the reins. We figured out when and how long all of us could meet, and I built our schedule around that. I booked the venue, prepared the schedule, and then … uh … tore it all up at the last minute. But for a really good reason. (Read on to find out…)

Central Location - While a retreat at some far-flung location that requires two days of air-travel might be on all of our bucket lists, scheduling, cost, time, and exhaustion factors in for some of us. Or at least it does for me.

Everyone in our group lives in Mississippi. While Pat had to travel the farthest, she was going to be in the area for the book signing, so didn’t travel “extra” for our retreat. So, search for a central location to minimize everyone’s travel time and expense. 

Keep it Simple - Originally, I looked at booking a cabin at a local park. But since the cabins at that location require you to bring your own bedding, we opted for a hotel instead. Since there were only four of us, it worked out beautifully. (And their continental breakfast was exceptional!)

Be Flexible - Remember how I said I planned the retreat, booked the venue, and created the schedule? Well, 24 hours before the retreat, I had to cancel. Why? My 2nd granddaughter decided to make an appearance on the exact day of the retreat. But all was not lost. Since there was no airfare involved, and our small group was flexible, we shifted from the day before the book signing to two days after. The hotel rebooked us, and that was that. Su-weet!

Piggybacking Another Event - If you’re thinking of planning a retreat before or after another event as we did, consider carefully which one is the most exhausting. For instance, as stated above, our retreat was originally scheduled for the day before and morning of our book signing. I used so much brain power during our brainstorming that if I’d gone from there to the book signing, then had a two hour drive home, I would have been comatose. 

Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat

Four and no more - Okay, maybe you can have a few more than four, but be careful of having so many people that the ideas are coming at you faster than you can think. Also, if there are 7-8 (or more), it’s going to be hard to get through that many sessions without everyone becoming exhausted, so either you’ll need to allow extra day(s) or break into two or more groups. Bottom line, four worked perfectly for us.

Schedule - The hostess should create a tentative schedule and run it by the group. Our group could only meet from 2 pm until 10 am the next day. I originally scheduled 1 1/2 hours for each session, but we quickly realized that our natural rhythm leaned toward 2-3 hours for each story idea.

We got through four ideas in 20 hours, only breaking 2 hours for dinner, 7 for sleep, and 1 hour for breakfast. I don’t advise that tight of a schedule! Ha! I don’t know about the others, but I was exhausted. Ideally, two full days with two sessions on each day, some time to relax over lunch and dinner, and time to get a good night’s sleep for the next day is critical.

Share Ideas Ahead of Time - The sessions will go smoother if you share everything you know about your story with the other brainstorming partners ahead of time. Don’t worry if what you have is vague or even if it’s open to change. Just give everyone something to hang their hats on. We shared genre, time period, location, and as much of the characters and plot as we’d figured out. Plus some. :)

Internet Access - One of the things you might not think is important to a brainstorming session is internet access. I certainly didn’t think we’d use it at all. But Janet was a whiz at researching historical and relative people/places/events that took our story ideas to a new level.

Friends and Partners - Read your partners’ existing work, or at the very least have a working knowledge of what they write. Historical romance? Romantic suspense? Women’s fiction? Light and fluffy, or dark and sinister? The more you know about their style, the better you’ll be at brainstorming their stories. And vice versa.

Mix of Genres - And in that vein, we brainstormed two historical and two contemporaries. While it’s not a hard and fast rule to mix genres when brainstorming, flipping from one to the other kept our creative juices flowing.

What Else? - Load up on snacks, drinks, coffee, and comfortable seating. And a few blankets or throws for those who are easily chilled. (Not mentioning any names, but her initials are SHM!) Pat brought an artist’s sketch pad and markers. When we got stuck on my hero’s GMC, she pulled out the paper, and we were off and running again.

And Last - Don’t stress. Pack light. Fly/drive “ugly” as my friend Robin is fond of saying. Wear sweatpants and flip-flops. Pull your hair up in a ponytail and forego the makeup if you like. But bring on the story and your thinking caps!

So, there you go. That’s how we did it. Now it’s your turn. Have you been part of a brainstorming retreat? Please share your tips, techniques, and any advice on things to avoid.


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Planning a Successful Brainstorming Retreat
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The Queen of Charts: Sharing One Way to Plan a Story

Missy Tippens


The Queen of Charts: Sharing One Way to Plan a Story


Let me reintroduce myself. I’m Missy, the Queen of Charts. I love a good planning chart and have a whole folder full of them on my hard drive to prove it. Because I learn best by seeing examples, I’ve shared some examples of my files in previous posts, hoping they might be a help to our readers. Here are links to two of those posts:



Today, I wanted to share another GMC chart. FYI: GMC is taken from the book GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. I also modified my chart after using Carolyn Greene's Magic Conflict Chart from her out-of-print Prescription for Plotting notebook (she said will have a new edition coming later this year!). In addition, I've added some brainstorming notes that I made after reading The Story Equation by Susan May Warren and also hearing her present workshops at conferences.

