Forums Forums Editing the Romance Novel Week 2 Discussion Questions

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    • #100562
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Let’s talk a bit about conflict and GMC for the main characters.

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      3. How can you authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

    • #100996
      James Gallagher
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      Probably few things annoy readers more than conflict that is contrived or is something that can be easily resolved. Readers are pretty savvy at picking up conflict that is being pressed on the characters because the author needs there to be conflict for story purposes.

      The conflict might not be linked to things that the characters would truly care about, so readers would be annoyed if they feel that the conflict isn’t serious enough or tied enough to the characters’ real goals and motivations to get in the way of the romance.

      You expect characters to change, but you don’t want the conflict to be related to something that can’t be looked past and makes you wonder how there could be any attraction in the first place.

      If a conflict makes one of the characters too unlikable, a reader might bail if they think, Oh, I could never like someone who cares about that.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      A character would be less unlikable, even if holding an opposing view, if there’s something in the character’s past that makes the character’s holding of an opposing view understandable. A character who likes horses might think, I could never love someone who hates horses but then have a change of heart when they learn that the other was kicked by a horse as a child (not the best example, but hopefully there’s a germ of what I’m trying to express there!).

      I think maybe it’s more okay for a character to “appear” to be unlikable than to actually “be” unlikable, so there’s that tension of thinking, I hate that person, but then the release of changing your mind and discovering the person isn’t so unlikable after all (someone might be gruff but a softy on the inside). There’s maybe a lot of danger in excusing or unintentionally condoning bad behavior, making it all the more important for that character to actually change or to have understandable reasons for their goals and motivations.

      3. How can you authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      Most important is probably to ensure that the plot actually is tied to motivations and goals and is not an external structure that doesn’t truly reflect these. Readers can usually see when the author has come up with a plot and then shoehorned motivations and goals in after the fact.

      Even if the situation and circumstances come first in the author’s mind, starting anew and looking at everything through the character’s real goals and motivations will make the purpose of scenes clear, especially when traversing that big bridge between the first and third acts.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      One way might be to give them interests or hobbies that seem atypical for that type. Because people and readers bring expectations to any type, it’s endearing when the character breaks those expectations (a hardened soldier might surprise you when you find that he also has a passion for hybridizing roses).

    • #101432
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Great responses, James. I think adding a quirk does help humanize types and gives them more of a sense of roundedness or “realness.”

      I like the idea of distinguishing between “seems to be” and “is.” As we learn more about the character, our perspective on them changes. Those kinds of characterizations can be hard to do well but they are very engaging for readers.

      About “getting past” conflicts: Someone mentioned to me a conflict in a story that was basically “you might be my brother” and . . . that’s not a romance conflict. I mean, you don’t “get past” that. The characters either are related or they aren’t, and no “change” in their goals, decisions, and motivations makes any difference in overcoming that, uh, challenge. Also, ew.

    • #101569
      Misha Robinson
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      Lack of believability is always a big issue, not only in terms of if it would/could really happen or not, but also if it’s something that makes sense for the characters. Sustainability can also cause problems. You can have a conflict that is believable but not enough to carry an entire story. Sometimes authors fail to give their main characters both internal and external goals. That’s when I find myself not caring what happens to one or both of them.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      It’s absolutely fine for me when a character is unlikeable sometimes. In fact, I actually would prefer it because it shows that a character is flawed. As long as their redeeming qualities outweigh their few negative moments, I’m happy. Honestly, I get more irritated when characters seem too perfect. Conflict should show you who a character really is. The stress of the conflict and the high stakes are going to affect a person. Make it realistic by giving them a snippy moment or two or causing them to make a bad decision. Just don’t make it so bad that there is no coming back.

