Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Hate Conflict by Alison Henderson

This month we’re talking about love and hate at The Roses of Prose. Love is easy, but I’ve always shied away from writing about hate. It’s a powerful emotion, but poisonous to the soul. I have never afflicted even my antagonists with true, deep hatred. Perhaps if I wrote dark, serious literary fiction, I might plumb those depths. But I don’t. I write romance, and I write it for a reason—I am at heart unquenchingly optimistic about life and about people.

Perhaps that’s why negative story elements give me such fits. I know all good stories require conflict—the more, the merrier. A few years ago, I attended Donald Maas’s wonderful Writing the Breakout Novel seminar. In it and the accompanying workbook, he urges writers to amp up every element to create more compelling characters and stories. Take every situation and make it worse, then make it worse again until there’s no way the characters and their relationship can survive. That’s the path to high drama, high stakes, and big sales. He’s right. I know it. But I have trouble putting his advice into action.

That’s one reason I enjoyed writing Unwritten Rules so much. Because it’s a romantic suspense, the main characters’ relationship did not have to shoulder the entire burden of conflict for the story. Although the hero and heroine struggled with relationship issues, outside forces were also at work, continuously increasing the threat level and raising the stakes. It was almost as though the villains did the heavy lifting for me. I may have finally found the answer to my conflict dilemmas.

Unwritten Rules was my first venture into suspense, and it certainly won’t be my last. Based on the comments of Amazon reviewers, I may have blundered into a “formula” that works for both me and the readers. Yippee!



Margo Hoornstra said...

Still love that cover! You call it blundered, some would call it talent and hard work!

Alicia Dean said...

I am willing to make things worse for my characters, I just can't always come up with interesting ways to do it. :) Donald Maas's advice was spot on. The books that keep me turning pages are the ones where the characters are in a spot that has me thinking, "There's on way they'll get out of this!" - That's one reason I loved the show, Dexter, so much. He found himself in some tight pickles, but always found a way. No matter who had to be sacrificed. :) Congrats on the success with Unwritten Rules. It's in my TBR pile, and I MUST get to it!

Jannine Gallant said...

I'm with you Alison. It's easier to let the situation cause a lot of the conflict. Giving my h&h huge emotional problems to overcome is hard. It's easier to let a stalker make them sweat. That being said, my latest book is all about the h&h's lifestyle differences with nary a killer in sight. AND, shock, it worked. Still, I'd probably be a wreck if I had to do it in every book.

Alison Henderson said...

I think conflict will always be a problem (or challenge) for me. Maybe after 10 or 15 books (hahaha)I'll learn to be more diabolical.

Diane Burton said...

I hate conflict in my life. Maybe that's why I try to find a humorous twist in my romantic suspense. I know what Maass says, but I can't seem to make things hopeless for my characters. I like them too much. :)

Leah St. James said...

I'm one of those who avoids conflict at all cost in my personal life, too. It makes me nervous, and when things get really intense (like I'm being reamed out by a crazy caller to the newsroom where I work), my voice can start to shake and everything. I try to work humor into my stories, but it's more like a dry wit most of the time. If I try to write "funny," it usually comes out fake and contrived. I give a lot of credit to those of you who do it well!