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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Generating External Conflict -- Esri Rose

Sometimes we focus so closely on our two main characters and their personal demons that our eyes cross. She finds out that her father lied to her ten years ago and her true love wasn’t cheating on her. He realizes that his fear of intimacy comes from his overbearing mother. But it’s handy to know how to generate external conflict, and it’s crucial if you write any kind of romantic suspense. Here’s an easy way to come up with hard problems:
Don’t stop with your hero and heroine.

In fiction as in life, each character has conflict going on. The hero is the villain’s obstacle, the humorous sidekick is secretly jealous of the heroine, and Dad is having trouble with his new girlfriend and isn’t there when his daughter needs him. Examine the lives of the characters around your two protagonists, and your conflict will proliferate until you need an arms treaty.

Here’s a basic historical plot we'll use as an example.

Heroine Annabelle has an infatuation for Young Tommy, an attractive boy with chivalric ideas and no common sense. Her father refuses to let them marry.

Hero Charles wants a diplomatic/spying mission that Annabelle’s father is in a position to give. He hasn’t been able to get it because Annabelle’s Dad doesn’t think he’s daring enough.

Villain Rutherford wants to marry Annabelle because that will make his father give him his inheritance. (Rutherford’s Dad used to own the estate that is Annabelle’s dowry, but lost it to A’s dad in a card game. This is vengeance.)

Villain Rutherford starts the ball moving. His sister, who’s in league with him, invites Annabelle to come to their home in Scotland for a visit. Sister says that during the visit, she’ll help Annabelle elope with Young Tommy. In fact, this is an abduction, and Rutherford plans to marry Annabelle himself.

Young Tommy, who is gathering stones to toss at Annabelle’s window, overhears the plan from a maid Rutherford bribed. He tries to warn Annabelle’s Dad, but the man won’t open the door to him. So Young Tommy tells Hero Charles, who is leaving the house after being refused his pet mission yet again. Charles knows inside info about Rutherford that makes him open to Young Tommy’s story. He decides to rescue Annabelle and prove his derring-do to A’s dad.

Those are the basics, and they get us started. Now we need a whole bunch of stuff to happen to keep the momentum going.

Obviously, Annabelle has some plot points of her own.

  • She discovers Rutherford’s plan.
  • She escapes and spends time with Charles, while they run from Rutherford.

But let’s face it; she has to spend most of her time falling in love with the right guy. Now is when we leave our two protagonists entirely and start looking at the secondary characters.

Villain Rutherford is beavering away at evilness. And though some or much of it takes place off the page, it still generates conflict. Imagine his problems -- problems that make him even more desperate and determined.

  • Rutherford receives word that his father is ill – forcing him to travel faster with Annabelle so he can get the paperwork tied up before the old man dies.
  • Rutherford has borrowed on his inheritance. At one point, when it looks like Charles and Annabelle will finally get away, Rutherford’s creditor decides to help Rutherford get his inheritance by loaning him some thugs.

What about Young Tommy? The poor lad is chivalrous to a degree that resembles imbecility.

  • He believes the sob story of a sad-eyed gypsy who steals all his and Charles’ money.
  • Tommy is injured while defending a saucy French camp follower, thus failing to show up when Charles really needs him.

It looks black when Rutherford recaptures Annabelle only a mile from Gretna Green. What a good thing that Rutherford’s sister, who has suffered under her brother’s thumb for so many years, has fallen in love with one of the creditor’s thugs. She backs out of the plan to drug Annabelle into marital compliance. Wait, that’s a solution, and we need conflict. Okay, she’s creepily in love with brother Rutherford and decides to kill Annabelle at the last minute.

Your secondary characters will generate external conflict and plot points galore if you give them a chance. You may even feel you have too much conflict and have to cut some to avoid melodrama or keep the length reasonable. And isn’t that a great position to be in?

How about your work in progress? What conflict and plot points have your secondary characters' lives provided?


Esri Rose’s first book, Bound to Love Her, is coming out May 6! Bound to Love Her is an urban-fantasy, romantic-suspense comedy featuring elves. Win a copy by entering her contest at or by visiting Marta Acosta’s blog. There’s another book giveaway this Friday at Romance Bandits, and I think I visit Jill Monroe’s blog after that.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Using Character Types to Create Conflict

This blog may seem like a talk about developing characters rather than conflict, but I believe conflict comes from who the characters are. What makes our characters who they are? What types of people are our characters? Putting different character types together can create all kinds of conflict. More often than not, my stories start with two characters who are thrust into a situation that creates conflict. That's where I start. But I have to get to know these characters, and find out where the deep conflict lies. That often bring me to characters types. Using character types can help us find a starting place for conflict.

I have two books I use to look at characters types. One is Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates. The other is The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Widers. I use the first book by pretending to be my character as I answer the questions that determine the character type. What fun! I can become an introvert or an extrovert. I can be flighty or serious. I can be an adventurer or a homebody. After I've determined what the character types are, I can throw them together and see what conflicts may arise.

The second book gives me insight by showing the conflicts that may develop between different types. I merely use these as a starting point. Often my characters, as with real people, can't be stuffed into just one character type. I think we can find conflict within the characters themselves, because sometimes the way the characters perceives themselves isn't the way others perceive them. Is the character thinking "everyone believes I'm this type, but I'm really not?" Are they showing one thing to the world, yet feeling something else inside? I use this to build inner conflict.

I like to use bits and pieces of character types to create conflict for my characters. In the book I'm getting ready to turn into my editor, my hero is a businessman with bottom lines, spreadsheets and schedules as his bible. The heroine is a missionary with the heart to help people, and being tied to all this business stuff makes her head spin. My hero is a "chief" archetype, but he's also a "professor" archetype. The heroine is a "nurturer," "free spirit" and "crusader" all rolled into one. Of course, she doesn't fit the entire description of any of those archetypes, but I can use those archetypes to develop the conflict by looking at how they may react to certain situations.

I used to have some software called Personality Profiler. I loved it. There were a series of nearly two hundred questions that helped determine personality types. Unfortunately, when I changed computer several years ago, I wasn't able to reload the program because the disc had developed a virus. I mourned the loss of that program, and I've never been able to find another one like it. However, by typing "personality profiler" into a search engine, I've come up with some online resources that work nearly as well.

I also like to use birth order types to find conflict. Oldest, youngest, middle and only child--what types of conflicts are the result of our characters' birth order? How will an only child relate to someone who's the middle child in a very large family? Will there be conflict between the oldest serious child and the carefree youngest child?

I love to answer the question "what if" when I'm getting ready to write. So when I'm looking for conflict, character types can be used in that "what if" equation. I hope my rambling thoughts on character types will help you go out and discover some conflict.

Do you have any good resources for finding conflict through character types?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sex and Conflict -- Keeping it Real

Today we welcome guest blogger Tawny Weber, fabulous Harlequin Blaze author. Take it away, Tawny...

I’m a strong believer in conflict, since it’s through watching characters overcome challenges a reader gets drawn into the story. And I love all of the posts on conflict this month, which have explored how important this is to not only move a story, but to allow our characters to grow stronger as they achieve their goals.

