Monday, February 7, 2011

Where's the punch?

One of the most difficult things to grasp in romance writing and the most difficult to handle properly when the concept has been gripped tightly is, in my opinion, a good gut wrenching conflict between the hero and heroine. One that provides the editor’s favourite -- “emotional punch.”

Lots of articles address this subject, lots of examples are given and all of them are blindingly clear. “Aah,” I think. “That’s what they mean.” But when it comes to actually thinking up this gut-wrencher it’s not so easy.

The traditional cliché is one or both damaged people staggering from a rotten prior relationship, vowing never to love again, never to trust a man/woman again, never ever, ever . . . Or a widowed person vowing a love like the lost one will never come again . . .

Realistically, how many people actually do act that way? Sure, for a few months they’ll be bitter and hurt or if a loved one has been lost, truly grieving for a certain time. But how many friends or you yourself have clung to that for more than a year? Most of us get over it, straighten up and get on with life. Of course we make mistakes and choose wisely or unwisely depending on a host of things, but people do fall in love again, date and remarry and most aren’t scarred for life unless there’s something seriously wrong in the brain department. Who wants a heroine/hero like that?

So for our characters we need something stronger and deeper. But what? We need something primal we can all identify with, a universal feeling.

For me, children provide a great source of tension, so do family relationships. We all know what it’s like to be a child and many of us know what it’s like to be a parent or have strong views on the subject. The majority of us have a deep desire to have children. Some don’t. What if two people with those diametrically opposite views on something so fundamental fall in love? What if one already has children and finds it hard to share the upbringing with someone who has a polar opposite approach to childrearing? What if the children themselves are the problem?

I love exploring family dynamics and my stories always tend to veer back to that area in some form or another.

What tensions and conflicts provide the emotional punch for you?


Jane Myers Perrine said...

I think there's a great deal of conflict between siblings. I wrote a book about two sister who never got along and another about a brother who waas attempting to raise his younger brother. I agree, families are fascinating.

Sandy Cody said...

Great post, Lis, and an interesting question. Wm. Faulkner said the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. I think that's what you're talking about. For me, one aspect of that is two strong characters with opposing goals. Thanks for making me think about it.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Lis, you've certainly given us something to think about. In one of my Avalon Westerns, the hero learned his step-father was actually his 'real' father. It was a conundrum, and one that brought many positive comments from the readers because they enjoyed the surprise.

Beate Boeker said...

Didn't Heidi say in her interview that the good thing about regency romance is the inbuilt conflict when you have a hero and heroine from different levels of society? That's a good reason, I think . . . unless you write contemporary romance. :-) I've never thought about kids as a source for conflict in romances . . . but I'll consider them in the future! Thank you, Lis!

Elisabeth Rose said...

"The human heart in conflict with itself" . . . it's a good phrase and so true. But it's coming up with a plot that's the problem. :) I like the idea of peole discovering their parents or heritage is not who or what they thought. Of course that's been done to death in historical/regency romances. Impoverished orphan girl discovers she's really a princess ets. LOL

Noels said...

I agree, Lis, coming up with the plots can be challenging. There are always those "must" or core scenes that go in, ones that come to mind while plotting/brainstorming, that form part of the basic essential plot. Then for me, since I'm a plotter not a pantser, it's a matter of developing linking scenes to complete the story. I've just done that for my next romance novel, and am also doing that for a series of outback bachelor-type novels and some medievals so I'm doing a lot of head-scratching lately. :)

Carolyn Brown said...

Hello everyone,
I had an editor tell me when I was first selling books that my characters could not sit down on a blanket and fall in love. I had to put them in a tree, preferably out on a spindley little old limb, and throw rocks at them. Sometimes it's easy for me to find rocks to throw. Sometimes I have to dig into their past and get to know what they really, really don't like and then throw it at them. Wherever I find my rocks, or speed bumps in the journey of life, I found her advice to be good.
I'm not a very good plotter. I try. I really do but alas, it only lasts for about the first four chapters. It's like I'm the pilot of a big jet plane. I load the plane with characters and we're off on a perfectly plotted journey from "once upon a time" to "they lived happily ever after" and then boom, the characters hijack the plane and suddenly we are on an amazing journey that has more emotional punches than my perfect plot ever dreamed about producing.