Monday, May 14, 2012

Tension! Conflict! Action! Creating a Compelling Book with guest Shirley Jump


Janet here. I’m always happy to host my good friend and critique partner, Shirley Jump, in Seekerville. For more of Shirley's tips on conflict, go here to the Seekerville archives. Today she’s defining conflict and tension, the stuff that keeps readers turning pages. So without further ado, here’s Shirley!

            Remember science class, where you learned about the Symbiotic relationships between different species? How there are parasitic relationships (where one creatures takes from another, and doesn’t give anything back (those images of the lamprey still give me nightmares), commensalism (where neither species is hurt or helped) and mutualism (where both species are helped). I’m not going to go all Science Professor on you here, because believe me, I am no scientist. Instead, I just bring this up as a way to help you see the relationship between Tension and Conflict.

            First, let’s talk about the differences between Tension and Conflict.

Conflict is the ROADBLOCKS, whether physical or emotional, which get in your character’s way as he is trying to achieve his goal. It’s the villain chasing him with a gun, the car that won’t start, the bank that won’t give him the loan, his mistrust of people, his inability to get close to another person, etc.

            Tension is the pit-of-your-gut feeling as you’re reading a book that makes you keep turning the pages. It’s the worry for the characters. You worry whether they will be okay. Whether the hero and heroine will find love. Whether the hero will rescue his child. Whether the heroine will find out the truth about her father, and if she does, what will happen then.
       

Conflict is the roadblocks. Tension is the QUESTIONS.

Tension has two levels, something that Maass talks about in Fire in Fiction. There is macro-tension—the big question, in other words, will the hero achieve his goal? It’s the question that runs from the beginning of the book to the end. Once that question is answered, the book is essentially done.

            Micro-tension is the second level. This is the scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word tension. You use ALL the senses as often as possible to work this in. You use the dialogue, you use the descriptions, you use the pacing of the sentences. Study books that keep you feeling that tension, that force you to turn the pages simply by the sheer NEED TO KNOW.

That’s micro-tension. It’s created using a lot of different techniques. Think about a horror movie—think about the scene where the hapless heroine is ascending a dark staircase, approaching a slightly open door that creaks in the slight breeze coming in from the open window. Or is it creaking from something (or someone) else? That tense, tight, nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach as you watch the heroine climb those stairs, KNOWING SOMETHING BAD IS WAITING FOR HER, is micro-tension.

The director creates that by making the space dark, confined, putting the heroine at a physical disadvantage (no weapon, perhaps), and showing the emotions of trepidation on her face. He adds in the sounds coming from behind the door, the slight creak of someone walking across the floor, the feel of the cold door handle surprising the girl…in other words, he uses all the senses to create that tension in the pit of the viewer’s stomach.

            Here’s an excerpt from Dennis Lehane’s GONE, BABY, GONE. Look at how he uses the descriptions to create that micro-tension from the very first pages:

Amanda McCready had been on this earth four years and seven months when she vanished. Her mother had put her to bed on Sunday night, checked in on her once around eight-thirty, and the next morning, shortly after nine, had looked in at Amanda's bed and seen nothing but sheets dented with the wrinkled impression of her daughter's body.

The clothes Helene McCready had laid out for her daughter—a pink T-shirt, denim shorts, pink socks, and white sneakers—were gone, as was Amanda's favorite doll, a blond-haired replica of a three-year-old that bore an eerie resemblance to its owner, and whom Amanda had named Pea. The room showed no sign of struggle

            The bedding, the pajamas, the missing doll…all that pulls at our heartstrings and increases the tension about the missing girl. You feel the vulnerability of her, you worry for her, you wonder if she’ll be found—and if she’ll be alive when she is found. It creates tension for the characters, and also for the reader.

In an interview with Donald Maass on ScribblersGazette.com, he explained tension thus:

When you suggest that writers consider over-lapping tension, does that refer to the scene as a little story, or tension on every page, or both?

Donald Maass: Well, both. A scene enacts a change – that’s a mini-story. But to get through even an eight page scene, to make every word essential reading, you need line-by-line tension. So, I guess in a way you’re thinking/writing on three levels at once: macro plot, scene mini-story, and micro-tension.