But... here’s the thing. I write for Blaze, which means my characters have to have all that great conflict – both external and internal – and still have lots and lots of sex... or at the very least, lots and lots of sexual tension. So how can I get fulfill the sexy hook while maintaining a strong enough conflict to engage the reader from page one to happy ever after?

I think it’s important to choose an external conflict that allows for believable sexual tension. Whether you write hot or not, that rising tension adds a layer of intensity to the conflict. Every time your characters come together, their awareness of each other intensifies and the tension rises. In many stories, that and a few kisses are enough to maintain that sexual awareness and convince the reader that, yes; these two are hot for each other.

In a hotter story, such as a Blaze, the question at hand isn’t how far will they go to relieve that sexual tension during their quest to solve their conflict? The question is how you keep the sexual tension strong after they’ve already done the deed... because they usually do it pretty early in the story.

The answer? Conflict! How does having sex intensify their conflict? How does it ratchet up the tension, intensify the risk and push all their internal conflict buttons?

I mean, we all know sex complicates things. And in fiction, the more complicated the better! Know your characters issues with sex. Use their fears and sexual hang-ups against them. Better yet, let the other character push them to overcome those fears and hang-ups.

If there is ever a choice between writing a sex scene or holding back to raise the tension and intensify the story conflict... hold back! Sometimes it’s what isn’t written that tells the most about our characters.

Can sex and conflict be done wrong? Of course. Gratuitous sex is always bad. Who hasn’t read a story where the characters are at each other’s throats only to stop the hating to do the wild thing in an elevator, then go right back to spewing venom with no change or growth to show for the encounter. Or when the characters are on the run for their lives, the bad guys an hour behind and they stop to get nasty in the backseat of the car instead of setting a trap. Yes, the adrenaline rush might intensify the scene, but the reader is usually rolling her eyes and muttering why it’d be justified if the bad guys did catch them with their pants down (heehee).

What’s your take on sex and conflict? Do you think it intensifies the characters’ struggle for growth? What’re some good examples you’ve read recently?


Sunday, April 27, 2008

This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse

This week we finish our discussion of conflict and start the topic of research. You can still increase your chance of winning a signed Jo Beverly novel by posting a comment by midnight April 30th.

Monday, April 28th: Guest blogger Tawny Weber "Sex and Conflict, Keeping It Real"

Tuesday, April 29th: Merrillee Whren "Using Personality Types to Find Conflict"

Wednesday, April 30th: Esri Rose (Topic TBA)

Thursday, May 1st: Janet Mullany "Introduction to month-long topic of Research"

Friday, May 2nd: Noodler New Releases for May

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

And the winner is...

The winner of Christie Kelley's Every Night I'm Yours is...Marianne Harden! Congrats, Marianne. Contact Christie at christie AT christiekelley DOT com with your mailing information so she can send the book to you.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Q and A Friday - Last on Conflict

Sorry, Everyone! My internet was down again and I'm now at the Washington Romance Writers Retreat---luckily there is internet access! Hope you saved up some questions for us!--Diane

Here's one more chance to ask your questions on Conflict. We Noodlers will try to answer.

Do you have any questions on finding the proper size of conflict for your story?
Or making certain that your conflict isn't impossible to resolve?
Do you have any question on Christie Kelley's use of GMC to find the internal and external conflict?
Or Jo Beverley's idea of conflict as barrier?

Ask any of these or any other nagging questions you have about conflict.

And, remember, commenting gives you a chance to win a signed Jo Beverley book. We'll pick a winner after midnight on April 30. For one lucky person it will be a great May Day present!

Also don't forget to order your copy of MJ Fredrick's Hot Shot

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Conflict, Conflict, Conflict by Jo Beverley

Let's give a big Noodler welcome to guest blogger, Jo Beverley, member of RWA's Hall of Fame and winner of five--count 'em FIVE--RITA awards. And there's more! Read on.

Hi everyone.

You'll have to forgive me if I seem a bit ditzy, but to use a good old English term, I'm discomnockerated -- but in the best possible way -- to report that A Lady's Secret will be on the print NYT for a third week. And it'll be up! 10.

You know the old saying -- you have to be crazy to work here? That sums up the writing biz. We get pushed down and boosted up, and sometimes there's no logical reason for one or the other. Sure, A Lady's Secret is a great book. I know that's boastful, but sometimes things come together, and we know it.

I liken it to making bread (and if you've never done that, you should.) As we work the dough we know if it's good or not, because we can feel beneath our hands whether it's alive or not. Good dough reacts to the warmth of our hands.If we dimple it, it rises back up like a chuckling baby. It's a lovely thing, and it's what we want when we're writing a book.

In my opinion, there's no such thing as a bread recipe, and no rules or structures for a good book, but there's two that come close.

1. Cut the boring bits.
2. Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Back about 25 years ago (yikes!) one of the first writing talks I went to was about conflict and how it was key to a good romance. Took me years to accept it properly and a lot longer to really understand it. If I do.

I'm half way through a new book and I've just gone back a few scenes and given my plot a dislocating twist which will probably mean that about 20,000 of my precious words after that are heading for the misty never-never land. But the tone and pace of my book had become too tranquil. Something had to happen. Why did it take me so long to realize the dough was dying?

You're probably stuffed to the eyebrows with wisdom about conflict, but so was I. I still didn't get it until I began to grasp that it's not really the plot, it's the spark that fires the plot engine. It's what makes things happen. When things aren't happening - boring bits, saggy middles - it's because that spark isn't there or is weak.

So put it in! And in a nutshell, that means make the characters' lives difficult -- very difficult. Another excellent word for conflict is "barrier."

What stands between the characters and what they want? Does it truly challenge them? Low barriers, or barriers that can be sidled around don't provide a spark, and we can't fool the reader on that one. We can try to say that Cinders can't go to the ball because she doesn't have the right shoes, but unless you've set it up right the reader can see a dozen ways around that. When Cinders finally decides to steal her sister's, paint shoes or her feet, or go barefoot the reader is saying, "Well, duh!"

The key here is the conflict hinges on the character not being very smart or ingenious, and that's hard to pull off for a hero or heroine.

On the other hand, powerful barriers can rise from human nature. For one character, walking into a party of strangers is no big deal; for another it's Mount Everest. As can be finally revealing a shameful secret, or calling a family member on an old wrong. Done right, readers will empathize with that completely because they know they would fight not to have to do that, or because they know people like that. That can even be a key plot driver for a long time - an inability to face a particular situation or reveal a buried secret.

Let's talk about conflict/barriers/uncomfortably and stressed characters.


Remember, at the end of the month we're giving away a signed Jo Beverley book to one lucky commenter. And that book will be......A Lady's Secret! So comment away.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writing internal and external conflict

Today, we're happy to have author Christie Kelley with us to talk a bit about how she approaches writing conflict, both internal and external. It seems Christie is like many of us -- while we hate conflict in real life, we don't mind giving our characters some big conflicts to overcome because we know it makes the story stronger and a more satisfying read.

I hate conflict. Really, just ask my husband and he’ll tell you it’s true. Conflict drives me crazy, stresses me out and makes me want to hide under the covers for days.

And yet, I love writing conflict.

There is nothing more fun than taking two people and turning their lives upside down with just a little conflict. I know—I have a serious problem.

For me, writing conflict is easy. While I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, I always plot out my major conflicts for my hero and heroine and my antagonist.

