Monday, May 18, 2009

Choosing Sides

Missy here. I'll be giving away a copy of my new release, His Forever Love, today in a drawing from the comments. So please leave your comment and contact info!
I'm reading The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman. In his chapter on conflict, something he said really struck me. He said:

Conflict serves many functions: It involves the reader by requiring him to take sides (and thus sympathize), it creates a rift that paves the way for resolution and satisfaction, it aids in suspense, it can lend a work a sense of direction, and it can be unexpected and thus create unpredictability.

Wow. I loved that first bit—that it requires the reader take sides! I think I’ve talked before about making a character sympathetic. But the way Mr. Lukeman stated this made it really sink in for me.

Here are some examples of characters that have drawn me right in and had me cheering for them.

*From Mary Connealy’s Of Mice…and Murder:

Being named in Great-Grandma’s will was like hitting Bankrupt on Wheel of Fortune. The whole family held their breath while the wheel ticked around and around—or rather, while the lawyer opened the envelope. Then they all heaved a sigh of relief when the wheel stopped on Carrie’s name.

Carrie the heiress. Great.

Clean up the house.

Clean up the yard.

Clean up Great-Grandma’s rap sheet.

“I don’t know why it has to be me,” Carrie grumbled.

The empty kitchen—empty except for the garbage that Great-Grandma Bea had been amassing all her one hundred and three years—mocked her with its silence. (end excerpt while Missy snorts a laugh!)

I just loved that! There’s conflict for ya. Carrie’s an heiress to a mess. I already feel sorry for her. And I love her attitude. And her hero, Nick, is a to-die-for geek (I love those beta heroes). Here’s what happens after he “saves” Carrie from a mouse is and trying to get the nerve to ask her out…

She gave him that wide-eyed-wonder look again. Nick knew he had the social skills of a swamp rat. He’d never held one in his arms before. A woman, that is. He’d had a swamp rat or two in his grasp during Vertebrate Zoology in college.

To be or not to be a science geek or math geek, that was the question. Nick wanted to kick himself. Internal sarcasm with mutant Shakespearean quotes was a really bad indicator of coolness.

Dear God, could I be cool just this once in my pathetic life? … (skip a few paragraphs)

He could do this. How about dinner? Five syllables. He took a deep breath. “How about—”

“Nick, I’ve got to ask you a few questions.” (end excerpt)

You’ve got to love a guy who’s finally getting the nerve to ask her out, and he gets interrupted. :) And I just love his humor.

*From Act Two: a Novel in Perfect Pitch by Kimberly Stuart:

I once had a therapist who blamed my dislike of children on the Korean
War. I was never entirely sure how she made that connection.
Something to do with my father’s inability to serve because of bunions.
Or maybe it was my much-analyzed only-child complex. At any rate,
she left private practice to become a consultant for Montel, and I was left
with my visceral distaste for Baby Gap and Shirley Temple healthy and

Children unnerved me. They moved like their internal remote was
stuck on fast-forward. I never knew how to protect myself. That particular
winter morning, for example, I was tempted to think the little girl with a
velvet ribbon in her hair was benign, cherubic, even. And the next thing
I knew, she reached over to wipe a cocoa-sopped little mitt on my new
Burberry skirt. (end excerpt)

I had so much fun reading this book. Her heroine bordered on unlikeable because she could be snotty. But I just loved her anyway. What made her sympathetic was that she was at a crisis point in her life and career, and you just had to pull for her. Plus, she was hysterical. She would say and think things that I might wish I had the nerve to say! :) And the conflict is that she’s forced into a fish-out-of-water situation—the New York City diva on a pig farm in Iowa. Great conflict.

*From Courting Miss Adelaide by Janet Dean:

Adelaide Crum stepped to the open door and peered into the judge’s chambers. Her heart hammered beneath her corset. Now that the moment she’d waited for had arrived, her courage faltered. She considered turning tail and scurrying home. But then she remembered the quiet, the emptiness of those rooms. She closed her eyes and sent up a simple prayer. I don’t ask often, Lord, but I’m asking today. Please, let them say yes.

Squaring her shoulders, she crossed the room, then sat on one of the two chairs and faced the four men who held her future in their hands. To fill it with something, she laid her purse on the vacant seat, a seat that mocked her singleness. (end excerpt)

Okay, Janet’s got me feeling totally sympathetic toward Adelaide right out of the gate! I was hooked in the first paragraph, but then that was doubly so when I found out the heroine was painfully single. Haven’t most of us been there? Having to bear some burden all alone? And we definitely choose sides with her against these townsmen. Great conflict setup here.