Is micro-tension the same as ‘tension on every page’?

Donald Maass: Yes. Last night I went to a tribute service for John Updike, great event, his widow and family were there. They played an interview… Updike said that what he writes about is the tension between what one wants, and what is. It’s the modern dilemma. It preoccupied him.

What a character wants and what is—that’s a great way to look at tension.

Here’s an excerpt from my latest Riverbend book, Family Christmas in Riverbend, that shows tension at play. See how what the heroine wants contrasts with what is:


            He was holding their daughter. Actually holding her.

Livia’s heart flipped over in her chest, and she blinked, sure she was seeing things. But no, it was real. It was Edward.

And their daughter.

He turned when Livia entered. “Sshhh. She’s almost asleep,” he whispered.

            “You’re…you’re holding her. More or less.” She stepped closer, forcing herself not to step in there and hold Piper herself because even she knew him just touching the baby was a huge step forward, “But you might want to hold her tighter, though.”

            “Sorry.” He shifted his position but didn’t bring the baby any closer. It was like she was a time bomb and he was hoping like hell she wouldn’t go off. “I got kind of desperate when she wouldn’t stop crying.” He gave Livia a grin, the lopsided smile that he used to have, the one that had made her fall in love with him. And a part of her, she knew, had started falling for him again.

            Dared to hope that this one moment could turn into two, then three, then four, then forever. It was only one sliver of time, she reminded herself. It didn’t mean anything.

            But her heart refused to accept that. Refused to accept the lessons she had already learned. Edward Graham had no intentions of building a relationship of any depth.

            Yet she saw how he had looked at Piper in that unguarded moment before he knew Livia was in the room. She had seen the tenderness on his face, and dared to dream of more. Of having it all—Edward a part of the circle of her and Piper. Hope was a stubborn thing.



            You want to look at your plot like a roller coaster. There is tension in the chug up the hill, when you know that terrifying drop is about to come. Your stomach is tight, you’re nervous, you’re holding on tight. Click, click, click, the wheels go up, your stomach gets into more knots. Then you hit the top, whiz down the terrifying hill, and then, for a few brief seconds, it’s all flat coasting, before you start up the next hill. That’s how tension should work—rise and fall, rise and fall. If it’s all tense, then that gets boring. You want to keep that roller coaster pace throughout.

            You do that by using your conflict tools. Throw roadblocks at your characters. Let them conquer some of them, fail at others. Those moments of success create the flat parts of the roller coaster, and just when they think they’re on a nice, even, quiet path, WHAM, you hit them with another roadblock/obstacle, i.e., conflict. That creates even more questions—will the heroine be able to overcome this new problem and reach her goal? Will she reach the top of the stairs before the killer catches her?

            Conflict helps create tension, and tension helps add to conflict. The more roadblocks and obstacles your character has to overcome, the more the reader wonders if he can succeed at his goal. And tension adds to the conflict, because if the character is fearful or doubting or anxious, it can make overcoming an obstacle that much harder. These two story essentials have a strong symbiotic relationship that benefits both of them, because strong conflict and strong tension work well together. Create that roller coaster by using conflict and tension, and you’ll be creating a book that the reader is dying to finish!

 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance and women’s fiction to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. Visit her website at www.shirleyjump.com or read recipes and life adventures at www.shirleyjump.blogspot.com.

Janet again. Shirley is giving away a five-pack of her Harlequin romances. If you’d like to win, leave a comment. Ask a question. Her eBook The Bride Wore Chocolate goes live on Nook on B&N on May 23 and in Amazon in June. 

To celebrate Shirley’s visit, I’ve set up a buffet, a duplicate of the fabulous food on the Mother’s Day brunch our family enjoyed. Omelets, Belgium waffles, beef, salmon, chicken, salads, vegetable dishes, desserts galore, whatever you have a yen for you’ll find on this spread.

Oh, no, we have no plates. Talk about a roadblock! A quick trip to the store for paper plates will fix that. But oh, what if I gobble all that food and disgust the man of my dreams, watching from across the crowded room? Dare I indulge?  

Sorry. That was a silly attempt at conflict and tension. LOL My dreamboat never finds me disgusting.  I asked. The plates aren’t plastic, they're Haviland. ;-) Grab one and let’s talk conflict and tension.  

