Monday, October 17, 2016

Conflict: Roadblocks to your Character’s Happy Ending



Janet here. Writers of romance know the importance of keeping our heroes and heroines together and attracted. Yet we must not let them fall in love until they resolve the conflict between them and earn their happily-ever-after (HEA) ending.

Story is conflict. Conflict forces characters to act, to withdraw. Conflict stems from important goals and serious issues that keep the hero and heroine from falling in love. I’ll use my novel The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption to show how I came up with the conflict for widowed mother Carly and bounty hunter Nate.

But first let’s look at what conflict isn’t.  

Conflict isn’t arguments. Our characters may argue—even argue about the conflict between them—but the conflict will still remain because the cause of that conflict is something a mere argument won’t resolve. If conflict doesn’t take the entire book to resolve, the issues between them are not strong enough.

Conflict can’t be resolved by a conversation. An example of a conversation conflict is when the heroine sees the hero with a woman and believes he’s cheating on her. If she asked, instead of refusing his calls, she would learn the woman is his cousin.

Conflict isn’t external problems or trouble they just encounter. Loads of stories have the characters fighting evildoers or fleeing for their lives. That’s big-time trouble that may delay, but won’t prevent the hero and heroine from falling in love.

So what is conflict and how do we writers create book-length roadblocks to a happy ending?

We give characters strong external (tangible) and internal (intangible) goals and motivations, which creates conflict.  

Let’s look at widow Carly Richards’s External GMC:

External Goal: To run and expand her seamstress business.
Motivation: She must care for herself and her son Henry.
Conflict: Her dead husband gambled away the deed to the shop.

Now look at Nate Sergeant’s External GMC: Yes, he has two.

External Goals: To ensure that his widowed sister Anna gets the shop her dead husband won in a poker game. Once he does, he can pursue outlaw Shifty Stogsdill.
Motivation: If something happens to him while he’s trying to capture Stogsdill, his disabled sister needs a way to provide for herself.  
Conflict: The former shop owner won’t give it up. He must forgo pursuing the outlaw to stay in town until the judge arrives.

Ownership of the shop is a huge obstacle to Carly and Nate falling in love. When the hero and heroine both want the same thing, we call that plot trope “Two dogs, one bone.” Both characters don’t have to want the same thing. In fact, they often don’t. In fact here is a list of tropes for you to consider. Whatever the characters want, the pursuit of their goals should create conflict.

If the shop was the sole conflict between these two, the story would get tiresome. I broadened the conflict by adding elements to the plot that either stem from or complicate the external conflict. 

In honor of Seekerville’s Ninth Birthday party, I’ll share nine of many plot elements I used to increase conflict between and within the characters:

  1. Nate killed Carly’s husband in self-defense, proof to Carly that Nate is a violent man like her dead husband.
  2. Nate gets a job repairing the livery behind Carly’s shop. His proximity upsets Carly and gives Nate a sense of belonging in the community that’s a conflict for his bounty hunter existence.
  3.  A big bridal order Carly can’t handle alone forces her to hire Anna.
  4. Nate accuses Carly of hiring Anna to try to convince her to give up the shop.
  5. Henry visits Nate at the livery. Alarmed about Nate’s influence, Carly confronts Nate.  
  6. Nate asks Carly to teach him how to keep the livery books in exchange for teaching Henry to ride, something her son desperately wants, but she suspects will further cement Henry’s growing admiration for the bounty hunter.
  7. Carly’s growing affection for Anna is in conflict with her desire to keep her shop.
  8. Nate suspects Carly’s customer is the girlfriend of outlaw Shifty Stogsdill, adding more conflict between them.
  9. Nate conceives a plan to lure Stogsdill to town. Carly is furious, believing that will put her son’s safety at risk.
The romance isn’t the plot, but when the hero and heroine are in conflict, their feelings of attraction and admiration—their budding romance—complicate the plot. Faith can also be a conflict within and between the characters as it is in this story.


Now let’s look at their Internal GMC. The internal goals often stem from the scars or wounds of their past. The reason we give characters a painful back story.

Carly’s Internal GMC:

Internal Goal: To paint a pretty picture of the past for her young son.
Motivation: To protect him from life’s ugliness.
Conflict: Her son isn’t fooled and her lack of openness is damaging their relationship.

Nate’s Internal GMC:

Internal Goal: To make up for his youthful negligence that resulted in Anna’s handicap.
Motivation: He can't undo his sister’s injury, but he can make things easier for her and lessen his guilt. 
Conflict: Doing the right thing for his sister means harming another woman and her child.
Carly and Nate’s GMCs create conflict between them and within them, but an overriding conflict exists even after the external and internal issues are settled that still blocks them from giving and receiving love.

The overriding conflict that keeps the characters from falling in love stems from their fears. Before the characters can have their HEA ending, they must grow and change by facing and overcoming their fears.

Let’s go back to Carly and Nate’s external conflict. Though both have strong motivations for wanting the seamstress shop, they could find a way to work out the shop ownership, if not for their fears. Even the circuit judge saw they cared for each other and suggested they get married and end the conflict over ownership. But until they overcome their fears, the shop ownership is an excuse to continue holding each other at arm’s length.

Carly’s fear: She blames herself for not realizing her husband was a bad guy before she married him. She is afraid to trust her judgment and risk exposing her son to another poor choice. Additionally, her father’s harshness and her husband’s cruelty have skewed her self-image, making her believe no good man would want her.

Nate’s fear: Nate’s job as a bounty hunter is an excuse for why he can’t settle down. His underlying problem with giving his heart is his fear of failing Carly, as he feels he failed his sister and his murdered fiancée.

