Friday, August 20, 2010

Conflict - Questions and Answers

Another question - this time from Janet:

I've read romance novels where the hero is opposed to the idea of a lasting relationship because he's been badly hurt in the past, or he's lost his fiancée, or been abandoned by his mother.

You said somewhere that as an internal conflict this doesn't go far enough, that writers must ask themselves not why this man would be wary of any romantic relationship but why would he be wary of a relationship with this particular woman?

This is why I get stuck so I wondered if you could expand on this with a few examples.

Well, Janet the first thing I'm going to have to say is that if this is the point at which you get stuck then you can't know your characters well enough. You really need to dig much deeper into their emotions and beliefs and goals to see why they (hero or heroine) should have a problem with a relationship with this particular person (ie each other.)

Let's go back to the start of this question. If your hero has a problem believing in lasting relationships because of a problem with his past fiancée or his mother or some woman in the past, and only that, then the story you are working on is not the emotional journey he makes in the present - in the time of the story - but it's all about his past. And the past is not what a reader wants to know about. She's reading a romance for the story in the present.

Another point - if your hero knows he was hurt in the past and he's still letting it affect his life so much then he can seem immature, that he hasn't got beyond this problem. As one very intelligent editor once said - it your character knows something about themselves, for example, that they have low self-esteem - or that they were hurt in the past . . .then the reader will immediately ask why they are not doing something to change.

But if there is something in the heroine that appears to reinforce that problem - that seems to show that she's the same type of person as his mother/fiancée/past girlfriend then it will reinforce his opinion.

You've done a workshop with me where I point out that a romance is not the story of a hero and heroine who are just made for each other ands recognise it at once and so fall into each others' arms and live happily ever after.

Instead it's the story of a hero and heroine whose conflict - which is what we've been studying for the past weeks - appears to show them that they are the worst possible people to come together in a relationship. It's about initial impressions being badly wrong and the need to dig deeper into what each other is really like to find out the truth. It's not about the hero's mother or his past lover - but about the way that the experiences he had with those people made him the person who sees the heroine in the wrong light and misinterprets the things she is doing and being like the people who treated him wrongly.

I just read Anne McAllister's The Virgin's Proposition. In that Demetrios has been deceived and treated badly by his late wife. That leaves him wanting to avoid the emotional complications of love and feelings in the future. As the blurb on the back of the book says 'his heart is empty and that's the way he likes it.'

When he meets Anny he thinks she is fresh and appealing - and her proposition of one night together makes him feel that she is as uncommitted emotionally as he is. One night is fine. Even if he wants more - physically at least.

When he realises that Anny has not told him the truth about who she is and what her situation is, then that starts to change everything. It makes him look at her in a different light. One that is made worse by the betrayal he had in the past.

And later, when he realises that Anny is much more emotionally involved he wants to hold back on the relationship because he believes he doesn't want to get involved, it's too complicated.

So although the baggage he brings with him from the past affects this relationship, it is what happens between him and Anny, who Anny is and how she behaves, that creates the conflict between the two of them in the present. A conflict that is complicated by his past experiences but not created solely by it.

(c) Kate Walker

I showed my comments above to Anne McAllister and asked if it was a fair assessment of her conflict in The Virgin's Proposition. I think that her response is really helpful and adds to this discussion by showing the way that that one same conflict can become more complicated, have added layers to 'the onion' and so develop into a conflict thyat can carry through a whole book, and create a story rather than just 'Demetrios's conflict with is that he doesn't trust her because he has been badly hurt and let down by her late wife'.

Anne says:

I would add that Anny's day job -- as a princess -- complicates things, too, because it isn't just her he'd be marrying. It's a whole damn country.

And the time they spent together one-on-one on the boat is like a little idyll where none of the outside stuff matters. It makes them think about 'what might have been' if they had only themselves to please. But the fact is, the real world and obligations and suchlike will intrude once they get back on shore -- and they both know it.

Still, love is hard to deny. But once they give in to it, they have to face the question of whether or not they can try to make the relationship work when it's more than just the two of them. And even more important, they have to decide if they are willing to take the risk of trusting the other person. Anny is more willing to do that -- she hasn't been hurt the way he has. But it isn't just his own possible hurt that Demetrios is risking if he tries to have a relationship with Anny. It's worrying if he can be all that she needs, too. He feels emotionally damaged and not sure he can give her what she should have. He has to come to realize that what she needs -- and should have -- is him!

It usually comes down to a question, at the end, of "what one of them wants the most, the other fears the most" for whatever reason. It's real conflict on a gut level that comes from externals (the real world), internals (past experience) and the now which is: are they able to love each other unreservedly and give the other what each of them needs. Love is always a risk. And they have to find the courage to take it.

(c) Anne McAllister

Thank you Anne - The Virgin's Proposition is out in Presents in September. The UK Modern Romance edition was on the shelves in May but is still around on the M&B web site or on


Janet said...

"...the way that the experiences he had with those people made him the person who sees the heroine in the wrong light and misinterprets the things she is doing and being like the people who treated him wrongly."

Thank you, Kate. That is the bit I hadn't quite grasped--I don't know why -- it seems really obvious now!

Caroline said...

Thanks Kate (& Anne) - most helpful - as ever. Caroline x


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