101 comments :

  1. Welcome back, SHIRLEY!!

    I am always delighted when Shirley visits as it's always a workshop in a box. I print them up and use them to revise.

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  2. I just love when Seekerville posts are so good I have to read them twice... and maybe even three times.

    This is just perfect timing, Shirley, because I was wandering. You know that point when you think you're writing but you're really just chatting with yourself?

    Yeah.

    Anyway, thanks for getting me back on track. CONFLICT! TENSION! MICRO! MACRO! Off to write real scenes!!

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  3. Thanks, Shirley. I'm off to work but you've given me so much to ponder as I walk. Like what is going to happen next with Edward. And why does he avoid holding the baby.

    As I read, I was wondering how to apply this to straight romance. Your example was perfect!

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  4. Thanks, Shirley. Conflict is always so hard for me to write because I love my characters and I want to be nice to them :)...Thanks for the pointers. I'll put my "mean" hat on today as I revise.

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  5. Good morning, Seekerville!!! I'm tickled that Shirley's tips seem to have JUMP-started you early birds as much as they do me. It always helps me to have snappy definitions. Conflict=roadblocks. Tension=questions.

    Tina, workshop in a box is a cool name for Shirley's visits to Seekerville!

    Janet

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  6. Yeah! Shirley, what a great way to start my Monday. I really, really needed this post.

    I definitely have the conflict but need to examine how I am creating tension.

    Love the new book. Please put me in for the drawing but if I don't win, my lovely children gave me a Kindle gift card so its win, win for me!

    Janet, thanks for the buffet! Now who is going to fight me for the last piece of strawberry cream pie?
    Conflict, ya know!

    Peace, Julie

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  7. Virginia, I can relate about writing pointless scenes. I have a file of Shirley tips, so I can reread them whenever the need arises.

    Janet

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  8. Hi Mary!

    Sounds like you're ready to give poor Edward a roadblock to his goal. Have fun!

    Janet

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  9. Meanie Annie has a great ring to it!! :-) But, as Shirley pointed out, we can give our characters some good times, the lovely lulls on that roller coaster ride called a novel.

    Janet

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  10. Good morning, Julie! I may call you Peaceful Julie and the Seeker Julie, Passionate Julie. Just to make clear who I'm talking to. :-)

    The Bride Wore Chocolate is not the giveaway. But will release soon. Shirley is giving away a five pack of her Harlequin Romance novels.

    Janet

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  11. Good morning, Shirley and Janet! Great post, and one I will have to reread several times. I'm like Annie , I like to give my characters a good time!

    Question: can there ever be too much conflict in a story? Where the reader says "enough already! Just give them a moment of peace!"

    I've always liked Tolkien for his pacing of tension in The Lord of the Rings. He has these moments of war and fear of being caught, but then he'll write a scene where Sam looks at the stars and remembers the peace of the Shire and all their friends far away. Good study there in conflict and tension.

    I'd love to win some books so throw my name in!

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  12. Hi all! Thanks so much for having me back, Janet! Goodness, you guys are early risers :-) Actually, I am too--just tons to do in the mornings to get kids off, get in a workout (which I'm procrastinating on right now ;-) and do a little work.

    LOL at the workshop in a box! I'm so glad you all get so much out of the posts!

    I agree--adding all these elements can be challenging, but the layers it creates in your books really amp up that emotion. You'll be glad you did it :-) I look at it like cooking--you put in the base ingredients, then layer and tinker with spices and seasonings to get just the right blend.

    Shirley

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  13. Morning Shirley and welcome back to Seekerville. Great post too. We can never learn too much about the craft of writing and tension is right up there. Good examples and points.

    Have fun today and thanks again for joining us.

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  14. Janet, the buffet is super duper.

    Stephanie Queen. Love your photo.

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  15. Hi Liz! Feels like old times having you and Shirley in the house. :-)

    Janet

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  16. Hi Sandra! I'm still full from yesterday's buffet. LOL Though Julie and I have resolved the conflict and tension over that last piece of strawberry cream pie by sharing it. :-)

    Janet

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  17. Good morning, Shirley! Hope you and all the moms in Seekerville had a great Mother's Day!