These fears can be so deeply hidden inside the characters that they aren’t aware of them. Carly’s fear stems from the lie she believes about herself. Nate’s fear stems from the load of guilt he carries. The lies and guilt may have no root in reality, but they’re very real to our characters, so real that their fears keep them stuck, unable to give their hearts.

People—real and fictional—resist change. The reason we writers don’t allow our characters to change voluntarily. So how did I get these two out of this vicious cycle of fear?

I used the plot.

The plot forces the characters to face and deal with their fears.    

In the climactic scene with the outlaw Stogsdill, Nate and Carly face and overcome death. Afterward Nate understands the outcome wasn’t so much his actions, as it was God’s intervention. He turns his life over to God and finally realizes human beings do fail, but with God’s help, he can be a good husband and father. Carly sees that Nate not is he a good man, he loves her so much he was willing to die to protect her and Henry. 

Later that evening, the lack of honesty between Henry and Carly is resolved and Carly tucks her son into bed. Nate comes to the house to see if Henry got home safely and to tell Carly of his return to faith. Carly confronts Nate, asking if he intends to give up bounty hunting, the last roadblock between them. No longer afraid of failing those he loves, Nate slips off his gun belt and proposes. Henry awakes and is ecstatic that Nate will be the dad he prayed for. With all the conflict resolved and both of them changed, Carly and Nate have earned their happy ending.



Janet Dean grew up in a family who cherished the past and had a strong creative streak. Her father recounted fascinating stories, like his father before him. The tales they told instilled in Janet a love of history and the desire to write. Today Janet spins stories for Love Inspired Historical. She is a two-time Golden Heart finalist, a Genesis and a Carol finalist. Her novels are Golden Quill, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Booksellers Best and Inspirational Readers Choice Award finalists. 

With all this talk of conflict, I brought comfort food for breakfast. Help yourself to oatmeal, grits, scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls drizzled with frosting. Grab coffee or tea and a plate and let’s chat. 

If you have tips on creating conflict, please share.

What is more difficult for you, external or internal conflict?

What movies do you think of with strong conflict between the hero and heroine?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a Seeker eBook of choice and be eligible for our grand prize iPad Mini!!






155 comments :

  1. Wow! I've never been the first commenter! I love conflict that brings about personal growth in the characters and bonds the main characters together. Great post Janet!

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  2. I'm not a writer so I can't really comment as to how to write conflict, lol! But most books I read have some kind of conflict between the hero & heroine that must be overcome to achieve that HEA. Now I know why the HEA is so much the sweeter :-) A very insightful post Janet, I learned something new about authors!

    As to movies with strong conflict: While I've never watched it, how about Gone with the Wind? Or one of my favorite John Wayne movies, Angel and the Badman (actually a lot of his romantic films), North and South is another great one that comes to mind. The Sound of Music is another classic one. So many good ones out there! I'd have to think about it more to come up with other examples.

    I'll come back tomorrow when there are more comments to see what other people come up with :-) (Please add my name to the pot for the chance at a seeker ebook of choice, thanks!)

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  3. Actually this is the perfect road map for writers who have problems seeing GMC in action.

    You outline it perfectly, Janet.

    This is a print and save if you've ever been told you need CONFLICT. This explains WHY.

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  4. A great post. I particularly enjoyed reading through the plot elements.

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  5. Thank you for this great post. Writing conflict is something I need to work on.

    One book/movie that has a lot of conflict is Gone With the Wind. Also, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers has a lot of conflict as well.

    Everyone have a wonderful day!

    Happy Birthday Seekerville!

    Blessings,
    Cindy W.

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  6. Janet, there's a teacher within you that is truly amazing. I've never seen this explained so well in a blog post.... or a conference class! Well done, my friend!

    I had a hard time keeping conflict strong when I was new: I'M A MOM!!! MOMS FIX THINGS!!!!

    I'm laughing here, but it's true! Audra says she has the same problem... But now I've toughened up....

    Janet, thank you for this!!!!

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  7. Hi Janet! I agree with both Tina and Ruthy. You did an excellent job outlining what conflict is and isn't. A keeper post indeed! Thank you!

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  8. Good morning, Janet! What a great post! This is definitely a keeper post on making sure we have enough conflict in our stories. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  9. Hi Janet! What an amazing wealth of information. Thanks for sharing your insights and knowledge!

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  10. Wow! Great post. I'm seeing it. I think conflicts for the main characters as well as supporting brings out the strength and development we love to see in them.

    Gone with the Wind is a great movie with lots of conflicts. TV series temds to throw in conflicts all the time to keep it going.

    Thanks!

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  11. Hi Janet,

    Great post!

    I think external conflict is harder for me than internal conflict.

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  12. Thanks so much for sharing this great post! This is certainly one to keep.

    Please throw my name in for the prize(s). Thanks!

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  13. HEIDI, congrats on being first! :-) We humans don't like conflict but without it, there is no story, no character growth, no happy ever after. We have to be mean to our characters. :-)

    Janet

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  14. TRIXI, I'm always impressed when readers like you want to know more about what writers go through to get a story on the page. Thank you for your interest!

    Thanks for the excellent examples of movies with strong conflict. Scarlet's goal in GWTW was so strong, she'd do anything to save Tara. She was a force to be reckoned with. Rhett was the only man with enough grit to match her. I'm always surprised Scarlet was attracted to Ashley or at least thought she was.

    Janet

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  15. TINA, thanks for that lovely endorsement of the post! I hope it'll help those who struggle with writing conflict. Not that it's easy for me or any of us.