*And from my new release, His Forever Love:

Time flew backward at warp speed for Bill Wellington when the name Lindsay Jones popped up on his cell phone.
Warm summer evenings studying on the front porch swing. Working together on projects.
Holding hands around The Forever Tree.
But then he hurtled back to the present as he realized there could be only one reason why she would call.
He snapped opened his cell phone. "Lindsay, is Granny okay?"
"She's fine. Sorry to scare you."
He had programmed Lindsay's number into his phone when Granny hired her as a caregiver, so he'd assumed the worst. Relief nearly brought him to his knees. He waited for Lindsay to say more, but she remained silent. "Lindsay?"
"I'm sorry. I—" She sighed. "Your granny did take a fall, so I wanted to let you know. She has a mild concussion, and they're going to X-ray her wrist. But the doctor said she'll be fine."
Tension raced across his shoulders and ran up the back of his neck. "How did it happen?"
"She fell off the back porch early this morning while taking out the trash."
Poor Granny. "She's at the hospital now?"
"Yes. They'll probably keep her overnight for observation."
"I'll head down there as soon as I can get a flight."
"Oh, you don't need to do that. I'll stay with her. And Granny Bea didn't even want me to bother you."
She thought he'd be bothered? "No, I want to come check on her. Other than Drake, she's the only family I have."
She sighed again. "Do you need a ride from the airport?"
With all the sighs, it made him wonder what she thought of him. Or did she even think of him at all anymore? "No, thanks. I'll rent a car."
He closed his phone and clutched it in his palm. Lindsay Jones. Smart, beautiful, kind, funny. Since he'd avoided all the high school reunions, he hadn't seen her in nearly fifteen years.
A thrill at seeing her surged through him, then immediately plummeted. He hated the thought of heading home to Magnolia, Georgia, for more than a quick weekend. It would mean facing the townspeople he had escaped right after graduation.
It would mean facing Lindsay, as well. The woman he'd been crazy about from the age of ten, with whom he'd fallen in love in high school.
The woman he'd held hands with around The Forever Tree. And had thought he was destined to marry. (end excerpt)

So here I tried to show a bit of his backstory—which will be fleshed out later. But we see a hint of the unrequited love. And we see he didn’t fit in in the town. Plus, now he’s forced to go to take care of his injured granny and to face the woman he used to love. I’m hoping that makes the reader pull for him.

What about you? Are you characters sympathetic? Do you have enough conflict that your reader will want to take sides? Share with us how your manuscript is going!

Missy’s new release, His Forever Love, is available now at and and other online booksellers! Leave a comment with contact info for a chance to win a copy today! Also, you have another chance to win if you visit Missy at the Five Scribes Blog today!


  1. Great examples! I try to establish conflict on the very first page... although what I'm realizing is that I have to let my reader in more.

  2. Great excerpts Missy!

    I've had a problem with my characters being sympathetic. LOL I'm working on it. ;-)

    I think your story sounds really good. I'd pull for him.

  3. Good morning, Missy! I love the Lukeman's quote. Excellent nutshell of why conflict is vital to our stories. I loved the great examples from Mary's and your books.

    As to conflict forcing readers to choose sides, we can make sure they take the side we want by planting poignant seeds that spring up in our readers' hearts.

    In the opening of Courting the Doctor's Daughter, Mary and Luke go toe to toe over the remedy he's peddling.

    Here's the excerpt:

    The man shot her a lazy grin, revealing a dimple in his left cheek, giving him a deceptive aura of innocence. Then he had the audacity to tip an imaginery hat. "Pardon me, Florence Nightingale, but without testing my product, you have no call to condemn it."

    Florence Nightingale indeed. No one in the crowd chuckled as the man had undoubtedly intended. They all knew her, knew she lent a hand in her father's practice. Knew what happened to her mother.

    The last thought hints at a tragedy that hopefully makes the reader take Mary's side.

    Then a physical reaction to plant the seed in the reader's heart:

    Mary folded her arms across her chest. "No right? I've seen your kind before..." A lump the size of a walnut lodged in her throat., stopping her words. She blinked rapidly to hold back tears.


  4. Ooo, Missy! I love Monday morning gives me something to look forward to all week : )

    Great excerpts showing the masters at work. The whole "don't judge a book by its cover" comes alive when you think about the outward appearance of characters making them unlikable, yet it's their internal thoughts that create the sympathy.

    Good, good thoughts to keep in mind when creating characters.

    Can't believe no one has set the spread for this morning! Okay, strong, Colombian coffee is brewing with a variety of flavor creamers to the side for your tasting pleasure. I'll share the huge batch of cinnamon rolls I made for the Five Scribes blog where Missy is also showcasing her diverse talents today.