    Janet

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  18. Great post and good timing. I'm learning more and more how conflict improves the story. Thanks for sharing with us Shirley. I read a book last week that I could not put down. At every turn whatever the worst case scenario was that's where the author took us. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

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  19. Shirley, loved your post. I'm still figuring out how to add conflict into scenes. What are some specific, effective ways you've found to add conflict?

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  20. I want at that buffet.

    And I love the Bride Wore Chocolate! What a great title!

    I'm trying to figure out both the macro and micro stuff at the moment. Just sort of typing along and hoping I figure it out and then go back and un-boring the first bit. ;)

    Maybe I should *gasp* try to plot it out [I'm getting hives just THINKING about it] and go from there ;).

    Or maybe not.

    Is there more chocolate on that buffet? Think I could really use some...

    I'd love to be in the drawing for books!

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  21. WELCOME BACK, SHIRLEY ... it's ALWAYS great to have you in Seekerville and YAY, Janet, for inviting her!!

    Oh, man, this post is RIGHT up my alley because I THRIVE on tension when I write, not only because I LOVE it, but because it saves my husband's neck when I can channel all my drama and angst into my books instead of my marriage!!

    And Donald Maas is my hero -- LOVE that man's work!!

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  22. What a GREAT post!
    Thanks for sharing this, Shirley - it really made the difference between conflict and tension clear.
    And I LOVED your excerpt. BEAUTIFUL!!!

    'Scary' and "Adventure" seem to immediately hold tension, but I'd have to admit that the Kissing Queen (Julie Lessman) is pretty good at throwing tension into those dramatic scenes. Whew...

    Shirley, your scene was the same. So gripping.

    I want to write like that when I grow up :-)

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  23. Thanks for an awesome post, Shirley! I'm in the planning stages for my next book, and as a character-driven writer, the external stuff is always my biggest struggle. Thanks for new insight on how to up the ante to further torture our characters. *G*

    Best wishes on the success of your lastest book, and thanks for the giveaway! Definitely count me in.
    Emily

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  24. I needed this. My current wip is starting to wander a bit w/meaningless scenes.

    The Bride Wore Chocolate sounds delicious.

    Connie

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  25. Good morning, Jamie! A book like you described is a sheer joy to read and a wonderful teaching tool to go back to later.

    Janet

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  26. Hi Carol M,

    If I can remember to think about the POV character's goal before I write the scene, I find it's easier to write the roadblocks. That's kind of middle of the road between panster and plotter, less apt to give you hives. :-)

    Janet

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  27. Hi Jeanne T!

    I'm not Shirley, but I think the concrete roadblocks you might use vary with your hero's goal and the type of book you're writing. A suspense will have far more scary roadblocks. The roadblocks to achieving a goal in a sweet romance may be a sick child.

    Bottom line, we need to make sure our characters fail. Not easy for us tenderhearted writers.

    Janet

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  28. Hi Julie, love you, kiddo. Nothing laid back about you or your style of writing. Passionate Julie fits. :-)

    Janet

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  29. Thank you, Sandra and Jamie!

    Jeannie, that's a post in and of itself, LOL. IMO, the best conflict stems from a character's own worst fears and worries. Your characters should try and FAIL and that creates conflict, too. You want to look at what your character's worst nightmare is--and give them that in the book. That forces character change and creates constant conflict and tension. HTH!

    Shirley

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  30. Carol, LOL because Janet knows I'm not much for plotting! I really am a seat of my pants writer until I get to the middle, and then I figure the rest out ;-)

    Shirley

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  31. Morning Pepper! I've read your blog posts. You're a pro at making readers feel emotion. That's huge!

    Janet

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  32. Thank you, Julie and Pepper! Glad you enjoyed it! :-)

    Shirley

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  33. Emily and Connie--thank you! Glad you like the title for TBWC :-) Titles are something I spend a ton of time on! I'm working on titles for my next single title series right now. Lots of brainstorming :-)
    Shirley

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  34. Connie, leave it to a romance writer to use chocolate in her title. :-) Yummy is right!

    Janet

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  35. Hey, Emily, as a character driven writer, you're in good company. Hope you see Shirley's response to Jeanne.