    Janet

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  16. MARY P, it's fun to share ideas for things that can happen to keep our characters apart and keep raising the stakes.

    Janet

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  17. CATHYANN40, thanks for stopping by.

    Janet

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  18. CINDYW, thanks for sharing. GWTW came to my mind, too, as a movie with great conflict. A book with great conflict is Bookends, I think the author is Liz Curtis Higgs. It's a two dogs, one bone external conflict that is really strong.

    Janet

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  19. JANET, I don't enjoy conflict. I'd rather read conflict in a story than experience it. I do understand it is a TOOL the Lord uses to cause me to grow.

    Have a wonderful day!

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  20. RUTHY, thank you, sweet woman! I am a teacher, you know. Well, I was an elementary school teacher a long time ago. One reason I write craft posts is to remind myself. I can know stuff but then forget to do it. I need an outline, a guide to keep me on track.

    Glad you and Audra have toughened up. Actually I think of you as a tough love mom, not a softy at all. Maybe because you're always threatening a kick in the backside. LOL

    Janet

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  21. JILL, thanks! Any movies that grab you because of the strong conflict? I think of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks conflict over the gigantic bookstore that will ruin a small bookstore in You've Got Mail.

    Janet

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  22. JACKIE, hope the post helps in some way. Which is harder to write for you, internal or external conflict? For me it's external. I love creating back stories that create inner goals that produce conflict.

    Janet

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  23. DANA, Thanks for your sweet words. Do you enjoy writing conflict?

    Janet

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  24. JUSTCOMMONLY, you make a great point! TV series must keep tossing in trouble to keep people watching but if the trouble is episodic--not related to long term goal--it's probably not a good example of how to write conflict in a book.

    Janet

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  25. Good morning, JANET. Great post & great examples! As you and I've discussed previously, internal conflict is easy enough for us to come up with but the external foundation is much harder to develop. Others find just the opposite is most challenging. Thanks for these great tips! :)

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  26. ROSE, you and I are made from the same cloth. :-) I love creating internal conflicts but the external is far harder. My DH says, "Just make something up." LOL That's not as easy as it sounds.

    Janet

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  27. Hi Janet! You've Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. It's definitely full of conflict. Another movie I think is a great example of strong conflict is Jaws. A police chief who's afraid of water must battle a shark...it doesn't get any better. :)

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  28. Aww! What a great HEA ending to your story. It is so perfectly structured. I want to feel envious that you have such a natural talent, but I am sure it took a lot of work.

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  29. Hi Janet,
    This topic is exactly why I don't think I could ever write fiction, the conflict. Like Ruthy I'm a mom, I fix things. The verse about being "Ambassadors of reconciliation" also popped into my head :) Any conflict I wrote on one page, I'd have it all fixed on the next, lol.

    A movie with good conflict and a book theme too that I just loved was, You've Got Mail. That provided some extra tension for book lovers who are protective of the small mom and pop stores.

    Happy Monday everyone, I've brought almond pound cake to go with our coffee this morning!

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  30. Oh man, I was typing and didn't see Jill beat me to the punch, great minds think alike and all that, lol.

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  31. Such an informative post, Janet! You need to turn this into a conference workshop. Excellent analysis of your story and tutorial for how all romances should be structured. Love your memes too!

    So...do you have every aspect of your GMC, fear, etc before you begin to write your story? Or does a lot of it come intuitively as you write?

    You really understand story. That's so important. As Tina mentioned, this post is a saver for sure.

    Hugs!

    BTW, I loved this book!

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  32. CONFLICT. On every page. Something I'm learning. I love the one about "conflict can't be resolved by a conversation." I get frustrated whem I'm watching TV and the sitcom character thinks her husband/boyfriend is cheating on her when she sees him with her best friend, and they are actually planning her SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTY. Sheesh, people. If I ever do a "surprise birthday party" story, feel free to shoot me.
    Kathy Bailey

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  33. DEBBY is right, this would make a good workshop. And it's something we have to constantly remind ourselves of.
    KB

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  34. Really great post, Janet.

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

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  35. Hi, Janet! This post is wonderful. Thank you. I love the Anne of Green Gables movies. The conflict between the characters is so rich.

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  36. AWESOME post, Janet. I've been stuck on my homework assignment for a class I'm taking on character motivation. I read this post and finished my homework. Thank you!

    No doubt, external conflict is harder than internal for me.

    I love the quote about the plot needing to force the characters to change. Not a romance movie, but I love "Catch Me If You Can." Conflict at EVERY turn and it is very clear the motivation behind it all. For romance, "The Proposal" comes to mind for conflict that is not easily resolved.

    I've got a crazy delicious pumpkin loaf over here with coffee lattes. Happy Monday!

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  37. LESLIE, thanks! Isn't October a fun month here in Seekerville? Oodles of prizes and lots of cake!

    Janet

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  38. CARYL, I'm like you. I'd rather write about than experience conflict. But you're exactly right. We change when we're forced by circumstances. Not always fun but part of life.

    Janet

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  39. The first words of your post explained conflict in a simple way I have never quite grasped before. "An argument won't solve it." Too many times I have tried to make the characters unwilling to talk about their conflict to each other, let alone argue over it, making the conflict a "secret" of sorts. As in "I can't tell him how I really feel about him because he will reject me" type of thing. Thank you Janet. Suddenly I have a new perspective over something as simple and basic as conflict.

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  40. GLYNNA, writers like Mary, who writes stories of action and danger must enjoy coming up with external conflict. I'll ask her.

    Have a great day!