I’m a big believer in Deb Dixon’s, Goal, Motivation and Conflict theory. For those of you who might not have heard of it, I’ll briefly describe it. You think about what your character wants more than anything (goal), and why it’s so important to them (motivation) and, here’s the fun part, why they can’t have it (conflict).

In my current release, Every Night I’m Yours, my hero’s goal is to take the heroine away for two weeks and convince her to marry him. Why? Because he’s decided it’s time to marry and she fits his needs. So what’s holding him back? Ahh, the conflict…my heroine is fine with the going away part, but she saw the abuse her father gave her mother and wants no part of marriage.

So that’s conflict, right? Well, not completely. There’s internal and external conflict. What I described above is external conflict. It’s what moves the plot along at a good pace. The internal conflict is the root of the emotional impact of a story.

In the same story, I told you my heroine is afraid of marriage because of her parents' marriage. But the truth of the matter is, she’s terrified she has her father’s anger problem. So her internal goal is to never marry because she might abuse her husband or child. But the conflict comes in because the more time she spends with the hero, the more she comes to love him. Her fear is holding her back.

For true conflict, the reader has to know what’s at risk for both parties. Why it’s so important that the conflict be resolved, and what the consequences are if it’s not.

I’d love to hear what you all think about writing conflict. Is it fun? Easy? Or does writing conflict stress you out completely? I’m giving away a copy of Every Night I’m Yours for the best comments.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Can this love affair be saved?

Terry McLaughlin wants to know.

I understand conflict, especially the internal kind. It's that ache in my gut that makes me reach for the antacids when I have to throw problems at my characters.

Here's my dilemma: if both my hero and my heroine have conflicts so huge, so overwhelming, so physically and emotionally threatening that they'll extinguish all life on the planet by jumping into bed together, then why would they make that leap? I'm not writing about out-of-control, stupid, selfish, crazy people. I want my characters to be sympathetic.

Forget about motivation--there's no villain aiming a missile at a Kindergarten class, insisting the hero and heroine slide between the sheets and do what they want to do in spite of all the monumentally important reasons not to slide.

If editors want conflict that's bigger than life, how do realistic, relatable characters deal with it? If there's too much at stake, too much at risk, too many reasons keeping this couple apart, then why would they have anything to do with each other? The external conflicts may provide a reason for physical proximity, but another layer of internal conflicts will be lying in wait, ready to shred their story.

If the hero and heroine hate each other at first sight, if their grandparents or companies or tribes or genetic molecules hate each other, how would they get past that hate long enough to start liking each other? Why would two intelligent, sensible people plow through all that baggage just to test an attraction? Wouldn't it be safer, and smarter, and more sensible to say adiós--especially if the fate of their worlds hung in the balance?

We've all heard the warning about false conflicts that could be resolved if the characters sat down and talked with each other. What happens if they sit down to talk things over, and they both realize they shouldn't get involved with each other in the first place? If the obstacles are too strong--and if those obstacles continue to intensify--why wouldn't the characters give up and find someone else to love?

Jenny Crusie has made the point that if the hero and heroine are completely conflicted, then one must destroy the other in order to resolve the plot--or one character must decide his or her goal wasn't really that important to begin with, which is a cop-out.

Yes, I know there's this annoying problem of filling pages with the answers to these questions, not to mention that pesky thing called a book deadline. (Deadlines have solved many of my writing conflicts.)

But I'm wondering what readers and writers think about these issues. Have you ever read a book that made you wonder why these two people bothered with each other? Have you ever suspected a happily-ever-after relationship wouldn't last past the morning after? How do you make the impossible seem not only possible, but longed for?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Size Does Matter. How Big Is Your Conflict?

We live in a supersized world these days, but you may not want to supersize your conflict. Don’t get me wrong, all stories require conflict, but sometimes if a writer’s conflict is too big or too small, the story doesn’t work. It’s a lot like Cinderella’s glass slipper.

But how do you know if your conflict is being squeezed into too small of a shoe or if you need to try something in a size 4 narrow?

Check the recommended page count. Page count is a great way to help you determine if you’re Cinderella or one of her ugly stepsisters. Publishing houses and literary magazines give you a word count not only to keep down printing costs, but also to provide a target for writers. You can use that target to figure out what size conflict you need or how many different conflicts you can handle for the required amount of pages. If Susie Writer is working on a twenty page short story about a girl, she most likely does not have room to explore and resolve her heroine’s relationship with her distant father, to come to terms with her dog’s recent death, to get over her former best friend dumping her, and to figure out how to deal with her new neighbor, a cute yet jerky boy who is making her life even more of a living hell than it was before. With that much conflict, I’m thinking full-blown YA novel, not short story. If, however, a short story is this writer’s goal, she could focus on resolving just one of those conflicts—preferably one that can be settled reasonably in a short number of pages—or the writer can find a spot in this protagonist’s character arc and hone in on that one small section to resolve a particular conflict satisfactorily.

For my humorous short story “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” in More Sweet Tea (2005), I went with a small conflict—the protagonist is an elderly woman whose hairdresser dies. Lucille wants to be respectful and attend the “settin’ up,” but she can’t go with her hair looking bad. What does she do? This dilemma, while quite traumatic for reasons that don’t need to be explained to other women, especially those who frequent the hairdresser every week, isn’t big enough to carry a whole novel, much less a novella.

I’ve also narrowed the focus on one little segment of a character’s arc, climax to resolution. For example, in one of the stories included in A Day in Mossy Creek (2006) “Resolutionary War,” I had one sister sabotaging the other’s attempt to get healthy. For the story, I didn’t spend tons of pages showing the scenes of saboteur Spiva making her sister Pearl mad or the town trying to help the protagonist reach her goal. I went straight to the blow up between the sisters and the resolution. What led up to the climax was handled as back story, and I tried to make that back story as brief as I could.

List your conflict(s). All of them. Multiple conflicts, at times, can lead to an ill fit. If you discover that you’re writing a long list of conflicts that rivals the phone book, you may need to narrow your focus or perhaps save some of those conflicts for another book or story. The way to narrow down your list is to ask yourself—What is the most important conflict in this story? Which conflict, if removed, would make my story crumble? That’s your main conflict. Which other conflicts relate in some way to this main conflict? Those are probably keepers. Something else you should check, once you’ve written the story, is how much space you’ve spent on each of these conflicts. The main conflict should receive the most attention—most pages. And those conflicts that aren’t related in any way? Consider cutting them. Keep them in a file for potential use, much like your little darlings. If you figure out what conflict to keep before you write the scenes, you’ll have fewer little darlings to remove from your finished manuscript.

Estimate the number of scenes necessary to resolve the conflict(s). How many scenes do you think you’ll need to develop and resolve your story’s conflict or conflicts? If you think three or four should do it, you probably have the makings of a short story. If you think upwards of twenty scenes, you probably have a novella or novel.

Size matters. If it didn’t, would Cinderella have ended up with the prince?


Sunday, April 20, 2008

This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse Blog

Monday, April 21st, Maureen Hardegree “Size Does Matter; How Big Is Your Conflict”

Tuesday, April 22th, Terry McLaughlin “Can This Love Affair Be Saved?”