    Janet

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  36. Carol M, When Shirley and I meet to critique, I'm always dying to know what's going to happen. She never knows. LOL

    Janet

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  37. [Waiting in the doc's office for a follow-up on my nose surgery... Thank God for free wi-fi!!!]

    Shirley - that's exactly how I am! Though sometimes I still have to go back and fix waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much ;).

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  38. Hi Shirley and Janet,

    Great post as usual!

    I'm working on the ending of my book and it's getting a bit boring. Need to climb that roller coaster again! LOL. Have to figure out a way to ramp up that tension.

    Hope everyone had a lovely Mother's Day. I did, but ate too much!

    Cheers,
    Sue
    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

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  39. Janet,
    I love you!
    Just sayin.... ;-)

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  40. Hi Shirley, thanks for being on Seekerville. Great blog post.
    I think I need to learn to ratchet up tension more. I think I'm being to nice to my characters.
    Niceness...it's a curse.

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  41. Wow...great post on conflict! I will be bookmarking this post for sure!

    Can I just say the title of your book is AWESOME! Bride + Chocolate = Woohoo!

    sherrinda(at)gmail(dot)com

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  42. Mary's being NICE to her characters?? What's wrong with this picture?

    Time to shoot someone, Mary! LOL.

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  43. Hi Sue, can't have boring, especially endings, but figuring how to keep raising the stakes to the climax is a challenge. Shirley's advice to give the character his worst nightmare should do the trick.

    If it's any comfort to you, I overate yesterday, too.

    Janet

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  44. You made me smile, Pepper!

    Janet

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  45. Argh. Darn blogger ate my comment!

    Carol, glad to meet a fellow pantser!

    Susan, I hear you! IMO, the best way to do that is to have your characters' weaknesses get them into trouble again and again. Their strengths save the day at the end of the book. HTH! :-)

    Mary, niceness is only a curse in plots, not real life ;-) but I agree--it can be tough to be mean!

    Sherrinda, I agree! I love anything with chocolate in it :-)

    Shirley

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  46. Mary, you, nice to your characters? Naw! Never seen that, well, until the story's end. Then you're nice.

    Janet

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  47. Hi Sherrinda. Brides and chocolate hook me in, too!

    For a chocolate fix, help yourself to the chocolate mousse and lava cake. Delicious!

    Janet

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  48. Shirley, love your comment about line-by-line tension. I need to place a note near my computer to keep that constant tension in mind.

    Thanks for a great blog. I LOVE Donald Maass too. What a treasure to writers.

    Janet, it's always wonderful when Shirley visits Seekerville.

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  49. Hi Debby! The trick is finding Shirley between online classes and book deadlines. :-)

    Janet

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  50. Conflict is the roadblocks. Tension is the QUESTIONS.

    I'm going to highlight that, awesome tidbit!

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  51. Hi Shirley:

    Double Jeopardy

    The Bride Wore Chocolate and The Groom Was a Chocoholic.

    What’s the question:

    “Are you going to eat that whole dress or are you going to come to bed?”

    Sorry: the visual was just too strong. Beside who could pass up a chocolate roadblock?

    Seriously:

    Tension can be in the reader’s mind or the character’s mind or both. The same is true for conflict.

    Do you ever deliberately use 'reader conflict' to create interest? Reader conflict can occur when the reader is conflicted about what she wants to have happen in the story.

    In the “Bossy Bridegroom” I was conflicted for most of the story about whether I wanted the heroine to give the hero a second chance and I was totally conflicted about whether the child should go back to her original family.

    In “A Passion Redeemed” the heroine was trying to choose between two heroes and I didn’t’ want either of them to marry her! (Do you ever find yourself talking to the book? I did!)

    These are two of the most memorable novels that I’ve ever read. I use them as examples because many Seeker fans will have already read them. ( ”The Atonement Child” is also in this group.)

    Your post today has, for the first time, made me think that this high level of memorability stems from causing conflict in the reader. What do you think of this idea?

    Question: As I read your books the writing seems so lyrical that I find myself often reading them out loud. Do you read you writing out loud to hear how it sounds? I’m almost sure that you do. I don’t know any other author where I just start reading their words out loud. It’s just wonderful. Aspiring writers should read your books for the lyricism.