    Janet

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  41. JILL, thanks for mentioning Jaws. The writers gave the hero a fear that made his actions all the more heroic. We writers need to do the same. I can't remember. Is there a love interest in the story?

    Janet

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  42. DANA, it's fun to create people but to create story with strong conflicts is harder. Glad you like the resolution of The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. A lot happens in the climax that overcomes the conflicts and ties up all the loose ends.

    Janet

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  43. Good morning Janet.

    You make me think of How to Lose a Guy in 10 days when talking about conflict.
    You make the subject seem simple.

    My DH says, "Just make something up." That is funny.

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  44. Janet, I'm sending you a big cyber hug!

    This post is very timely for me. I've been working on requested revisions for a manuscript targeting LIS. My biggest struggle is the romance arc which really comes down to the GMC. After months of hard work, I've printed the manuscript so I can go through with different colored highlighters and check the different threads–suspense, faith, romance. Now, I'm going to print this excellent blog post and keep it handy, so I can double check the GMC for each character in each thread.

    I'm on Fall Break from the day job through Wednesday. Lord willing, I plan to hit send on this manuscript this week.

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  45. Excellent post, Janet! I can get lazy about digging deep into my characters' GMC, so I really appreciate the reminder! The problem for me, though, is always that I really can't see that deeply into my characters until after I start writing their story. They "tell" me things then that I never get during the planning stages.

    Which is good in many ways because the serendipity of discovery means the story pretty much tells itself. I like to be surprised in my writing as much as in reading for pleasure.

    The bad part is that it makes it incredibly hard to write a synopsis/proposal BEFORE I've written much of the book. :(

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  46. Hi Janet:

    Thanks for this very important post. I've noticed in the last year that the novels I give up on before finishing all have one thing in common: low or predictably resolvable conflict.

    For me, at least, in a mystery the big page-turning challenge is 'who did it'? In a suspense this becomes 'will they survive'? And for a romance this interest-creator is: 'how will the author ever bring these two together'?

    In a romance the reader is guaranteed a HEA so the real question is: how will the hero and heroine ever overcome their conflicts?

    Therefore what I like best in a novel are multi-streams of conflict. I like original conflicts, both internal and external, and, more importantly, I like conflicts that seem impossible to resolve.

    If the conflict is cliché, (the heroine's policeman husband was killed on the job and she's vowed to never marry another cop) well, I know how that has been resolved dozens of times in other romances. Moreover, if this is the only conflict, then this romance has both a predictable ending and a predictable resolution to the conflict. It's a sleeper; not a keeper.

    Adventure stories, like Jack Reacher or John Puller, have a big advantage: they have a continuous stream of conflicts always coming at the hero. Sometime something both dangerous and new creates more conflict each chapter.

    Of course, if the solution is so easy that even one of the other characters suggests it, as in "The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption" with the judge suggesting the hero and heroine just get married thus resolving the conflict, then there must be plenty of hard-to-resolve conflicts making that easy solution seem highly improbable.

    "The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption" seems to be the perfect example of original and hard to resolve conflict. I did not know how the conflicts would be resolved. As such, "The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption" was a very high interest 'page-turner' for me.

    In short, I believe that "The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption" is a case study in how to do high interest, original, and hard to resolve multi-conflicts. And as a writer, I particularly enjoy romances I can learn from and admire for the author's craftsmanship.

    Thanks again.

    Vince

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  47. Oh Janet there is so much easily-understood information and instruction in this post! This is not just a print-and-save, this is a print-and-keep-it-right-here-by-the-keyboard :-)

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    The Bounty Hunter's Redemption is such a good book. Whenever there's discussion about opening lines, I quickly share those opening lines.

    When I think of conflict, I think of the old Hepburn-Tracy movies -- which, I might add, I did not see when they were originally released :-) I need to watch one of those and analyze what conflict keeps me watching to the end.

    One more time -- thank you, Janet. I haven't a doubt I'll be re-reading this many times.

    Nancy C

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  48. Hi Janet. Great post and I loved THE BOUNTY HUNTER'S REDEMPTION.
    I guess the lack of conflict is why I have a lot of trouble getting through memoirs, etc.
    Redeeming Love is a favorite of mine.
    Thank you for the chance to win!

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  49. A great reminder about conflict, Janet! I tell you what, I can't review this too often. This is what I have the hardest time with! Maybe someday I'll finally get it through my thick skull. :)

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  50. Marianne, I agree! I loved that book.

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  51. Janet, love this post! I catch myself reading books and think to myself, if they'd just talk they could resolve this. Now if I could only catch this in my own writing! Internal/external conflict-I have issues with both lol, but I think internal conflict is easier. I tend to just scratch the surface with my characters and really need to dig deeper, throw more at them. Will be referring to this post often.

    Movies with strong conflict: any of the extra-large animal movies on SyFy (which I love lol). The one wants to kill the large animal and the other wants to save it, as in Lake Placid. The hero is the fish and game officer who wants to kill the crocodile. The heroine is a paleontologist who states this is an historical find and needs to be preserved.

    How do you come up with internal/external conflicts for your characters for each book?

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  52. Janet, I LOVED The Bounty Hunter's Redemption!!!! (bonus was hero shares name with my little man) I also love this post because I am TERRIBLE at creating sustainable conflict. (why I love flash fiction... hah) Gotta bookmark this one so I can better create solid GMC. Thanks!!!!!

    Unfortunately it has been awhile since I've gone to the movies. Still firmly entrenched in child programming with my freshly turned seven year old, so the only romantic movie that comes to mind at first thought is Tangled. Frozen didn't provide a hero/heroine HEA *bummer*.