Wednesday, April 23th, Guest Blogger Christine Kelley

Thursday, April 24th , Guest Blogger Jo Beverly

Friday, April 25th : Q&A. (Readers ask questions. Noodlers answer.)

Don’t forget--Responding to one of our blogs gives you a chance to win a Jo Beverly novel! The more comments, the more chances.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Q and A Friday #2

TGIQAAD. (that's Thank God it is Q and A day) You ask the questions and we Noodlers attempt to answer.

This week we've learned even more about Conflict. We've learned the difference between External and Internal Conflict from Noodler Theresa Ragan. Anna Campbell shared helpful quotations about Conflict. Susan Gable taught us to write mottos for our characters. And Noodler Charity Tahmaseb taught us to throw our manuscripts on the floor (and to look for conflict on every page).

Surely we have some questions about all this new information.

Or share your difficulties with Conflict in your manuscripts. We'll all try to help!

Remember, if you ask a question or make a comment this month you will have a chance to win an autographed Jo Beverley book

And don't forget that Noodler MJ Frederick has a new release. Hot Shot

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Author Talk

So excited about the video Esri posted.  I've made some videos myself.  You can see them all at but here is our most recent author interview.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Toss that manuscript!

I want you to toss your manuscript.

I mean it. Right now. Toss your manuscript … into the air. When you’re done, your living room might look something like this:

Some of you might already know where I’m headed. It’s the famous (or infamous) adding tension to every page exercise from Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.

The exercise is deceptively simple. Pull a page at random from your manuscript, put your finger on any line, and find a way to add tension to the moment. If it’s already tense, find another line on the page.

Then you continue, pulling pages from your manuscript--at random. This part is key. It must be random. This keeps you from falling into the rhythm of the story, and keeps you from missing opportunities to add tension.

In an interview at Writer Unboxed, Donald Maass says this:

Micro-tension all the time is what keeps readers turning the pages to see what will happen. It’s the big secret. All the big boys and girls use that technique. Why doesn’t everyone else?
But what is micro tension?

As Donald Maass says in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook:

It can be as obvious as a gun to the temple or subtle as forlorn hope. Even the mere anticipation of change is a kind of tension.
So. Aliens don’t need to land in the backyard on every page. Nor does the earth need to open up and swallow all your characters. But you can achieve tension on every page in a variety of ways.
  • Subtext in dialogue. A character says one thing, but means another.

  • Can you make it worse? According to Donald Maass, things can always get worse (in the story). But don’t necessarily reach for the first--and possibly most predictable thing. Instead, ask yourself: What’s the most interesting thing that could happen?

  • Surprise. Play against expectations. Contrasts are always interesting (within characters, between them, mood versus setting) and can generate tension.

I won’t kid you. It takes endurance. Hard as it is, it’s also very freeing to concentrate on a single page, to worry about that one moment in (story) time.

Sometime this week, I hope you give it a try. Pull five to ten random pages from your manuscript and take a pen to them. Feel free to post your thoughts and questions about the method here, or even a small sample of how you increased the tension on a single page.

So, what are you waiting for? Toss that manuscript!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hey, What's a Motto With You??? by Susan Gable

Okay, look, I’m from Jersey. You wanna make sumpin of it? Whazza motto with you??

Better yet, whazza motto with your characters? You want them to have conflict, dontcha?

Conflict, conflict, conflict!

Editors love conflict. Readers love conflict. Writers should love it, too.

Because let's face it, fiction without conflict is about as interesting as watching paint dry. And almost as bad is the bickering-that-pretends-it's-conflict. So we need to dig deep.

I'm a character-driven writer, which means I go heavier on the inner conflicts than I do on the external conflicts. Good fiction always has both, but some of us rely more on one or the other. There's nothing wrong with either choice -- it's the kind of writing you do.

I've discovered that I tend to use character motto as the basis for my conflict, as well as for help in plotting.

Character motto is your protagonist's life philosophy. Their core value, the way they view the universe. Mottos tend to come from your character's backstory. The things they've gone through before have shaped their view of life.

For example, in the book I'm racing to deadline now (A Real Comic Book Hero, w.t., Superromance, early 2009), the heroine's motto could well be termed, "Life is a catch-and-release program." She doesn't believe anything or anyone is permanent. Naturally, this stems from things she experienced as a child. (I'm fascinated by character psychology.) She thinks she's very Zen about life, enjoying things for the moment and then letting them go. (And none of that crap about them coming back to you and being yours to keep, either. Once it's gone, it's gone. Deal with it. Nothing to see here, move along.)

The hero of the story believes "Anything worth having is worth fighting for." That puts them in immediate conflict, especially when she's granted custody of her young nephew, who watched his father murder his mother. The boys' grandparents sue for custody, so she's forced to to fight. The idea of falling in love with this woman scares the pants off my hero -- whose parents have been married for forty-six years. He's not looking for someone who's going to let him go -- he wants someone who's going to keep him. (This answers that dreaded question editors like to ask -- What keeps them apart? What makes them All Wrong for one another?)

In my last book, The Pregnancy Test, the heroine's motto was "Life's short, eat dessert first." She was all about living life to the fullest and squeezing every last drop of fun out of it. My hero's motto was "Do the Right Thing." You can see how those two would (and did) clash. He's Mr. Responsible, she's Ms. Have a Good Time. That didn't work too well for him when she got pregnant -- at the same time he was struggling to deal with his teenage daughter's accidental pregnancy. Two hormonal women in his life who at first liked each other a lot -- until his teen daughter realized he'd been sleeping with a woman she counted as her friend first -- until he had to go and screw things up by knocking her up.

Mottos impact choices your characters make, which drives the plot. They impact setting and detail choices. A woman who believes everything in life is temporary lives a certain way, far different from my hero who fights for what he wants. Interestingly enough, this heroine likes really wonderful lingerie. (Why? Because nobody makes you give your UNDERWEAR away!) She also has fine taste in foods. Why? Foods are "disposable" items. Food isn't intended to be kept in the first place. She can indulge herself with those items without any guilt.

In Star Wars, we can look at character motto and conflict using Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. In the original first movie (A New Hope for those who go by the new titles ) Han's motto is "What's in it for me?" Luke's more of a "Do the Right Thing" kind of guy. He wants to save the princess and the universe because it's the right thing to do. Han's in it for the reward money. (Of course, he's also got the motivation that he needs that reward money to save his good-looking behind.) The two characters have differences of opinion throughout the movie because of their two different outlooks on life.

But when push comes to shove, Han flies to the rescue, proving his character growth.

By the end of your book, your character's motto may change. The heroine in Comic Book Hero has to learn that sometimes you DO have to fight for what matters to you... or you spend your life very lonely. The hero has to learn that sometimes fighting isn't the right option, and sometimes you have to let go. And you cross your fingers and hope that what you love boomerangs back to you.

Character's mottos don't have to be diametrically opposed to provide conflict. You could team up a "You'll never be happy with more until you're happy with what you've got" character with a "Success is the best revenge" character, and get plenty of conflict. It all depends on how your one character defines success, right?

Mottos are a lot of fun. I'm going to offer a list of a few more. Then I want you to think about your WIP, or a book you've read recently. Can you give the main characters' mottos? And can you see how those viewpoints turned into conflict between them?