    Vince

    P.S. Do you ever model for your book covers? Your photo would make a great book cover. Maybe you could have a contest to pick a title for that photo. “Looking up Romance.”

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  52. Janet and Shirley, thanks for your suggestions. They help. :) I'm trying to figure out how to build in more conflict for my characters. I'm planning to re-read this post to gain a better understanding. :)

    So appreciate you gals!

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  53. Hi Debby, nice to see you here! LOL at Janet's comment--that's pretty true! I think I need a vacation ;-)

    Shirley

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  54. Hi Debby, nice to see you here! LOL at Janet's comment--that's pretty true! I think I need a vacation ;-)

    Shirley

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  55. Casey--exactly! And that should help you as you write that book :-)

    Shirley

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  56. Vince,

    LOL at the tag line! I should have used that! :-)

    >>Do you ever deliberately use 'reader conflict' to create interest? Reader conflict can occur when the reader is conflicted about what she wants to have happen in the story. <<

    I think that makes for the most compelling of books, and often leads to a "sacrifice" plot where one character has to sacrifice in order to find what they truly want. I don't think I consciously sit there and think about creating that, but I have several books that I think fit that model (Miracle on Christmas Eve, A Princess for Christmas, The Other Wife, etc.).

    >>Your post today has, for the first time, made me think that this high level of memorability stems from causing conflict in the reader. What do you think of this idea? <<

    I think that a high level of conflict creates compelling characters and amps up the reader involvement which, yes, leads to a memorable book. It's harder to create than it looks, but done right, it creates a great story.

    >>Question: As I read your books the writing seems so lyrical that I find myself often reading them out loud. Do you read you writing out loud to hear how it sounds? I’m almost sure that you do. I don’t know any other author where I just start reading their words out loud. It’s just wonderful. Aspiring writers should read your books for the lyricism. <<

    Aw, thanks so much! Actually, I write "out loud," often speaking the words as I write them, to hear the rhythm and pacing of the sentences and to make sure the dialogue sounds real. I like the beats to fall right in a sentence, and the only way to do that for me is to write it aloud.

    LOL about the modeling! My kids would tell you I am waaaayyyy too old for anything like that! :-) but thank you!

    Shirley

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  57. Vince,

    LOL at the tag line! I should have used that! :-)

    >>Do you ever deliberately use 'reader conflict' to create interest? Reader conflict can occur when the reader is conflicted about what she wants to have happen in the story. <<

    I think that makes for the most compelling of books, and often leads to a "sacrifice" plot where one character has to sacrifice in order to find what they truly want. I don't think I consciously sit there and think about creating that, but I have several books that I think fit that model (Miracle on Christmas Eve, A Princess for Christmas, The Other Wife, etc.).

    >>Your post today has, for the first time, made me think that this high level of memorability stems from causing conflict in the reader. What do you think of this idea? <<

    I think that a high level of conflict creates compelling characters and amps up the reader involvement which, yes, leads to a memorable book. It's harder to create than it looks, but done right, it creates a great story.

    >>Question: As I read your books the writing seems so lyrical that I find myself often reading them out loud. Do you read you writing out loud to hear how it sounds? I’m almost sure that you do. I don’t know any other author where I just start reading their words out loud. It’s just wonderful. Aspiring writers should read your books for the lyricism. <<

    Aw, thanks so much! Actually, I write "out loud," often speaking the words as I write them, to hear the rhythm and pacing of the sentences and to make sure the dialogue sounds real. I like the beats to fall right in a sentence, and the only way to do that for me is to write it aloud.

    LOL about the modeling! My kids would tell you I am waaaayyyy too old for anything like that! :-) but thank you!

    Shirley

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  58. Welcome Shirley! Thanks for this post today--another "Keeper" for my files. And as some of the others have said, I REALLY needed this post today--WOW!
    Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

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  59. Glad to hear it, PattiJo! Glad the post is so helpful for you!

    Shirley

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  60. Janet, I like "Peaceful Julie" and thanks for the clarification. I was reading before heading out the door. Can't wait to download "Chocolate" with my gift card!