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  53. Good morning, Janet! Thank you for detailing your character's GMC. It's always helpful to see the thinking of another writer. And yes to You've Got Mail. I just watched that movie -- AGAIN -- over the weekend, and it was the first that came to mind. I always feel so sorry for Kathleen. If her store goes under, how will she support herself? She has no one to fall back on. Yet, Joe is SO likeable, and I feel sorry for him because of his crazy family. And, he learns and grows and changes. Don't we all love a hero who learns? :-)

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  54. CONNIE, I've never seen that movie. Sounds like fun.

    Yeah, I've explained how things have to feel believable. But he's watched enough TV movies from books that he's an expert. ;-) He does have a point. We writers make up stuff all the time. Still that doesn't mean it's easy.

    Janet

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  55. Sorry, I've been offline hosting my Bible study. But I'm back and will catch up.

    Janet

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  56. TRACEY, I thought of the same movie. It's excellent, hard to overcome conflict. Now I want to watch it again.

    Janet

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  57. DEBBY, I have the GMC of the hero and heroine. Sometimes their Internal GMC changes as I write. I love to create my characters pasts so I have a sense of what kind of problems the wounds they experienced will give them. Even with all that planned out, I really get to know them better as I write their story. The intuitive part seems to show up when I first think of these people and the inciting incident that brings them together. But mostly for me, writing is hard work.

    Janet

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  58. DEBBY, how do you work? Are you a SOTP writer?

    Oh, and thanks for your sweet words for TBHR. I feel God gave me the story. I'm always grateful when readers enjoy it.

    Janet

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  59. KATHY B, TV shows--especially sitcoms--can get by with things we writers can't. :-) A surprise birthday party conflict could work for an inciting incident that opens the story, but it won't carry a book. The opening trouble isn't always the main trouble that stems from their GMC.

    Janet

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  60. How did you know my homework today is to talk about the conflicts I will be using in my Nano book next month. I have printed out this post so I can refer to it easily as I work ahead on my homework and my next book.

    I have a question. This is not fully a romance book. It is historical. I will begin with the part in history that is known. Since I was named after the heroine. I always wanted to know Wilani's story but have never been able to, so I decided to write it myself. After the opening I will go back to the beginning of Tsali and Wilani's marriage. I want to develop what will make them strong enough to face the ultimate sacrifice of Tsali giving his life so the Cherokee people can continue to live in NC. My question is Can the conflict be what makes them stronger and prepares them for the sacrifice. I am afraid it will not be the Happily ever after that is in most books. I plan to write an ending on how Wilani and their children are faring after Tsali's death.

    Please share any problems you see in this or any suggestions as to how I can do better. It will be a challenge to write about the Cherokee. I have been doing research for a year and a half.

    I am so grateful I am taking this online class. I have never written down the goal motivation and conflict before I write the story. This will all be a help when I begin writing on November 1 which is not far away.

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  61. KATHY B and DEBBY, if I were to turn this post into a workshop, I'd have to flesh it out to make it fill an hour.

    Janet

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  62. PHYLLIS, thanks for wishing God's blessing on Seekerville. We are so blessed by all that come to chat about books and share their lives and that includes you.

    Janet

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  63. J BAUGH, I haven't seen the Anne of Green Gables movies. I need to schedule a movie-fest weekend!

    Janet

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  64. JOSEE, it's not every day that I get to help with someone's homework. I'm delighted!

    Again I haven't seen these movies. Must make a list of those that show great conflict and watch them.

    Thanks for sharing the yummy pumpkin loaf and lattes, perfect for a fall day!

    Janet

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  65. I'm reading a book right now and EVERYTIME there is a moment to breathe...BOOM.
    It's such a great reminder to me to CAUSE TROUBLE. KEEP THE TENSION ALIVE. UP THE STAKES>

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  66. CINDY R, glad the post helped. Secrets can make for strong conflict but you're talking about secret affection for the other character. Fear of rejection may be what's behind what the character wants and why in his Internal Conflict GMC. Fears are often the overriding issue that keeps the hero and heroine from declaring their love once the external conflict is resolved. But every story needs characters that want something concrete that will cause conflict for themselves and between the hero and heroine. The external part is harder for me and I'm suspecting it is for you.

    Janet

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  67. RHONDA, I'm so excited about your requested revisions and that you've got a few days to work on them!! Praying for your insight. You're wise to take a step back and look at all three threads and how you tie them all up at or near the end of the story. If you have questions about anything, give a holler.

    Hugs, Janet

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  68. Wow, Janet, loved reading this post and seeing how you created conflict between your main characters!

    Conflict definitely makes the plot hum along, and can really make the story a page turner! It's interesting what drives the characters, for sure. I think that can be why I enjoy those stories where the characters are initially at odds so deeply--the enemies or rivals thing is a powerful story element!

    Thanks for sharing!

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  69. MYRA, SOTP writers would naturally have more trouble writing the synopsis before they write the book, but I'm a planner and I still find then hard to write. We don't know exactly what will happen, but when we know what they want and how that adds conflict, we've got a place to start. I don't see the synopsis as written in stone, as much as its showing the editor that we have the GMC in place that causes enough conflict to carry a book. That gives the editor confidence that even if the story morphs as we write it, we will still have that strong conflict that made them okay the book.

    Janet

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  70. Janet, I plot the story first, which always takes me a long time.

    Internal conflict plays an important role in my stories and is the key to unlocking how the plot should progress. It's never easy, as you mentioned, but it's like a suspense in that I'm always working to uncover who the characters are and what they want me to reveal. Sometimes they aren't as forthright as I would like! :)

    Hugs!