More Mottos:

Life's fatal.
You'll never be happy with more until you're happy with what you've got.
Success is the best revenge.
Lace up your boots tighter and carry on.
Go hard or go home. (That one belongs to a Diana Duncan hero. YUM! I borrowed it from her for this blog because I loved it. If you love it -- read Diana's books. LOL!)
Do unto others before they do unto you. (Pair this character up with a believer in the REAL Golden Rule. Ding, ding, instant conflict.)
Trust no one. (This character's arc will teach him or her to trust. And what's going to happen on the way? Oh, he's going to get burned all right.)
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.
Those of you who think you know everything are annoying to those of us who do.
It's my way or the highway.
Service to others before self.
Beauty is as beauty does.

Susan Gable's The Pregnancy Test reached #9 on Waldenbooks Romance Series Bestseller List and won the 2005 Readers Choice Award for Best Long Contemporary. Learn more about Susan at

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Conflict from the heart

Hiya, Noodlers! Thanks for asking me back to your fantastic blog!

Ah, conflict in a romance novel! What a sticky wicket that can be!

It’s at the heart of what makes a great romance and because it’s so intrinsic to writing a great book, it’s one of the hardest things to get right. As Trish so wisely pointed out last week, it’s NOT bickering. It’s something that touches the deepest part of who these people are.

There are two great quotes I remember when I talk about conflict. One I heard at our Romance Writers of Australia conference back in 2004. The other I only heard recently.

Kate Walker, who writes for Harlequin Presents, said the conflict in a romance novel must come from something at the most essential level of the characters. People generally talk about conflict in connection with the protagonist’s goal. That’s because a really compelling conflict is created when the other person is what stands in the way of that goal. And the goal has to be something they would do anything to achieve.

As Kate said – and this was the punch line for me – they have to be willing to sacrifice the love of a lifetime in order to achieve their aims. The goals need to be big and meaty and important. Stakes need to be high. Then you get the kind of conflict in a book that keeps your reader up all night.

The other great quote about conflict comes from wonderful Aussie Desire author Bronwyn Jameson. Bron was talking about external and internal conflict. Her definition of the two is that, “External conflict is what drives the characters together. Internal conflict is what pushes them apart.” It’s fabulous, isn’t it? Simple yet so true.

To give you an example of conflict in action, I thought I’d talk about my debut novel, Claiming the Courtesan. (You can read an excerpt here). The Duke of Kylemore wants to marry his mistress, the notorious courtesan Soraya (hero’s goal). She wants to escape her decadent life and retire to obscurity and freedom (heroine’s goal). External conflict emerges because their goals are diametrically opposed and that’s where the events of the plot come from.

But at a much deeper level, both these people have survived horrific pasts only by completely expunging emotion from their lives. Love is the enemy and love is what the other person represents. That’s the internal conflict – they’re fighting themselves and they’re also fighting what the other person means to them. Obviously the internal and external conflicts here overlap in various ways. But you can see what I mean by the stakes being high – to both Soraya and Kylemore, surrendering to love threatens their very survival. In a metaphysical sense, it’s a life or death situation.

I’d love you to share your analysis of the internal and external conflict in your work in progress or the most recent romance you’ve read. My favorite take on a story wins a $15 Amazon voucher!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Is a Car Crash Conflict?

External Conflict is what happens outside of the physical body: The obstacles your characters face throughout the story.

Internal Conflict is emotion—what your characters feel inside (unresolved life problems usually stemming from childhood or past relationships).

The best stories are ones where the character(s) must face past unresolved issues. Example:

After the accident that killed two children while she was babysitting at the age of fifteen, heroine refuses to let herself fall in love with this man who has two young children.

Your characters should learn something by the end of the story. If they don’t grow and learn, there is no story.

In the example above, the heroine needs to learn to forgive herself. The fire the kids started when she was babysitting was not her fault. She received third degree burns trying to save them, but in the end, she couldn’t. By the end of the book, she should learn a new life lesson: To forgive herself. She will learn this by being around hero’s children. The conflict/obstacles throughout the story should allow her to grow. Hopefully new conflicts will arise as she faces old ones.

Find your characters’ flaws and/or fears and then force them to face these demons throughout the story until the black moment that ultimately forces them to face that fear once and for all and learn something about themselves.

Ask yourself questions as you move from scene to scene:

Are the characters actions logical or realistic?
Is your story moving forward?
Are you spending too much time describing unimportant events as you move the characters from Point A to Point B?
Is the conversation between your characters interesting?
Is your reader going to empathize with your characters?
Is your reader going to want to turn the page to find out what happens next?

About the question: Is a car crash conflict? Does the crash move the story forward? Does it make the reader want to read on? Probably not. Unless it happens to the hero/heroine while he or she is running from the bad guy, it's just trouble.

Now tell me: What do your characters need to learn? Compassion? Gratitude? Forgiveness? Acceptance? What are their flaws and/or deepest fears?

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse Blog...

Monday, April 14th: Theresa Ragan “Conflict”

Tuesday, April 15th: Guest Blogger Anna Campbell

Wednesday, April 16th: Guest Blogger Susan Gable “Using Mottoes to Develop Conflict”

Thursday, April 17th: Charity Tahmeseb “Donald Maass on Conflict”

Friday, April 18th: Q&A (Readers ask questions. Noodlers answer.) Noodlers will also post information about their upcoming appearances and news.

Post a comment, and you’ll get a chance to win an autographed Jo Beverly novel! The winner will be announced at the end of April.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Q and A Friday

Today is Q and A Friday, your chance to ask the Noodlers all your niggling questions about our topic of the month - CONFLICT

What questions about Conflict do you have so far?

It could be about Michael Hauge's ideas about what makes for good conflict, or using Debra Dixon's Goal Motivation and Conflict.

You might want to try out Pris's fill in the blanks, or use us to figure out whether your hero and heroine have true conflict or are just bickering.

Ask away! One of the Noodlers is bound to help. (Or at least have a strong opinion :-))

Remember, if you ask a question or make a comment this month you will have a chance to win an autographed Jo Beverley book

And don't forget that Noodler MJ Frederick has a new release. Hot Shot

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I made a moooovie...

The movie is of me interviewing "Colin," the "incubus-possessed" ring I bought on eBay and gave away as a contest prize. I also made a podcast of me reading the first chapter of Bound to Love Her. You can find that here, plus a bonus video out-take.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bickering is not conflict

Have you ever read a book where the conflict was so weak that it would be resolved if the two characters just sat down and had a conversation? Did you want to toss that book against the wall?

The reason we've all probably felt like this at some point is that sometimes an author will mistake bickering for conflict. But bickering is what a couple of two-year-olds do, not two adults who are attracted to each other but have some genuine obstacle standing in the way of their getting together. This obstacle won't disappear just because the two sit down and talk about it.

Let's look at the following scenarios to illustrate the difference.

Scenario 1 -- Cindy is a prison guard who likes Brad, another guard. But instead of letting him know and opening herself up to possible rejection (she doesn't see herself as pretty or feminine considering her job), she picks arguments with him so he won't guess how she really feels. He argues back, no matter what petty thing they're arguing about, and kicks himself for being attracted to her anyway. This is bickering. If they'd stop and just have an honest conversation, chances are they'd go out and possibly fall in love.