      3. How can you authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      One of the reasons I read romance is for those internal goals. I want to see the characters overcome their pasts and change in a way that will allow them to love and be loved. Make sure a character has internal goals. Use their internal goals to create strong emotions in the reader. These goals are the fuel for the character’s external goal(s). It’s the foundation. Then we see the character physically doing what has been manifested through the internal goal as he or she works toward the external goal.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      Give them flaws, and real flaws at that. I often see authors making characters klutzy as a default flaw. Please give me something better than that. Take stereotypes and turn them around. People are complex. Just because he’s a solider doesn’t mean he can’t like to bake. Just because a woman is a doting mother doesn’t mean she can’t be an expert marksman. Even just giving a character unique mannerisms adds to the character’s personality and makes him or her more believable. Also, an author can change up physical characteristics. Why does a certain type of character always have to look like X? It gets boring. I find variety much more relatable.

      • #102882
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Misha, great insights. I agree with making characters too perfect–they don’t seem real. A character with flaws, especially if they admit their flaws, can be perfectly engaging.

        Yes, “klutzy” seems to be a default “flaw” for heroines (never heroes!) I do get tired of incompetent heroines as well. I always figure they need to work on their ability to look after themselves first. Otherwise the “love” always has a taint of “I’m with you because otherwise I can’t cope with the real world” (to me, anyway).

    • #101967
      Molly Rookwood
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      As we saw in the readings this week and last week, a frequent pitfall is making the romance secondary to other, more interesting plot lines. The reading for this week’s assignment featured a hero who was almost entirely irrelevant to the story, and whose whole conflict with the heroine was “I’m not really feeling like I’m in the right place for a relationship right now.” That is not a conflict. For a conflict to be interesting and believable, it has to a) include both characters, and b) actually keep them apart. A story like this one does neither.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      For me, this again comes down to making the goals and conflict genuine. “Making money” cannot be a person’s only goal. “Making money to have a different life from the impoverished childhood I grew up in” is slightly better and leaves room for a story, but it’s still not that emotional. As long as the character is not a one-dimensional villain, they should have a stake in the conflict that stems from something emotional and genuine.

      I think that a character can be unlikeable as long as part of the resolution includes them modifying the negative parts of themselves. One MC could, as a result of past betrayal, have a negative view of something about the other character (culture, gender, etc.) that the other MC helps them to overcome.

      3. How can authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      Outer goals evolve and change over the course of the story based on the other characters and the things that happen, while internal goals stay the same. Internal goals dictate how a character responds to things that happen to them, so showing how the different MCs react to obstacles while staying true to their internal goals both motivates them and helps to drive the plot in ways that bring the conflict/characters’ goals to the forefront.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      I think that this again comes down to having believable motivations and internal goals and conflicts. An alpha male character has more goals than just being the tough guy in charge. Who does he care for or feel the need to protect? What happened in his life to make him into the alpha male that he is? Building up the background for characters allows them to develop into real people with motivations, fears, flaws, and everything else.

      • #102883
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Molly,

        Bonus points for bringing the Week 2 assignment into your answer! Yes, “I’m just not feeling it” is not a conflict.

        I love the idea of baking motivations into the types. This does make them less stereotyped, even if they act in the ways the type suggests (alpha solider does protect others but can seem less stereotyped if we know him as a person).

    • #102040
      Miranda Darrow
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      Conflict that is too easily solved, such as a miscommunication that could be fixed with one honest conversation between the couple.
      Or when one MC actively tries to hurt the other MC, I can’t see a person being in a HEA with a partner who would do that, such as in bully romances.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      I think both parties should have some idea they believe that is incorrect or from which they need to grow, some mis-belief, and that being open to love means facing and overcoming this mis-belief. It’s commonly based in baggage from a prior relationship of their family of origin, and is in direct conflict with what their romantic interest would bring into their life.

      MC can be cranky or grouchy and even rude, but I personally would not care for a romance hero or heroine who was cruel towards their love interest.

      3. How can your authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      The outer goals force the MC to question the “truth” about their mis-belief, which forces a change in their inner beliefs, driving the inner character growth arc.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      Go beyond the superficial stereotypes and try to base characters on real people, giving them unexpected interests, competencies, and weaknesses.