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  71. Janet, I plot first. Oh I might have one bit of conflict in mind but it's usually external. I definitely have more trouble with internal conflicts.

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  72. VINCE, your kind words about the strong conflict in The Bounty Hunter's Redemption blessed me. Thank you.

    You really nailed it when you said that the story needs mult-conflicts. Repeating the same issue/s gets old. I think the fear of falling for another cop after losing a cop that they loved is a normal response readers could understand, but there needs to be far more than that between them. They both need strong external goals that have nothing to do with the romance that causes conflict and drives the plot. The romance--all that strong attraction--complicates everything but the romance isn't the plot.

    Janet

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  73. NANCY C, I'm so glad the post helped you with writing conflict. If you have any questions about something I didn't cover, ask. One thing you might try is to write your External and Internal GMCs for both characters, then ask yourself if they seem strong enough to carry the story. If so, then look at how you can complicate things further by making your own list of ways to raise the stakes and increase conflict. Sometimes you need to get to know the characters better before you can do this.

    Movies are a great way to study conflict. Though I can get so wrapped up in a good movie or a book that I forget to notice what the writers did. :-)

    Janet

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  74. MARIANNE, I'm delighted you enjoyed this story! Redeeming Love is a beautiful book. It's a keeper on my shelves. I haven't read it in a long time. Perhaps I need to remedy that.

    Memoirs can grip me if the person's life was really fascinating and vivid with a time period I find interesting. But fiction is my first love!

    Janet

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  75. MISSY, you're not alone. I have trouble writing external conflict. It's not so much that we don't understand conflict, as it is that every story demands different characters, different conflicts. We have to dig deep into our characters and create them to want something badly, even when it causes them big-time trouble. I sometimes think it's harder to create external goals for contemporary characters. For example in my historical Wanted: A Family, Callie wanted to provide a home for unwed mothers. A worthy goal, but boy, did that cause a stink in town and in her church. I think the conflict worked because of the times.

    Janet

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  76. Hi Janet, great post. TBHR was a great book! THANKS for the chance at a seeker ebook of choice.

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  77. SALLY, thanks for sharing that great list of conflict filled shows!

    The trick of developing conflict is to know your characters. As you say, to dig deep. Once we do, then it's easier to figure what they want.

    Where do I get conflicts for different books?

    Sometimes I want to write about a particular issue and create people to fit that story as I did in Wanted: A Family. The issue that I felt called to write about was Christians ostracizing unwed mothers, treating them like outcasts instead of loving and forgiving them. So I dreamed up this story with a pregnant widow with a big Victorian house who wanted to give unwed mothers a home. In a sense she feels a bit like an unwed mother, as she'll raise her baby alone. But that's not a strong enough motivation to have her stick to her guns in the face of the town's disapproval. So I gave her a best friend in the past who got pregnant out of wedlock and killed herself. Now that's pretty grim but Callie had no idea what her friend was going through and vows she'll give unwed mothers a safe haven with love and acceptance. The hero grew up in an orphanage and came to town to find his birth mother. His presence causes a lot of trouble/conflict yet also draws these two together.

    Sometimes stories and characters are triggered by historical tidbits as I did with my first two books, both stories that involved children who rode the orphan train. The heroes and heroines' goals create the conflict and drive the story.

    Sometimes a hook triggers a story. By hook I mean things like mail order bride or marriage of convenience. These hooks appeal to readers so I dreamed up two scenarios that forced two heroines in two different books (The Substitute Bride and The Bride Wore Spurs) to either marry someone she didn't love or even marry a complete stranger.

    There's loads of different ways to come up with a conflict-packed story. I gave more details of the first because I wanted to show how a goal creates the trouble and how the character drives the story. In Wanted: A Family, Callie wasn't a victim. She caused her own trouble but she had a great reason for doing so.

    The internal conflicts come from their pasts. Things that make them choose a goal that's not concrete but something they still strive for.

    Hope all that helps and didn't make things more complicated.

    Janet

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  78. DEBH, I don't get to many movies either. Not because I'm busy with kids as you are with your precious little guy. Life just gets busy and by the time we can get to the movie I'd like to see, it's no longer in the theater.

    Janet



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  79. MEGHAN, heroes come in all sizes and personalities but they better be teachable or they'll find themselves kicked out of our stories. :-) Seriously there's something so appealing about a man who is willing to change for the woman he loves.

    I must watch You've got Mail again.

    Janet

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  80. We give characters strong external (tangible) and internal (intangible) goals and motivations, which creates conflict.

    The key. This is the key.

    In fact I should put this on my wall. Paint it perhaps.

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  81. WILANI, your story sounds terrific. How could it not with that fascinating, yet sad slice of our history. Since the story isn't a romance, you don't need a Happily Ever After ending. Now readers may be sad that the hero dies, but it'll feel logical and his sacrifice will make him feel bigger than life, memorable.

    The conflict comes from the goal. What's Tsali's goal? To ensure that his people can stay in NC? If so, he gets his goal at the cost of his life. The conflict is all the struggles his goal creates between him and Wilani (if any), him and the government, him and his tribe. His motivation for wanting them to stay needs to be strong. Has he seen other tribes wiped out from hunger and cold on the march west? Is it horrible to think about leaving their dead behind? Does he remember what their forefather's sacrificed to stay on that land and he can't abide that they died for nothing? Not suggesting any of these fit the story. But the conflict stems from a strongly motivated goal that he's pursuing. Every obstacle he overcomes prepares him to remain strong, to sacrifice himself for the sake of the tribe. Does that answer your question?

    My question to you: How does the sacrifice of his own life enable his people to remain in NC?