Scenario 2 -- Cindy is still a prison guard, but this time she falls for Jack, a prisoner incarcerated for murder, one he insists he didn't commit. Her attraction to him goes against everything she stands for and could cost her job, her friends and family, possibly even her life if he gets out and she's wrong about him. Jack, who is in fact innocent, understandably isn't too hot on getting close to anyone in a uniform at the moment. This is genuine conflict. Cindy and Jack can talk until they're blue in the face, and the obstacle of Jack's conviction and imprisonment won't go away.

When you're plotting a new story and searching for the true conflict between your hero and heroine, dig deep. Don't go with the first, most obvious "conflict" because this might not be a true conflict at all. It might be just a surface conflict and lead to that annoying bickering. Each time you write down a possible conflict, try to peel it back even more, go down another layer like you're peeling an onion. Keep asking the question "Why?" at each layer. You might be surprised to find a true, very complicated conflict five or six layers down, one that will throw obstacles in the path of your hero's and heroine's happiness together that will make even you, the writer of their story, wonder how in the world they'll ever find a way to be together. But they will in the end. You just have to figure out the winding path that takes them from impossible odds to happily ever after.

So, what are some of the best conflicts you've read in a romance novel? Ones that made you wonder how in the world the author would ever get the hero and heroine together for a happy life together? Were these some of the most satisfying stories you've read because of those deep conflicts?


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How Do You Spell Conflict? Today, it's L-I-F-E for me

Thanks for being so patient with me.

Talk about a hectic life. Work was a bit chaotic today, and I was halfway to St Louis for a doctor’s appointment when I realized I hadn’t posted my blog!


Thanks to modern technology, and a boss who accessed my files and forwarded my article to me, and a doctor running late, and a public library down the street from the doctor’s office…

Anyway, I was finally able to get this up. And race back to the doctor’s office for the appointment. So, without delay, here goes:

Conflict, as we’ve seen in previous posts and will continue to see in upcoming posts, is integral to creating a novel your readers won’t be able to put down.

Without conflict, your characters are living “happily ever after” at the beginning, so why turn the page? Every romance reader picks up a book certain of two key elements:

1. The book will end with a satisfying, sigh-inducing ending.
2. The hero and heroine will go through gut-wrenching, life-changing emotional, sometimes physical, challenges and changes to reach their HEA (happily ever after).

Like Lee (see yesterday’s post), I am a staunch believer in Deb Dixon’s GMC book. It’s one of the first how-to books I bought myself. I utilize those charts and the goal, motivation, conflict sentence with every book and character (main character).

There are also a few other sentences I like to answer during the course of my writing. Rarely can I answer them at the beginning, but as I get to know my characters better, as their story comes to life on the page, the answers to these questions come easier to me.

Now, I wish I could take credit for coming up with them, however, I must attribute them to an author whose work and workshops I admire: Virginia Kantra. I do, however, need to make something clear. In my ever unorganized office (think, more like my corner in our dining room) I have been unable to locate my notes from Virginia’s workshop for the purposes of this blog, and over the years the exact verbiage of the questions has subtly shifted.

So, while the idea behind the questions is purely attributed to Virginia, my apologies for any changes to her original words.

Okay, moving right along to the topic at hand. Conflict, and how these three questions may help you.

While your story conflict may involve outside forces, you must also realize that your hero’s/heroine’s conflict can and should come from within, and from each other. If your characters fall in love in chapter one, and spend the rest of the book fighting “the bad guys” but always feeling lovey-dovey with each other, odds are your reader may not be as satisfied.

The three sentences below help me in keeping the push/pull between my hero and heroine alive until the end.

My hero admires ____________ about/in my heroine.

My hero challenges my heroine by/to ____________________.

My hero notices_____________________________ about my heroine (something she doesn’t recognize in herself, yet).

The last sentence ties into the idea that your hero is the ONLY one for your heroine. And vice versa. He sees something within her that others may overlook, or fail to recognize, or deem inconsequential. But for your hero, this characteristic, habit, quirk, trait, etc is what endears the heroine to him. It’s what makes your character unique, and why your hero can’t live without your heroine.

Hopefully you’ll find these three simple questions helpful, along with the books and tips the rest of the Posse shares this month.

If you’d like to post your sentences, I’ll be back later this evening to look them over. And I’m sure the rest of the gang will comment as well.

Until later!


Stay Tuned

Hey, all,

Priscilla Kissinger is due to blog today, but her various lives as a working woman, a mom, a wife, and a writer have collided, and she's running late.

If technology doesn't throw her for another loop, she'll have her blog up at 5:00 pm Central time, so stay tuned.

(If technology doesn't cooperate, Pris asked me to pass on her apologies)


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

GMC—Goal, Motivation & Conflict

Beginning writers often hear that their stories need more conflict, but they’re not always told how to create it. Experienced writers understand the complexities of conflict, that it’s more than misunderstanding, petty bickering, and dialogue that’s laced with sarcasm. Debra Dixon, in her book Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, breaks down those complexities into interconnected components that are manageable and easy to understand.

I don’t often read or recommend how-to books, but I read this one from cover to cover in one sitting and I highly recommend it, especially for new writers.

Dixon defines the components as the who, what, why, and why not or our stories.

Who = the character

What = the character’s goals (the things he wants,
needs, or must have to be a whole person)

Why = the character’s
motivation for wanting to achieve those goals

Why Not = the conflict
that prevents the character from reaching his goals
Writers use many different methods to develop their characters. Whatever method we use, it’s critical that the goals fit the character. For our purposes, I’ll use a couple of examples from my 2003 GH romantic suspense finalist, In Harm’s Way. The tag line I wrote for that story gives a brief summary.

A convicted serial killer is on the loose and seeking revenge. His targets—an ER
doctor and a Vancouver City Police detective—need to set aside their personal
feelings long enough to keep themselves out of harms’ way.
To work out the hero and heroine’s GMC, I used the chart format in Dixon’s book.

I didn't fill in the whole the chart for you, but I encourage you to try one for your work in progress.

Keep in mind that characters can have both immediate and long-term goals, and their motivations for achieving those goals are often tied to backstory. Even though we might not want to include a lot of backstory in our books, it’s still important that we know what that backstory is.

I always come up with several goals—external and internal—for each character. Each goal can then be written as a simple GMC statement.

(Character) needs (goal) because (motivation) but (conflict).
The following two statements are from my GMC charts.

Jack needs to apprehend the killer because he’s gone on another killing spree,
but he can’t let innocent people, especially Sally, get hurt.

Sally wants to get back to work at the hospital because it’s the one place where she
feels most in control, but she has to stay with Jack until the killer is caught.
The charts may be all you need, but I find statements are easier to work. I even print them and post them by my computer because referring to them helps me stay focused as I write. This information is especially useful for revisions. For each scene, I ask myself if that scene captures one of my character’s GMC. If not, how do I fix it? Or do I need the scene at all?

I also use GMC statements to help me a write a short synopsis, which is useful for contest entries and submissions to editors and agents. Here’s my 175-word synopsis for In Harm’s Way.

Jack Hamilton trusts his instincts, and it always pays off. It’s when he follows
his heart that he gets into trouble. His instincts led to the conviction of a
horrific serial killer. They also led him straight into the arms of a gorgeous
woman, and that’s when he made the mistake of letting his heart take over.