I used these charts for my recent release, “Her Valentine Reunion,” part of the mulit-author collection, BackTo You.

Warning…SPOILER ALERT!! If you own this boxed set and want to read my novella first, please run do that. Or if you don’t own it yet and want to read it first (It's only 99 cents!), here’s a link. Then be sure to come back. :)

In these examples, I’ll be copying and pasting directly from my planning notebook file (you can even see when I had a gem of an idea :)). Sometimes the story doesn’t end up exactly as planned, but for the most part, this one did.

You’ll see that for each character, I plan the following:
External goal, motivation and conflict (EG, EM, EC).
Internal need (what they truly need), goal (possibly misguided), motivation, conflict (IN, IG, IM, IC). Plus, something to consider.

GMC Chart for Her Valentine Reunion

Victor
EG: Go to High Hope/Dahlia (changed town name) to buy a golf course or invest in a struggling country club
EM: To look at establishing himself in High Hope/Dahlia and supporting the community.
EC: His ex-girlfriend, whom he did wrong and who wants him to stay away from her, works at the place he wants to buy—and hopes to take over the business when her uncle retires.

IN: to belong
IG: to earn forgiveness by being a better person (atonement/sense of duty toward hometown)
IM: he’s been aloof and superficial to protect himself in the past but has had an epiphany; he’s made peace with his newly discovered cousin and wants to have that relationship (but needs to change to do so; his almost-fiancée said he needs to accept people the way they are)
IC: it seems impossible to overcome his reputation and no one seems willing to forgive.
Consider: You can’t earn love and acceptance. It’s a two-way street, and you must first risk loving others.

Abbie
EG: Move back to her roots and make a happy, single life for herself near family and friends. Also making her place in uncle’s business so she can maybe take it over someday (a nice living for her single self).
EM: Hearing about the mistake Victor made being away from his grandmother before she died.
EC: Victor shows up, and he’s talking about buying the place she works—the place she wants to keep in the family and take over when her uncle retires

IN: Security/loyalty
IG: be independent and follow God’s plan for her life, even if it’s not what she always envisioned
IM: She’s been rejected/used in the past and doesn’t trust others easily
IC: It’s hard to be strong when Victor is around, reminding her of past hopes and dreams
Consider: If you try to be independent and not acknowledge the truth of your desires, you’ll never get what you need. 

The Queen of Charts: Sharing One Way to Plan a Story


Additional Brainstorming Notes:

Victor
Wound: parents were not involved in his life. They were always busy with their own jobs and didn’t prioritize him, their only child. Praised him when he was successful, so he felt he could earn their attention. Grandmother was only one who showed unconditional love (and he ultimately let her down). Even his job success never seemed to impress his parents. With grandma dead now, he feels adrift—except for the tenuous relationship with Hardy. It’s a life-line.

Lie: (child) I must not be very lovable, so I need to be really good at something to earn attention and love.
Lie: (adult) People want to associate with me when I’m successful. That’s power to have them want my attention. I like my ability to give them things. If I lose my successful business, I am nothing.

Biggest fear: Everything I have crashing down (failure at business). Because that would mean loss of power, and thus, loss of worth.

IDEA!
To stay in High Hope/Dahlia he’ll have to sell his business. So buying the country club would be his way to stay in High Hope and be near family, which he dreams of having (and belonging). But to buy it would be to go against the one thing Abbie wants (to keep it in her family and take over for her uncle someday).


Abbie:
After he treated her so badly in college (Victor hid fact he needed to succeed more than he needed her), she felt used. Felt like she wasn’t worthy of love. Felt less than. Took a big hit to her confidence. Took a long time to get over that. Men she dated didn’t help. She had to do it on her own and through friends and family.

Her biggest fear (potential): 1. being found lacking    **2. Being used/taken advantage of or made a fool of
I think I like #2 better. Rather than be used or made a fool of again, she’d rather be single. Not so risky. So feeling God wants her to be single is less risky than having to trust Victor again.

Wound: Victor ignoring her and keeping her out of his life even while supposedly dating (because she didn’t have/offer anything to advance his goals).

Lie: I’m safer being alone, not depending on anyone else for my happiness. Nothing and no one is worth risking having your love thrown back in your face.

Missy again…

So that’s a peek inside my plotter’s brain. It’s a great way for me to think through my story and to make sure I have some decent backstory before I start writing.