    Janet

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  82. MARY, action-packed stories like you write often have life and death moments that keep readers turning the pages. Any tips on how you create conflict? Is it often through creating strong villains with strong goals of their own?

    Janet

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  83. FEDORA, enemies and rivals produce strong external conflicts because they both are at odds to the extreme. I think creating conflict in gentler stories may be harder, but even then, it goes back to the character's goals.

    Janet

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  84. DEBBY, you said the internal conflicts are key to how the plot should progress. I thought of Carly's internal goal to paint a pretty picture for her son. The internal conflict was he saw through her attempt to gloss over things. After he learns Nate killed his father, he accuses her of lying to him and ran off and was captured by the villain. That changed the direction of the plot. When I try to do this with both characters' internal conflict, it doesn't work quite as well. Can you share more?

    Janet

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  85. TERRI, I'm tickled that external is easier for you! Would you say you write more action stories?

    Janet

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  86. JACKIE S, thanks! You're in the drawing. Thanks for stopping.

    Janet

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  87. TINA, doesn't it sound simple that the characters cause their own conflict? So why is it so hard????

    Janet

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  88. Hi Janet!

    This is a great post. A printer-outer!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  89. Hi Janet!

    This is a great post. A printer-outer!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  90. Hey, JANET, GREAT post, my friend!!

    I just LOVE conflict, which is one of the reasons I LOVE this post!! Like Tina said, "This is the perfect road map for writers who have problems seeing GMC in action, and I'm definitely one of them, unfortunately. :|

    As far as what movies have strong conflict between the hero and heroine, Cindy and Annie (JustCommonly) beat me to the punch on Gone With the Wind -- the ultimate conflict romance, in my opinion!! But Tracey came up with a good one, too in You've Got Mail. Two others that are absolute faves of mine are The Notebook and Breakfast at Tiffany's, both chock-full of conflict to keep the heroes and heroines apart!! :)

    Hugs,
    Julie

    --

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  91. Janet, I loved your post. I struggle with conflict. Here's a question for you (and anyone else who cares to answer). When you've been told your story feels "light," what causes that? Is it not enough conflict or tension?

    In answer to your question,I think for me, expressing the internal conflict is trickier.

    As for movies that show great external or internal conflict, I'd say Leap Year is great for the internal conflict (and external), and the Bourne Identity (I think that's the first one?) is very strong on external conflict.

    SUCH a great post! Thank you!

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  92. I need to read this every day! Thank you!

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  93. JAN, thanks! A printer-outer is great to hear!

    Even better when it's heard twice. :-)

    Janet

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  94. JULIE, I'm surprised conflict is hard for you. Your characters are always embroiled in loads of conflict. Guess I should know that just because we eventually get it done, doesn't mean it was easy.

    I surely saw Breakfast at Tiffany's. Will have to add it to the list of movies to watch.

    Gone with the Wind is full of conflict, not just from Scarlet's goals that created some terrible choices on her part, but also from the setting and the times. Love that story, but not as much as you do. At least I've never tried to write my own version.

    Janet

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  95. Janet, thanks to your post I figured out something about the conflict my hero faces. He is adamant about what he wants and is determined to achieve it. But what he wants isn't what he's instinctively good at, what he's meant to do ... and what he's meant to do keeps taking his focus away from what he wants. I knew this on a subconcious level, but I hadn't realized it until I wrote it down.

    Gee, I hope that makes sense :-)

    Thanks again for the help!

    Nancy C

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  96. JEANNE, I'm sorry the person who called your story light didn't explain what was meant by that, but I'd think that implies the story needs more conflict. Perhaps the characters' goals and motivations aren't strong enough or the goals aren't in conflict or don't create conflict between them.

    If the heroine runs a coffee shop and that takes a lot of her time, which irks the hero, then the story will feel light and you'll need to create bigger conflicts between them. If she runs a coffee shop and the hero plans to open a Starbucks across the street from hers, the conflict gains weight as her goal is at stake. If the hero with the Starbucks franchise broke her heart when they were in high school or if she's supporting her sick mother with the proceeds from her coffee shop, then she's even more motivated to fight him tooth and nail. Keep looking for ways to expand the conflict and raise the stakes. My examples are clichéd but I hope they show the points I'm trying to make.

    Let the trouble begin. :-)

    Janet

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  97. JANET F, Me too!

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Janet

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  98. NANCY C, that does makes sense. Not all goals should be achieved. Some are sacrificed or exchanged for others. The attempts of your hero to keep trying to get a goal that isn't good for him may leave him feeling like he's pounding his head against a wall. yet for some reason--make it strong--he can't see that. Perhaps the heroine is trying to get him to see that he's not cut out to be whatever it is, which ups the conflict between them. The thing that gets tricky is that characters never willingly change. So he just doesn't wake up one day and realize his mistake. The plot must force him to face the truth and change and all that conflict the wrong goal brought him will disappear. Is that the kind of scenario you're thinking about?

    Janet

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  99. Great post, Janet. I need to always remind myself about the external and internal GMC. I can't think of any examples off the top of my hand. Wish I had time to read all the comments.

    Please enter me in the drawing!

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  100. SANDY, good to see you here. You're entered.

    Janet

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  101. Janet - I love the conflict part of the book! It's what makes the story more realistic! We all have conflict in our lives and every "love story" has to have some conflict! I always enjoy seeing how each writer puts up the "road blocks" in the path to true love for her characters! We can't have a smooth road for them! There has to be tests and trials or the story wouldn't be realistic!

    Thanks for the post! Please enter me in the drawing!