Sally Griffith was every inch the woman Jack imagined spending the rest
of his life with. Intelligent, capable, beautiful. A lot like the woman he
married, the woman who died before he understood what she needed. The woman he
failed to protect.

Aaron Harms had been a respected emergency room
doctor. That many of his patients didn’t survive seemed, at first, like a simple
run of bad luck. Jack Hamilton recognized the pattern to Harms’ apparent
misfortune, and Sally Griffith provided the evidence.

Two years after his conviction, Aaron Harms escapes from prison, and he wants revenge. Jack knows instinct will lead him to the killer, but will his heart get in the way of keeping Sally safe?

I received a lot of favorable comments for this synopsis, and I owe it all to Debra Dixon's GMC. The tagline I gave at the beginning also came from the GMC charts and statements.

If you struggle with conflict, Dixon’s method of breaking it down into components might work for you.

Questions? Ask away.

If you’d like to play around with a GMC statement for something you’re working on, feel free to post it and the other Noodlers and I will pop in with comments.

Happy writing!


Lee's website
Lee's blog

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Michael Hauge on Conflict

Michael Hauge is a screenplay consultant, lecturer and acclaimed author of Writing Screenplays That Sell. His ideas about what makes a good screenplay have captured the interest of romance writers making him a very popular speaker at RWA and its chapters. I attended a Hauge workshop last fall and loved what he said. This little blog not going to substitute for attending a workshop, reading his book or purchasing a CD or DVD. See his website for details on ordering and his speaking schedule.

My two previous blogs on Hauge:

Michael Hauges’s Concepts of Identity and Essence
Michael Hauge on Plotting

Now for Hauge’s ideas about Conflict.

Hauge says that all screenplays (and stories) have Character, Desire, and Conflict. Stories are about “a character pursuing a visible desire facing visible conflict.” As the main character, the “hero,” pursues his (or her) goal, obstacles are thrown in his path. The obstacles are the external conflict of the story, and the pursuit of the goal is the “Outer Journey.”

In the most satisfying stories the hero also has an “Inner Journey,” a journey Hauge would say takes him from his “Identity” into his “Essence.”

Hauge says a character’s Identity is the system of beliefs and behavior he has developed to shield him from pain, the unhealed pain of an early wound. Identity is who he thinks he must be. The hero’s Essence is who he really is; who he needs to become, his “true self.” (see my earlier blog for more explanation).

Here, then, is the hero’s internal conflict. He cannot become his true self, cannot come into his Essence, unless he faces the pain that blocks his path.

Hauge recommends making the external goal something big and important to the hero, but making it one that he cannot achieve unless he faces that early pain and comes into his Essence. Even if the hero's goal changes in the story, at the end the hero gets what he really needs in order to be his true self.

In Hauge’s view, a good love story is one in which the lovers “see beneath the other’s identity and connect at the level of essence.” This is the glue that keeps them connected to each other. In your story, then, you have to show glimpses of each character’s Essence, to show why they are meant for each other. The two lovers also need to put each other in the situation of facing the pain that blocks them from achieving their Essence.

Let’s see if this works.

Take Darcy from Pride & Prejudice (Darcy of Janet’s wet shirt last week!). Darcy’s goal in the story is to prevent his friend Bingley from marriage to a woman Darcy believes is unsuitable; we can infer that Darcy himself desires to avoid an unsuitable marriage. Darcy, the “Pride” in P&P, is wary of those whose status is beneath his own. Being proud and rather snobby at the beginning of the book is Darcy’s “Identity;” it is who he thinks he needs to be in order to avoid pain.

What does Darcy fear? What is the source of his pain? Well, his sister was almost the victim of gold-digging Wickham, so perhaps Darcy fears people professing to care about him only because he is rich. Mrs. Bennett makes Darcy believe she is out to snare wealthy husbands for her daughters, but Lizzie shows him she is bright, witty, caring, loyal, unintimidated by him or Lady Catherine de Bourg, and not interested in currying his favor. He falls in love with her, which is a big obstacle in his effort not to make an unsuitable marriage.

Another obstacle is that she refuses him! (Remember Darcy’s proposal? It is the battle between his identity and his essence, played out right in front of Lizzie)

Lizzie’s identity, of judging people too quickly (Prejudice) prevents her from seeing Darcy’s worthiness, until he shows her glimpses of his essence in his letter and in his behavior toward her at Pemberley.

Then, big external conflict, Lydia runs away with Wickham. This time, however, Darcy uses his wealth and status to help Lizzie. He has changed into his Essence. Lizzie alone knows it, and, of course, the end result is a very satisfying marriage.

Hauge’s formula works!

Can you see using Hauge’s concepts of Identity and Essence to help you develop your character’s conflicts? In other words, does any of this make sense to you?

Remember to check Michael Hauge’s website to learn more about his products and appearances. While you are at it, check my website, too. It will tell you how to find my eHarlequin short story, The Diamond, how to get a copy of The Vanishing Viscountess for free, and how to enter my new contest. The prizes? A signed Nora Roberts book and a copy of Innocence and Impropriety.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

This week on the Wet Noodle Posse

We continue our discussion about conflict with the following:

Monday, April 7th: Diane Gaston "What Michael Hauge Says about Conflict"

Tuesday, April 8th: Lee McKenzie "GMC a la Debra Dixon"

Wednesday, April 9th: Priscilla Kissinger TBA

Thursday, April 10th: Trish Milburn/Tricia Mills "Bickering Is Not Conflict"

Friday, April 11th: Q&A (Readers ask questions. Noodlers Answer.)

Be sure to post a comment if you'd like to be in the running for an autographed copy of a Jo Beverly novel!


Friday, April 04, 2008

Noodler April Releases

Hot Shot
By MJ Fredrick

Peyton Michaels expected her assignment to be simple—write an article about everyday heroes. Heroes like Hot Shot firefighter Gabe Cooper. She never expected to find herself running up a mountain, a wildfire nipping at her heels, her life in his hands.

And she never expected to be drawn to Gabe. After the loss of her husband in the line of duty, the last thing she wants is to fall in love with yet another man who routinely puts his life at risk.

Gabe has had enough of women who want to make him into someone he’s not. Women like his ex, who couldn’t handle the heat of his job. Like Peyton, who sees him as a hero when he’s just a man doing a job. Except time after time, the pesky reporter proves her mettle. And gets deeper under his skin.

But there’s an arsonist at work, and danger is closing in with the speed of a raging brush fire. Peyton and Gabe have to dig deep for what it takes to be a real hero—to find the courage to reach out and grab a forever kind of love. Before it’s too late.

Hot Shot is from Samhain - you can purchase it here.

MJ was recently featured on her local news, you can see the video below:

You can visit MJ's website by clicking here and her blog by clicking here.

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Contest: Put words in Galan's mouth!

I love my upcoming book's cover, but it does make you wonder, "Just what is Mr. Nekkid Elf looking at? Coming up with a caption can win you prizes. Details here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


And that, of course, stands for What Would Jane Do?

After you have read Pride & Prejudice 101, A Study in Conflict, answered a pop quiz and turned in your papers, you will be able to see a picture of the famed wet shirt.