    Ah, the life of an author in demand. Just another page of conflict, I suppose : )

  5. Oh boy...conflict...nice way to start the week....Life without conflict isn't real, so thanks for reminding us that our stories need to be real too!!!!

    Would love to win!!!!! warm hugs,


  6. Good morning! I'm finally online. I've been cleaning, getting ready for oldest son's girlfriend to come for a visit for a few days. I'm nervous!!

    Hey, I guess I just tried to get reader sympathy, there! :)

  7. Good morning, Katie. You were here bright and early. :)

    I tend to keep secrets from the reader in the beginning, too. But my editor is usually asking me to move things forward! So I'm learning to do that.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Thanks, Jessica!

    You know, I've had problems with sympathetic characters, too. I think sometimes all we need is one little thought or hint from the past to have readers be sympathetic. Or have him or her pet a dog or something. :) And if we hint at the conflict to come, or throw them in the middle of conflict, then that's all it takes for the reader to jump on board.

  9. Good morning, Janet. Thanks so much for sharing from Courting the Doctor's Daughter! I'm looking so forward to reading it!!

    The example you gave is perfect for setting up that conflict that makes me (the reader) take sides. I feel for Mary. I want to cheer for her to defeat this charlatan.

    Of course, I'm sure in the next scene, I'll be sympathizing with the guy. :)

    Love the conflict!

  10. LOL, Audra! Yes, the life of conflict. :)

    I believe I'll indulge in a cinnamon roll here, then hop over to Five scribes for more! Yum.

  11. Yes, Mareva. Real life does have conflict so our stories have to have it, too. Although, at least in stories we can plan it! :) No choice in real life. LOL

  12. Great article with excellent examples!

    Please enroll me in the drawing:


  13. Your book sounds great, Missy! I can't wait to read it.

    This was a great post. I always try to build sympathy for my characters. It just makes it more fun for everybody if they seem as though they need help!

    In the book I just finished, my heroine is determined to get back to Nashville and to school, but her family in Alabama needs her and they have no money to send her back to school. And the hero is determined to make her like him. They both seem to be fighting a losing battle! LOL
    Love it.

    My word verification is exual. They left off a letter. How funny.

  14. I forgot to say, I already have your book, Missy, so you don't have to enter me in the drawing. Looking forward to reading it. And I loved all the exerpts. You guys are so talented. :-)

  15. Good morning, Edwina. Thanks for stopping by.

    Melanie, I love how you have your conflict set up. There's nothing like family loyalty to pull on a character!

    LOL on your word verification. :)

  16. Testing, testing. Trying to see if my photo will come up now. For some reason, I have no picture today!

  17. HEY MISSY! You used me as a GOOD example for a change.

    I'm more often used as a horrible warning.

    I'm suprised the Seekers haven't erected a lighthouse on my head to warn people away. :)

    I've got His Forever Love in my hot little hands right now. I hope to get it read tonight. I started it enough to know I already love your hero and heroine. His with his loneliness for his grandmother and his distrust of the small town where Grandma lives.

    Her with her valiant support of Grandma's desire to stay in her own home and her long time love for the man who deserted her, and clearly intends to desert her again.

    You created great characters to care about.

  18. I'm reevaluating my story, and working through the plot issues. But I'm reading Linda Goodnight's The Baby Bond. What a case study on first chapters, plot, setting up conflict, raising stakes, weaving in backstory...

  19. Hi Missy:

    I just loved your “His Forever Love” and had it read by the second of May. (I’ll review it on my Harlequin blog, however, I am twelve reviews behind at this time because of my work schedule.)

    I found your hero very sympathetic and, of course, I took his side on most issues. I actually face an almost exact situation right now myself with my 92 year old mother. So your story line hit very close to home. However, I must say by the middle of the book, whenever the heroine came on the scene, this bible quote ran through my head with ever increasing intensity:

    “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16-17 -- King James Version)

    I’m not sure all romance writers are familiar with this quote. It’s one of my favorite quotes in the whole bible. Bless all the military wives.

    Now, how long is our wait for book III?



  20. LOL, Mary! From now on, I'll picture you with a beam of light flaring off your head. :)

    Thanks for your comments on my book! I'm glad (but nervous!) that you're reading it. :)

  21. Patricia, I haven't read that one of Linda's yet. I'll have to get it! I love that cover. Who could resist a firefighter in uniform??! :)

    Thanks for stopping by today and for the recommendation. Linda's an amazing writer.