    Peace, Julie

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  61. Thanks, Julie! THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE will be on BN.com on May 23rd--part of the Nook First program! :-)

    Shirley

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  62. Jeanne T, I struggle creating external conflict, those tangible things that can be seen and touched. While I find internal conflict, the result of a wounded past, let's say, easier to write. Conflict isn't easy.

    Janet

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  63. Hi Patti Jo, I've heard having a cat for a pet can lower blood pressure. Even your photo looks peaceful. :-)

    Janet

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  64. Vince's question makes me wonder how it would work to speak our stories onto the screen. Anyone tried that?

    Janet

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  65. Fantastic post, Shirley. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. And I agree with Tina--posts from you are like workshops in a box.

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  66. Shirley, welcome back to Seekerville! I love your plain talk about upping the ante and revving the tension....

    Always apparent! Thank you!

    And a mini-econ lesson in micro/macro management, lol!!!

    I'm leaving strawberry stuffed croissants today, our Mother's Day treat....

    And yes, the recipe is HERE

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  67. And since you all will read it in Publishers Lunch tomorrow, I thought I'd share some news with you all before the rest of the world--I just sold a three-book series to Berkley. :-) It's a series set in Florida, with some meddling and matchmaking grandmas who fix up a divorced therapist with a wounded pilot. Janet's read it, and she can tell you it's definitely one that has a lot of conflict and tension! :-)

    Shirley

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  68. Thank you, Lisa! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

    LOL, Ruth! I am going to have to check that recipe out....AFTER bathing suit season! Sounds decadent! :-)

    Shirley

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  69. Thank you, Lisa! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

    LOL, Ruth! I am going to have to check that recipe out....AFTER bathing suit season! Sounds decadent! :-)

    Shirley

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  70. Shirley, great news about the three-books series. Congratulations!

    And another post to print off and put in my notebook :-)

    About conflict and tension, I have little problem writing it in light-hearted/comedic stories but lots and lots and lots otherwise. Does anyone else deal with this?

    Nancy C

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  71. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for the congrats! I'm pretty psyched :-)

    I think when you move from romcom to other types of books (which I have done), it's ten times more important to have the tension and conflict stem from the characters' emotions and pasts. A more emotional book should have deeper, richer characters who have pasts that have impacted them and still do. Those pasts should be the key to the problems they have now, and create many of their conflicts.

    HTH,

    Shirley

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  72. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for the congrats! I'm pretty psyched :-)

    I think when you move from romcom to other types of books (which I have done), it's ten times more important to have the tension and conflict stem from the characters' emotions and pasts. A more emotional book should have deeper, richer characters who have pasts that have impacted them and still do. Those pasts should be the key to the problems they have now, and create many of their conflicts.

    HTH,

    Shirley

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  73. Thank you so very much for this post Shirley. Conflict and Tension are areas I really need help in. This post is a 'keeper' for sure. Thank you for sharing!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  74. Thanks, Cindy! So glad you enjoyed the post!

    Shirley

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  75. Shirley, wahoo!!! Thanks for sharing in Seekerville your awesome news of a three-book sale to Berkley, a fabulous publisher!! To celebrate I'm bringing out the confetti and the marching band! Come join the parade!!

    Janet

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  76. Thanks for visiting us again, Shirley! I never thought about the relationship between conflict and tension. Thanks for explaining.

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  77. Hi Janet:

    Today is good example of how we don’t see what is right in front of our eyes.

    I’ve written speeches for at least 12 years. These were for myself and others to give mostly at business club luncheons.

    I would start the writing process with an index card listing 3 to 7 points that had to be covered. I’d phone a club officer and find out something about the members and what their interests were. Then I would stand at my portable lectern and imagine the audience in front of me.

    I would say the first line. Would it get their attention? No? Try a different line. Try again. When it was good, I would write that line down on a yellow legal pad.

    The next line had to tell the audience why what I was saying was important to them. I would speak lines until they sounded right and then write them down.

    Next I would give examples to prove what I was saying and how it helped actual people. This took more tries until it sounded right.

    Near the end I would always tell the audience what they should do next if they wanted to put my suggestions into action.

    These were good speeches. They did not sound like something read from a book. I was in demand as a speaker and speech writer.