      • #102884
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Miranda, that’s a great distinction–there’s a difference between an MC being, say, grouchy, and an MC deliberately hurting the other MC. This used to be very common in 80s romances and is less common now but still far too prevalent. If I don’t care for a story, I’ll typically just close the book but cruelty makes me actually fling the book against the wall. I’ll give most authors a second chance, but not that!

    • #102068
      Melissa Borbolla
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      During the past two weeks, we’ve learned a few pitfalls that authors fall into when creating conflict. The biggest one, I think, is when the characters’ goals do not conflict. The more I think about it, the more I realize that most “bad” romances are ones that do not involve conflicting goals. I am reading a book like this right now. The heroine has a clear goal, the hero has a clear goal, but they have nothing to do with each other. All of the conflicts between them are coming from outside sources. It makes it hard to feel the characters’ connection and to invest in their relationship. Another one is conflicts that would not exist if the characters would communicate for just five seconds. It’s irritating and unrealistic to read.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      Unlikeable characters are okay sometimes. Sometimes. I think what it comes down to is whether or not the character has qualities that redeem them in the eyes of readers. If a man is trying to make a single mom lose her only job, it would be bad. But then we find out he was doing it because someone at work was threatening her life, suddenly he’s not so bad. Even if a character has bad characteristics, they can be likable. I know this is an extreme example, but we all know Christian Grey. He’s messed up. He hurts Ana. He lies. He tries to control her. But then we find out how horrible of a life he had. We find out about his mother. His abuse. Mrs. Robinson. Suddenly, even with his bad characteristics, he is likable, loveable even. People have a serious love for his character. It’s about balancing the negative characteristics with positive ones and making sure the negative characteristics are not unredeemable (like being physically/emotionally/sexually abusive).

      3. How can you authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      Motivation and inner goals are what gives each story its uniqueness. Inner goals, and the motivations behind each inner goal, is what keeps the plot (hopefully) moving forward. It’s what allows readers to connect and empathize with the characters. That is the most important part of romance for me. The characters’ uniqueness, goals, and the conflict that arises because of those goals are what keeps me invested. The inner goals that the hero and heroine conflict over are the bones of the story. Focusing on them instead of outside forces will give a more emotionally impactful story. That’s what romance readers like. The feelings we get while reading.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      Make them human. An alpha male is only one part of what makes up the character. Maybe a man is an alpha male who does killer braids in his niece’s hair and still buys flowers for his lady every week. Being an alpha male doesn’t have to be all he is. A multi-dimensional character is one that has many characteristics both positive and negative. They aren’t perfect, but they are more real.

      • #102885
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Melissa, yes, I agree. Most of the romances I read that don’t engage my interest are because there’s no conflict between the two MCs. There’s nothing keeping them apart except some outside influence. That’s fine if the story is a mystery, but not if it’s a romance.

        One reason why romance is more complicated to write than most people realize is because of the need for a conflict between the two MCs. It has to be serious enough to keep them apart but also resolvable. Very challenging to write!

    • #102078
      Sabrina Young
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      Common pitfalls include:
      – The conflict is too light and could be easily resolved (i.e., a misunderstanding that could be cleared up with a conversation).
      – The conflict is insurmountable and the only way to resolve it is with a literary magic wand that suddenly makes it all okay without believably explaining how or why.
      – The characters are mostly there to serve the plot (rather than the other way around) and their conflict becomes secondary to everything else.
      – One MC inexplicably acquiesces their goals just to be with the other MC.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      I think it’s okay, sometimes even preferable, for the hero and/or heroine to be unlikable (L. J. Shen does this well). When the reader meets a character at the negative end of their arc, it often means the journey to the positive end of that arc is going to be pretty interesting.

      3. How can authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      A character has to want something that they cannot presently obtain. What (or who) keeps them from obtaining it and how they change as a result of trying to do so is what drives the plot.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favorite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      Make them relatable. Give them a friend they confide to, a family they love (or hate). Give them a dog or something that makes them feel connected (or reminds them that they’re alone). Give them both flaws and redeeming qualities. Make them unique, interesting, full-dimensional characters that the reader would want to know.