  22. Vince, thanks so much for reading my book! I'll look forward to your review.

    Boy, I feel for you dealing with the situation with your mother. I hope you can get it all worked out to make everyone happy. It's a difficult situation our family has dealt with on my husband's side (his grandmother). Not ever easy.

    I love the story of Naomi and Ruth, too. And I tell you, I planned the book to end differently, but when I wrote it, it just kind of went the direction it did. But I won't give any spoilers. :)

  23. Hi how are you today? Please enter me for the book.


  24. I'm doing great, Edna! Thanks for stopping by. I've got you (and everyone who's commented so far) entered in the drawing. :)


  25. Aha, we have to choose sides early.

    The catch for a romance author is to make me root for both sides by the 2/3rd mark!

  26. Hi Missy, I would love to win a copy of your newest book. Her Unlikely Family is one of my fav Love Inspireds and you are always so friendly and helpful on the FHL loop. Thanks for being such an inspiration and blessing to us!

    Blessings, Teri

  27. Gotta love the Colombian coffee.

    Sympathetic characters ... my DB just got married to a widow he met at church. (Lotta "aw" factor there, right ...?)

    One thing that drew them together -- they started talking about their cats.

    DB is a very buttoned-down mechanical engineer. Who knew he had a houseful of whimsical cats?

    More "aw." They had a photo montage at their wedding reception and cats from both sides of the family, going back years, were featured.

    My WV is "menes." As in tekel, upharsin will be next. (Have I been measured and found wanting? Shivers)

  28. Ann, gotta ask...

    what's a DB?

    dear brother?

  29. Pam, good point. We need to make them take sides with BOTH characters in a romance. I guess they side with whoever's POV they're in at the moment.

    It's easier when you have a villian. But in a lot of romances, you don't. I guess as much as anything, the reader is pulling for the romance itself--for that happy ending. :)

  30. Thank you so much for your kind words, Teri!

    You know, it's nerve wracking to have the second book come out. I'm afraid people won't like it as much! But I guess it's just something I'll have to get over. I can't fret over each one :)

  31. Ann, I love it about the cats! See, you take a straightlaced, uptight man and give him a pet, and we melt. :)

    I tried to do that in Her Unlikely Family. Take an uptight banker and pair him with a spunky waitress. Then make him responsible for a runaway niece. I hoped readers would feel really sorry for him when his niece rejects him. :)

  32. I love your examples. Please enter me.

    And as for my work in progress, I need to make some progress. But I think my characters are sympathetic. Just hope someone else likes them too.

  33. I really like to create characters who seem strong, but you know they're dealing with a struggle inside, even if you don't know exactly what that struggle is right away. The hint is there, though. It makes me sympathetic right away if I see they're trying to overcome some problem, even if only by denying it in that early stage.

  34. Sorry I'm late to commenting. From the time I got up...well, after I brushed my teeth, tinkled, and put on appropriate clothes to wear in public (as in, around my house where no one is but me and the toddler), I've been working on tabulating Touched by Love contest entries.

    Just waiting now on one last entry to be returned so we can announce the finalists.

    Anything higher than a 150 and the entry finals. And it could get that. Or not. All up to that one lone judge who hasn't returned her entry. One lone judge.

    Whatever you posted about, Missy, let me say it was FABULOUS!!!! I'm sure I'll have to read it again to catch all the good stuff I missed the first time I didn't read it.

    Now I must clean house, do laundry, cook dinner, help #3 with a school project, let the dog in so he doesn't scratch down the back door, feed the fish, think about feeding the cat, and change clothes into something more appropriate for a Season Finale of 24 Party at my house.

  35. Sheila,

    I'm sure your characters are likable! But I know that feeling of hoping they come across like I mean for them to. :)

  36. Eileen,

    Yeah, I love to get hints when I'm reading a book. That's what makes me keep reading. But as I writer, I have to keep adding in more to my hints. Apparently, I don't add enough!

  37. LOL, Gina!! Well, let's just say it's the most brilliant thing ever written and leave it at that. No need to read the post.


    Have a great party!!

  38. Oooooh, Missy, GREAT excerpts all!! You've got me chomping at the bit to dive in to your new book, WHICH I plan do as soon as I finish Janet's latest, Courting the Doctor's Daughter (also WONDERFUL, by the way!). Is it my imagination, or are Seeker writers getting a wee bit edgier with their romantic tension???

    Fun blog!


  39. Congratulations on the new release, Missy. Very cool.

    I'm reading Lukeman's book now. Just finished the section on conflict. However, I grew up in a two-hundred-year-old Kentucky family with Scot-Irish roots, so much of it wasn't news to me.

