Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Plot (and Conflict)

Sorry I’m late. The good news is that I finished both the copy edits for THE WISH LIST, my May release, and the second book in my series, SPELLBOUND, and got it out to my beta readers. The bad news is that this blog was one of the things I have to set aside for a few days. But I’m back now, and trying to catch up.

Plot is up next. Picture if you will (Rod Serling, just kidding) a five or six year-old, hmmm, let’s make her a little girl (only because I didn’t have any boys, and I’ll have an easier time imagining it). Ask this little girl about a movie she saw, let’s say FINDING NEMO, and she’ll happily recount the film: “There’s a mom and dad fish and a barracuda eats the mom and all the babies, but there’s one left and he has a bad flipper, and his dad won’t let him do anything, so he swims to a boat, when a diver comes and scoops him into a bag. The dad chases the boat and…”

You get the picture. That’s what plot is--what happens. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m one of those readers who prefers plot over characterization, and I know I’m in the minority among romance readers. Don’t get me wrong; a book needs characters and their problems, but I like plot--what happens next. The number one reason I put down a book is because the characters have so much baggage, I can’t believe they can get to a happy end without a porter, a luggage cart, and an account with UPS. (But I will defend your right to read such novels--hey, you have your own taste.)

Now the controversial part. I think conflict belongs under plot, not characterization. In all honesty no one element can be truly separated out from the others. Characterization is a part of plot, and conflict is a part of characterization. But conflict drives the plot. Conflict and the way your characters react and respond to the conflict tells the story--the plot. It sets the story in motion.

There are two types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflict is the struggle within one’s self. Any decision a person makes can constitute an internal conflict. Recovering from pain, changing one’s image, maintaining one’s temper, and resisting an urge are all possible internal conflicts. As the name implies, an internal conflict takes places within one character, and no other character will share the conflict unless the original character chooses to share the conflict. External conflict is any struggle with forces outside oneself. War, weather, fights, competing in a beauty pageant can all lead to possible external conflicts.

There are four kinds of conflict: Character vs. Character; Character vs. Circumstance; Character vs. Society; and Character vs. Himself. The first is a physical conflict; it requires a test of strength against other men, forces of nature, or even animals. The second is also known as the classical struggle, a fight against fate, the gods, or the circumstances of life, like aging (Don’t get me started--my knees will never be young again). The third is a struggle against the ideas or customs of other people. And the last is psychological--the character struggles with himself, with his own soul, ideas of right and wrong, physical limitation, choices, etc. (Sound familiar? Look above at internal conflict.)

Here I am going out on another limb: I believe every book should have both types of conflict. Internal conflict alone leaves me cold. External conflict alone doesn’t leave much room for character growth or change. (See, I told you all these elements are interconnected.)

Conflict is a highly complex idea. I will revisit it later in this series, but until then, I hope I gave you something new to think about.


Books I’m reading now:
Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore
Suddenly One Summer by Barbara Freethy

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gabi :)
    Thank you for the great post on plot.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom & experience.
    All the best,