    Yet today is the first time it ever occurred to me that I could do the same thing in writing fiction. If it was not for this post by Shirley I may have never thought of this. I’m going to try this in the morning for my deep POV WIP rewrite.

    I think I’ve been posting here for three years and this is the first time I’ve mentioned that an author’s lyrical writing makes me want to read her writing out loud. And guess what? That author speaks as she writes.

    There is one thing for sure: IT WORKS!

    Vince

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  78. Thanks, Shirley :-)

    Nancy C

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  79. This is a fantastic post Shirley. Timely, because I have been looking at "tension" lately.
    Jan

    janet_kerr(at)msn.com

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  80. I agree with all the comments!!!

    This was just wonderful.


    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  81. Sorry I'm so late. This is such a great post. No matter how often i read about tension and conflict I can always add new little gems to help me absorb what I need to understand and put across in my writing. Thanks Janet and Shirley.

    Oh, and Shirley? That dog vacuum cleaner is quicker than any other model for clean up, isn't it? Especially nice around the dinner table or under the baby's high chair!

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  82. Vince, I'm excited that you've found a new approach to writing fiction! An approach you've already used writing effective speeches. I love those aha moments!

    I knew Shirley spoke her words as she writes. I'm going to give that a try. This could be far more productive than just reading dialogue aloud during revisions.

    Oh, and Vince, we appreciate those three years you've hung out in Seekerville!!

    Janet

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  83. Hi Jan,

    I'm always amazed when a post feels written just for me. Cool that others feel the same!

    Janet

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  84. Thanks for stopping by, Marybelle!

    Hi Debra! wishing you all the best using those little gems.

    Janet

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  85. Waving to Cindy W! Thanks!

    Janet

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  86. Vince, I'm excited that you've found a new approach to writing fiction! An approach you've already used writing effective speeches. I love those aha moments!

    I knew Shirley spoke her words as she writes. I'm going to give that a try. This could be far more productive than just reading dialogue aloud during revisions.

    Oh, and Vince, we appreciate those three years you've hung out in Seekerville!!

    Janet

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  87. Aw, thanks, Vince! I think that the speaking as writing approach really helps me keep my author voice in my books. Of course, I'm also nutty enough that when I do the dialogue, I also do the deep man voice and higher pitched female voice, LOL. Glad to hear you had that light bulb moment!

    Shirley

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  88. Cara,

    Thanks for having me here! :-)

    Shirley

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  89. Nancy, Jan and Marybelle--thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Shirley

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  90. Nancy, Jan and Marybelle--thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Shirley

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  91. LOL, Debra, I agree! When my kids were little, the dogs would wait under the high chair for the inevitable fallout ;-)

    Shirley

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  92. LOL, Debra, I agree! When my kids were little, the dogs would wait under the high chair for the inevitable fallout ;-)

    Shirley

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  93. Hi Shirley! Tension vs. conflict. This highlights what was going on in a book I just finished, With Just One Kiss by Francis Ray. And it's one of those books where you know the heroine is going to have to choose, but you don't want her to have to do that, thereby creating reader conflict. Good story, memorable characters.

    I'm thinking all that tension gets layered in on to of the conflict in latter drafts.

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  94. Love how Shirley uses Chocolate in her book and in title!!Love to win the books!

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  95. Enjoyed the interview with Shirley. I'm wondering, will Edward fall in love with little Piper? He must.
    Would love to win this package of books.
    Maxie ( mac262@me.com )

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  96. Enjoyed the interview with Shirley. I'm wondering, will Edward fall in love with little Piper? He must.
    Would love to win this package of books.
    Maxie ( mac262@me.com )

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  97. Hi Patricia,

    yes, a lot of the tension and conflict gets layered in as I go through my revisions. I know the basic conflict, but I fine tune and enhance it as I revise the book. Sometimes, the characters totally surprise me with a whole new direction, too :-)

    Shirley

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  98. Thanks for visiting, Sheila and Maxie! I'm glad you enjoyed the post...and the book title! :-)

    Shirley

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  99. Thanks for visiting, Sheila and Maxie! I'm glad you enjoyed the post...and the book title! :-)

    Shirley

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