    My ms is going well, now that I broke through a bit of writer's block. However, I'm a bit confused. It's supposed to be a "her" story, but it appears my guy is touching more heartstrings. I'll have to figure that out.

    Did I arrive too late for the drawing, or does the "last shall be first" principle apply? jk Seriously, I just popped in to say congratulations. On to the comments.

  40. Missy, happy Monday, Chica!!!

    Love that opening page of His Forever Love... Beautiful set-up for ongoing conflict. Great examples all around, Miss. Sweet. You make the idea of conflict resonate with your words.

    Resonate is my SAT word of the day for Mary's benefit.


    I stopped in earlier but didn't have time to post. Dratted gainful employment. Love the food, Audra, but I'm switching to sweet tea because it's late in the day in upstate NY.

    Now, to scan what everyone had to say!


  41. I enjoyed the blog today and do like the conflict.
    the inheriting a mess rings true thats what I got where im moving to!
    thanks for the insight. please enter me ausjenny at gmail dot com

    Moving day is Saturday with some stuff goingtoday.

  42. Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks. :)

    susanjreinhardt (at) gmail (dot) com


  43. Hey, Julie! I was so excited today because I was going to go wait for my daughter at the school. I took A Passion Denied with me, so excited to have a half hour to read. But she was done early! I didn't get to read one word, darn it!

    I'm about 2/3 of the way through and am loving it!!

  44. Hey, Kimberli! It's good to see you. I'm glad you've passed the bout of writer's block.

    As for the his story/her story... I usually don't know for sure who's story it really is until the end of the book. (Or maybe I should say I think I know but that sometimes changes). And ofen, it's hard to really decide. But I usually think of the character who grows and changes the most as the one whose story it mainly is.

    The last shall be first?? :) Well, more like the last shall be entered. That's about the best I can do. LOL


  45. Ruthy, I love it when you teach Mary new words! :)

    Thanks for stopping by even though you've already had a full day. It's awfully quiet around here when you can't jump in.


  46. Jenny, I hope the move goes well! I've got you entered.

    And Susan, I've got you entered as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  47. Ha! :o) Thanks, but I was kidding, honest.

    I completed the first draft of the story and know what happens. It's her story, but he's rude, stubborn, and bossy, and overall, a grumpy ol' teddy bear who loves her kids. Who can resist that?

    I couldn't write for about two weeks, thanks to that block. It was so bad, I almost ordered cable TV. I think my husband is bummed the slump is over.

    Hopefully over.

  48. LOL about the cable TV, Kimberli! :) Your poor hubby.

    Your hero does sound like a Teddy bear!

  49. Missy,

    I have heard a lot about conflict but I still have trouble getting enough in. I've been kind of studying my life and thinking about all the small "conflicts" daily. Really, life is full of it, of various types, more than I really think about.

    For example, my son needed a dermatology appointment quick and they scheduled us in fine. They are usually running behind, though. Then we get there and the hallways seem kind of dark, with just some lights on. I was thinking they were saving electricity!

    No, they were having their own little power outage. So, how much longer does it take to have the nurse escort you in and look up your file by using a flashlight? Plus, I had promised myself to do some writing, but there were no windows/slash natural lighting. It was pitch black. Without son's cell (I goofed and left mine in the car), we would have had nothing. We could have sat on people in their chairs in the waiting room.

    Just as I was wondering if how a skin exam could be done in poor lighting, the electricity was magically restored.

    I don't know if this scenario would be realistic for fiction, (even tho it happened) but it is definitely unrealistic to make things go totally well in anyone's life, isn't it?

    Or is this just my experience?

    I'd love the book cathy underscore shouse at yahoo

    Cathy, thinking a lot about conflict lately

  50. What a day, Cathy!! I'm so glad the power came back on or I bet they would have had to cancel after all your time there.

    Yes, conflict does hit us all the time. But I think the main thing in our stories is that we have to set up a conflict (usually something external)that forces the hero and heroine together for the story, yet have other conflict (and I usually think internal here) that keeps them apart. And the story has to have a drive that keeps the reader reading to find out if they'll overcome the conflict.

    I love the angsty internal stuff. But the external conflict is hard for me to come up with. Thus, I'm reading the Lukeman book!

  51. We have a winner! Edna, you've won the drawing for a copy of His Forever Love! I'll email you for your address.


    And thanks to all for commenting yesterday.

  52. Hi Missy I read the excerpt of His Forever Love and it sound wonderful.Have a good week.

  53. Thank you, Emma! I appreciate you reading it.

  54. I read the review of His Love Forever and would love the book.


    Edna Tollison
    141 Lee Carey Rd
    Laurens, SC 29360