Often, the next step is to think of scene ideas for each block on my GMC chart. I think of scenes that will show, for example, my heroine’s external goal, or my hero’s internal motivation. This is also a great way to make sure I’m not just telling with a backstory dump. Once I have a lot of scene ideas jotted down, I try to put them in some type of chronological order that makes sense and seems to progress in rising action. This won’t be all the scenes in the story. But it’s a nice skeleton to start with. And of course, that changes as I move forward in the writing—because the story sometimes goes in surprising directions.

I hope y’all found this helpful! I’d love to hear whether you use any sort of GMC chart. How do you plan your characters?

Giveaway! I’d like to offer to look at your GMC chart or, if you don’t work that way, to look at 1-2 pages of your brainstorming notes. I’ll give feedback or offer additional ideas. Just let me know in the comments if you’d like to be entered.

So, are you ready to read Victor and Abbie's story? :)
The Queen of Charts: Sharing One Way to Plan a Story


Join some of today's best-selling Christian Romance authors as they introduce you to four new couples who reunite for a second-chance at romance. This inspirational romance collection from Love Inspired authors Cheryl Wyatt, Missy Tippens, Jessica Keller, and Kristen Ethridge will warm your heart and each quick, satisfying read will keep you in the spirit of Valentine's Day and holiday romance all year long with stories of true love and happily-ever-after.




Also! Don’t forget to pre-order Cowboys of Summer! Next month I’m going to talk a little about how this city girl wrote her first cowboy story. :)

The Queen of Charts: Sharing One Way to Plan a Story


As the summer weather sizzles, relax by the pool with stirring tales of handsome cowboys and the spirited ladies who wrangle them into romance. Six of Christian fiction's most beloved authors join forces to bring you a collection of humorous, romantic and heartfelt novellas set against the sultry heat of summer.

***************
After more than 10 years of pursuing her dream of publication, Missy Tippens, a pastor’s wife and mom of three from near Atlanta, Georgia, made her first sale to Harlequin Love Inspired in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Booksellers Best, Holt Medallion, ACFW Carol Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and the Romance Writers of America RITA® Award. Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com, https://twitter.com/MissyTippens and http://www.facebook.com/missy.tippens.readers.


Conflict and Tension, Part One



Conflict and Tension, Part One
by Melanie Dickerson
                          

It’s my first official post as a Seeker! I’m excited to be here on a regular basis, and I pray that I will be a blessing, as much as Seekerville and its Seekers have been a blessing to me these past ten years.

When I tried to think of something helpful to share with fellow writers, I thought of Conflict and Conflict’s first cousin, Tension. Without these two elements, your novel will be boring. And as any reader knows, boring is the kiss of death.

Conflict and tension are essential across all genres. But conflict and tension are slightly different in different genres. For example, in a thriller, the conflict and tension may be life and death drama—the hero is running for his life. He’s been shot, tortured, his wife murdered, and now he has to stop a killer before he detonates a nuclear bomb and destroys half of North America.
Conflict and Tension, Part One
Crestock Images
In a romantic suspense, you might have the hero and heroine running for their lives. But in a romance you wouldn’t see them get tortured, they wouldn’t be trying to save the world, and you probably wouldn’t have a close relative murdered in front of them.

So how do you keep up the tension and conflict in a romance?


You can give them a conflict of interest. For example, in the movie While You Were Sleeping, Lucy is falling in love with Jack, but Jack’s whole family believes she’s engaged to Jack’s brother Peter, who happens to be in a coma. Lucy is afraid to tell them the truth—she’s never even met Peter and certainly isn’t engaged to him—because she has no family of her own, is really lonely, and Peter’s family has practically adopted her.

So you have Jack suspicious of her, afraid she’s going to hurt his family when they realize she’s a fraud, and he’s trying to prove that Lucy isn’t really engaged to Peter. Yet he’s falling in love with her. But how can they tell each other how they feel? She’s engaged to Peter. So the conflict involves Lucy losing her newfound adopted family if she tells the truth, the tension of keeping this huge secret, and the fact that she’s falling in love with her fake fiance’s brother.

Now, I’m not the best at teaching the craft of writing. In fact, I don’t claim to be a very good writer. (The bad reviews that criticize my writing? I'll be the first person to say they're mostly RIGHT.) But I do think I’m a good storyteller, and when my book is putting me to sleep, I know I don’t have enough conflict. I know I need to identify or strengthen my characters’ motivations and the obstacles that are getting in the way of their goals. (And here you have the three-way interaction of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, which Debra Dixon talks about in her book GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Which, if you haven’t read, you need to. Or at least read the posts about GMC in the Seekerville archives.)