      • #102886
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Sabrina, yes, the insurmountable conflict is maybe even worse than no conflict between the two MCs because it requires magical wand-waving to resolve. That’s less satisfying than just about any other type of conflict imaginable.

    • #103493
      Shelley Egan
      Participant

      1. What are some pitfalls authors fall into when creating conflict between hero and heroine?

      One pitfall is relying on conflict that could easily be resolved through communication. The main characters in the Suzanne Brockmann novel I chose get upset when they misinterpret the words and behaviour of the other MC. If they would just speak to each other about their feelings occasionally instead of making assumptions, things would go relatively smoothly. I found myself rolling my eyes at times because the story felt so contrived and overly dramatic.

      A second pitfall is leaving an MC’s internal conflict unresolved. In the same novel, the heroine declines the hero’s marriage proposal because she doesn’t want to worry every time he goes on a dangerous mission. (He is a Navy SEAL.) But he doesn’t want to retire from his job, and they get married anyway. Because readers wouldn’t expect her to suddenly stop worrying about his dangerous work, that conflict remains resolved. Yes, there is a happily ever after, but it isn’t as satisfying for the readers as it would have been if, for example, the hero had left the SEALs and started his own consulting business.

      2. What are some steps authors can take to create conflict without making the hero or heroine unlikable? (Is it okay for a main character to be unlikable occasionally?)

      If the MCs are true to themselves and treat each other fairly and respectfully, they would be expected to remain likable. I would prefer not to read stories with unlikable MCs because if their character suddenly changed, they might not feel trustworthy. When editing fiction, I often tend tell writers that good characters aren’t all good and that villains aren’t all bad, but I’m not sure that this holds true for romance novels.

      3. How can authors use motivation-action-reaction and inner goals versus outer goals to drive the plot?

      Romance authors should understand how important these fundamentals of romance writing are with respect to reader engagement and satisfaction. Motivation results in action, and the main characters’ actions and reactions – and conflicts – create the story. Before authors have their characters say or do anything, they should know what motivates them. I would suggest that romance writers be plotters rather than pantsers, if not before they start writing a book then soon after.
      Internal and external goals create conflict within the main characters. External goals are the result of internal goals, and that characters must work to achieve both also drives the plot. As well, opposing external goals create conflict between characters. Conflict – internal and external – engages the readers and keeps them turning the pages, and the satisfactory resolution of internal goals enables the resolution of the conflict between the main characters, which results in the happily ever after.

      4. What are ways we can help authors turn favourite types (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) into real people?

      I would advise an author to know the MCs fairly well before they begin writing. Details turn types into “real people”: e.g., life stories (family, education, milestones, work, where they grew up); physical description; personality; hobbies and interests; favourite music, food, colour, song, sport; specific talents and skills; role models; and so on. Therefore, I would suggest that authors devote at least a page to details about each MC before they begin writing the story. Fleshing out the characters brings them to life and helps the writer know how they might behave in a particular situation. (This can all change, of course!)

    • #103836
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Shelley, I do think “characters aren’t all good or bad” does apply to romances, only perhaps to a lesser degree than we would see in other types of novels. In other words, it’s likely that the “bad” we’re talking about is the tendency to eat too many cookies or, say, the unwillingness to take necessary risks, or being unreasonably stubborn. Traits that don’t automatically create malicious actions but that we can see cause problems and that we can see change as the novel progresses (to show character change). In the course of true love, she learns to take risks! In the course of true love, he learns not to be so stubborn! That kind of thing.

      The problem of conflict being driven by misunderstandings is so common! And it’s so implausible. The only time it really works is when it’s some sort of outrageous comic novel on the order of those British farces where people are falling out of closets while eavesdropping. But that kind of farce is not exactly what romance reader are generally looking for; even in lighthearted stories they want an emotional component that pays off their investment in the characters/story.

      Your point about unresolved internal conflicts is very good. The story may end HEA, but we don’t necessarily believe in it as wholeheartedly as we good. The ending is less satisfying.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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