I'm one of those writers who doesn't do conflict particularly well and whose conflict diagrams always have huge holes; I find it particularly difficult in historicals, too, where women--and men for that matter--might have conflicts, or feel conflicted, but have very few practical choices to lead to action. However, what I did discover via Jane Austen, was this foolproof conflict jump start:

At the beginning of your book, if character A falls in love with character B it will ruin his (or her) life.

Naturally they do fall in love, and here's what happens--the most famous and brilliantly written proposal rejection scene of all time, Lizzie and Darcy in Pride & Prejudice.

Darcy begins, In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

His declaration of love is under duress, an admission from a man who is used to being in charge and now feels overwhelmed and out of control. Austen doesn't give us his exact words--she describes Lizzie's sensations as she listens. Lizzie goes for the jugular; all her initial suspicions and instincts about Darcy are confirmed: chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?

And Darcy digs himself in deeper, playing on Lizzie's hidden fears about her own family, and thus pushing all her buttons:

Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?

The first layer of conflict between them at this point is that Lizzie knows Darcy has destroyed her sister Jane's chance at happiness by persuading his best friend Bingley not to propose to her. But the real conflict between them is that they fight their mutual recognition and what could be, and will be, profound intimacy is now terror at what they see in each other and in themselves through the other's eyes.

Darcy takes off his clothes--whoops, no he doesn't. He writes Lizzie a letter, telling her the lurid details of his family secret--Wickham's attempted seduction of Darcy's sister. When there is another, very serious episode of Bennetts Behaving Badly (Wickham elopes with Lydia), Darcy is the first person Lizzie confides in, even though she believes that now she will never see him again. In other words, they grown, they develop trust, and they let go of the prejudices that have kept them apart.

What would Jane do? It works for me.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Let's Plotsorm a Conflict

We might call this Plotstorming (or developing together) Conflict from Character. However, you can use plotstorming to do a lot of things besides developing your character.

Plotstorming is a group technique I developed several years ago that involves several writers getting together and, based on the old Brainstorming techniques, throw around bunches of ideas, whatever pops into their heads about a specific subject to reach a specific goal. In this way of thinking, it's okay to say something weird, inane, off the center subject, what pops into your head. It's not right or wrong, unless you don't have the eventual goal in mind. Often someone else may pick up the crazy idea and say, "it might work if instead, you do ..." So everybody feeds off everyone else's ideas. Of course, the participants are expected to be genuinely helpful.

The person presenting the plot problem directs the flow, and sometimes this is the hard part because the basic problem to be solved may have more to it still stuck in the presentor's head that hasn't been explained. It's keeping the mind open do other people's approach to one's problem that's hard.

I thought Plotstorming could be a very good way to help us all watch a character's personality and traits develop into the story's conflict. We can also help make decisions as to what sort of adversaries he needs as well as his heroine in order for his story to play out.

This is a story I probably won't write. Yet it seems always on my mind. I worry about it being commercially feasible due to the hero's very fervent religious beliefs. Since he is the main adversary in SINS OF THE HEART, however, I can't change that trait about him, and wouldn't want to. But because Davy is such a strong, charismatic character, he makes a good base for developing conflict from character. So for now, we can just have fun with it.

Here's the background:

Davy Polruhan is a Cornishman who has lived in Looe all his life. Cornwall of 1813 is very different and isolated from England, almost like a separate country. Davy is one of those naturally charismatic people who seemed to be loved by everyone from the day he was born. Son of a moderately wealthy boat builder and merchant, and closely related to the local aristocracy, Davy becomes a natural leader of men, and his ready, warm smile wins women's hearts everywhere he goes. As the heroine of SINS says, "Whatever Davy wants, people smile and give it to him." It's almost as if no one ever says no to him.

Davy also grew up as an evangelical Methodist, as did 90% of the people in Cornwall at that time, and his beliefs are strongly rooted in the common good of the people he loves. Their poverty breaks his heart, and so, when the latest war with France began and cut off their livelihood which was based on selling fish to Europe, especially France, he took up smuggling to feed them. He was known as Guinea Jack, and soon became involved in spying for England. He's extremely loyal to his country, his people, and he's not at all fond of aristocrats, who he sees as selfish and greedy. Davy also has extremely rigid ideas about women, who must be pure. He was severely challenged in SINS after learning Jane was not who she said she was, and worse, he knew she had given herself to the hero, and was not the virtuous woman he'd always believed her to be.

He has very fixed standards of right and wrong. He would not thing them rigid because what's right is right and there's no two ways about it. But through all this, his natural charm and inherent happiness with life shine through his craggy, angular features, and people love him for it. He's tall, rugged and energetic, too, by the way.

Davy's life has been an enormous success. He has financial success in a business he loves, building boats and taking them to sea, the leadership of a community he loves, massive respect of others, and causes he truly believes in. He has everything a man could want, except for one thing. He had always believed Jane, heroine of SINS, would eventually come around and agree to marry him. And instead, she fell in love with that damned nob, the Earl of Edenstorm. Rejection is just not in Davy's repertoire. And not only that, he was actually forced to save their lives at just a time and way that dangerously jeopardized his mission to the coast of France. Davy did not take it well. A furious temper Jane had always suspected burst loose, and she was afraid Davy was more criminal in his intents than anyone in Looe knew. And they were at sea, on Davy's boat. Anything could happen. Fortunately the good in him won out, and in the end Davy graciously accepted Jane's choice. But he lost his precious boat, the Nightwind, and several of his men, close friends, died. And deep inside, Davy is angry at God because he doesn't know how to handle not getting what he wants.

Davy rescued a Frenchwoman and her baby, along with the secret that helped end the war. I see her as the heroine, but her personality is not yet developed. So we're free to play with her.

I see two conflict development questions to begin with:
1. What do you see as the challenge Davy must face in his romantic journey? Where does he need to grow before he is really ready for his true love? What are his beliefs that he must re-evaluate and either change or re-affirm? How will his character influence the conflict to come?

2. Who is the heroine? How can she most challenge him?

You can ask questions or propose ideas, or do whatever you want with this. Have at it! I'll be here all day, ready to play!


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Conflict—Your Story's Main Course

Welcome! During the month of April, we are going to be exploring how to deal with CONFLICT in fiction.

CONFLICT is the Turkey in a Turkey dinner. Without it, the rest of the meal just seems blah and pointless. All the other side dishes are there to complement the Turkey. This culinary visual is to demonstrate how conflict is essential to your story. Without conflict you have no story, just a string of mundane events that will quickly bore your readers. It’s also the toughest story element for many of us to deal with because we spend so much of our lives trying to avoid conflict.

So how do we put conflict into our story? We can’t just go to the market and buy it, like a turkey. We have to tromp through the proverbial woods and hunt it down when we are first developing our story idea. You'll want to stay posted all month for tips on how to deal with conflict in your story.

Along with our award-winning Wet Noodle Posse authors, we have a star-studded line-up of guest bloggers, including bestselling authors Jo Beverley (whose new book, A Lady's Secret, is out today!), Susan Gable, Anna Campbell, Tawny Weber, and Christie Kelley. You won't want to miss a single day!

We will be giving away a signed copy of a Jo Beverley novel on the 24th to a lucky participant, but you must comment to enter. So please plan to join us all month long and bring your questions and comments to our knowledgeable group of writers.