In The Golden Braid, my heroine Rapunzel is a poor peasant who has a fear of men, which was instilled in her by her mentally unbalanced mother. The hero Sir Gerek is determined to marry a wealthy woman in order to show up the older brother who cast him out of the house. They don't stand a chance of falling in love. Or do they? When Sir Gerek is forced to teach Rapunzel to read, her biggest goal in life, I use their fears and goals to keep up the conflict and tension, and to keep them from admitting their feelings, as they start to enjoy spending time together. External events also intrude to cause tension and danger.

Personally, I think it’s easier to keep up the tension in a romantic suspense story, or a story that has a lot of action and danger. The scenes where my hero and heroine are running for their lives, bullets (or arrows, in my case) are flying thick and fast, flow from my fingers to the page more quickly. That kind of conflict propels the story forward. After all, a threat to your life is definitely a conflict of interest. But in a romance or women’s fiction, most of the conflict and tension has to be more subtle and complex.

One thing that can be hard to maintain is the tension between the hero and heroine. We know they are going to fall in love and probably get married at the end. They can’t hate each other until the very end and then suddenly decide they’re in love and want to get married. (I've read books like that, and I didn't like them.) But they also can’t fall in love too soon, or if they do, there must be something keeping them apart, keeping the conflict going, and it must be believable.


Conflict and Tension, Part One
Crestock Images


In my first published novel, The Healer’s Apprentice, my hero and heroine pretty much like each other from the very beginning. The tension and conflict comes in because of class issues—he’s the oldest son of a powerful, wealthy duke and she’s a peasant. That could be overcome eventually, but there’s another problem—he’s been betrothed to a duke’s daughter since childhood, betrothal being a bond almost as binding as marriage in that time period. And he is a man ruled by a strong desire to do his duty and always do the right thing. So even though they are in love, there is enough internal conflict to keep them apart until the end. Add in some external conflict, and it’s even more fun.


Conflict and Tension, Part One
Crestock Images


And stories that have lots of conflict are just more fun to write, because it's fun to enhance my story's angst factor. It’s fun to cause problems for my characters and NOT give them what they want too soon. The more real, believable conflict, the more fun I’m having. And the more fun I’m having, the faster my fingers type. 

In my Regency romantic suspense story, A Dangerous Engagement, Felicity is in danger of losing her head--literally. She's just learned that the house party she is attending with her aunt is full of insurrectionists bent on overthrowing the government. The hero is a government spy who has infiltrated the group. He suspects Felicity is an innocent who got caught up in this mess against her will. He discovers that's true pretty early in the story. So that conflict is overcome, but I needed more conflicts, so I had her get engaged to one of the insurrectionists--and immediately regret it. Whenever one point of conflict is overcome, I better have two or three more to replace it. Never let all your conflicts get resolved until the end.

And that’s Part One of my series on Conflict and Tension. It’s such a huge topic, I’d like to talk about it some more in a future post. 

Time to discuss. What conflicts and tensions are your characters dealing with? Is it enough? Is it appropriate for the genre you're writing? And if you’re not a writer, as a reader of romance, what’s your favorite kind of conflict? Characters who hate each other from the beginning but gradually fall in love? Or characters who like each other from the beginning but have to overcome other obstacles to get to their Happily Ever After?

I’ll be giving away your choice of a paperback or Kindle copy of A Dangerous Engagement, my romantic suspense story set in Regency England, to one commenter.


Just as merchant’s daughter Felicity Mayson is spurned once again because of her meager dowry, she receives an unexpected invitation to Lady Blackstone’s country home. Being introduced to the wealthy Oliver Ratley is an admitted delight, as is his rather heedless yet inviting proposal of marriage. Only when another of Lady Blackstone’s handsome guests catches Felicity’s attention does she realize that nothing is what it seems at Doverton Hall.
Government agent Philip McDowell is infiltrating a group of cutthroat revolutionaries led by none other than Lady Blackstone and Ratley. Their devious plot is to overthrow the monarchy, and their unwitting pawn is Felicity. Now Philip needs Felicity’s help in discovering the rebels’ secrets—by asking her to maintain cover as Ratley’s innocent bride-to-be.
Philip is duty bound. Felicity is game. Together they’re risking their lives—and gambling their hearts—to undo a traitorous conspiracy before their dangerous masquerade is exposed.

Melanie Dickerson is the New York Times bestselling author who combines her love for all things Medieval with her love of fairy tales, and her love for Jane Austen with romantic suspense. She is a Christy Award winner, a two-time Maggie Award winner, winner of The National Reader's Choice Award, and the Carol Award in Young Adult fiction. She earned her bachelor's degree in special education from The University of Alabama and has taught children with special needs in Georgia and Tennessee, and English to adults in Germany and Ukraine. Now she spends her time writing stories of love and adventure near Huntsville, Alabama. 
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