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  102. Thank you for a helpful explanation on the definition of conflict in story. I'll print it out for reference. I have more trouble with external conflict. There's plenty of both in North and South and in Elizabeth Camden's Against the Tide. Enjoyed the comments from others too.

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  103. Janet,

    Thanks so much for the excellent post - very helpful!

    please enter me in the drawing

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  104. Sorry I'm so late jumping in today. Ms. Janet this is great information and very helpful!! Conflict is a tough one and I'll take all the help I can get. I think I have more trouble with external conflict and keeping it moving in line with their goals.

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  105. VALRI, good points! We may prefer a conflict-free life for ourselves but a story without conflict would be a snoozer.

    Janet

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  106. PAT JEANNE, external conflict is harder for me, too. By that I mean it takes a lot more brainstorming to find it. Internal conflict just seems to grow out of the character's pasts on its own. Well, sort of. :-)

    Thanks for story suggestions. I went out to Amazon. Against the Tide looks good and has over 600 reviews. May have to order it.

    Janet

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  107. EDWINA, you're in the drawing!

    Janet

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  108. SHAREE, glad you made it. No one is tardy in Seekerville. :-)

    Hope the post helps with your external conflict. We writers have a lot we need to get write, right? LOL Sorry. I'm getting giddy.

    Janet

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  109. Wow, JANET! This is great, and great timing! I've been wondering if I have enough conflict (and the right kind) in my WIP and this answered those questions for me. Thank you!!

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  110. Wow this was a very interesting post. Do I have any tips for creating conflict? Well, you covered this pretty well, but I will add that while simple misunderstandings can be cleared up pretty easily (like you said- all cleared up in one conversation) they can still drive a wedge between the characters before the misunderstanding is cleared up. These misunderstandings might also lead one of the characters to lash out at the other character leading to the conflict building.

    The thing that is more hard for me to write is internal conflict because I don't like to delve too deep with emotions. Emotions makes me a little uncomfortable for some reason and I have a hard time writing them into my books (they make me a bit uncomfortable in real life too- but sometimes its hard to control the emotional level there). though I do still try to keep things internal as well as external and its getting to be easier to write.

    Memorable movie with a lot of conflict? None come specifically to mind, but wow the TV series Poldark certainly has a whole lot of conflict!

    The conflict between my characters in my first series is that they have always been friends and the girl (one of those people who is even more opposed to change than most people) doesn't want a relationship to get in the way of their friendship, especially when the guy is kissed by someone else right when the girl starts to open up her heart to him. This results in a huge fight that could have been disastrous to their friendship. So now, even though the guy apologized for letting the other girl kiss him my heroine will have nothing to do with a romantic relationship with him, because it was very nearly the end of their friendship before.

    Your book the Bounty Hunter's Redemption sounds really interesting! I am going to have to keep an eye out for it.

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  111. Oh, yummy! Cinnamon rolls!!! Thanks for sharing about conflict, love reading about the writing process! Great post, Janet :)

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  112. Conflict between hero and heroine in another person's story? Four words: Pirates of the Caribbean.

    And my current WIP is definitely full of tension since the hero has just discovered that his accidental wife has lied to him from the beginning. Tension is so interesting to write because I know there's going to be a happy ending in my stories, but when it comes to other people's tension, I'm going to get gray hair. But still so interesting.

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  113. I feel like movies have been lacking a bit in the conflict department, lately...

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  114. LAURA, always love when a post fits an immediate need. Thank you!!

    Janet

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  115. NICKY, Many authors find it difficult to dig deep inside and bleed emotion onto the written page. But as you say, it often gets easier.

    The example you gave from your story is great when it comes to the romance, but we need to give our characters external (concrete) goals that they desperately want that will create conflict. The romance complicates the plot, but isn't the plot. KWIM?

    Thanks for your interest in The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. It's now available only as an eBook.

    Janet

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  116. BETH, thank you for your interest!

    Janet

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  117. JANET, thanks for your suggestion and your example. My brain is mulling. :)

    And, in case I need to, please put me in the drawing. :)

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  118. Janet Dean said...
    The thing that gets tricky is that characters never willingly change. So he just doesn't wake up one day and realize his mistake. The plot must force him to face the truth and change and all that conflict the wrong goal brought him will disappear. Is that the kind of scenario you're thinking about?


    Sorry to be so late checking back. Yes, Janet, that is what happens. He keeps denying (to himself). Events totally beyond his control force him to face the truth ... and boy does he not want to do that. When he finally faces and accepts the truth, the things that once seemed all important aren't ... and he is finally at peace with himself.

    You helped me figure that out :-)

    Nancy

    Nancy C

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  119. BOO, you're exactly right, fictitious tension/conflict is great fun to read and write, but the real deal--not so much.

    Your wip sounds like fun!

    Janet



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  120. MEGAN, I haven't seen a movie for a while. Sorry if those you've seen have been lacking in conflict.

    Janet

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  121. JEANNE, your comment is your ticket into the drawing.

    Have fun mulling!

    Janet

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  122. NANCY C, the story sounds great! Have fun with it!

    Janet

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  123. Hi Janet! SO sorry I'm late stopping by (I seem to be saying that a lot lately, LOL - - not sure where my days are going!) but wanted to tell you that this post is EXACTLY what I needed. Thank you sooo much for sharing your wisdom about conflict. This is an area I've always struggled with in my stories - - and have even had an editor and contest judges tell me that I need to add more conflict. *sigh*
    For me personally, I seem to have more difficulty with the external conflict for my characters. I definitely need to work on that - - and your post is a huge help for me (love the way you used Carly and Nate for your examples - - as you know I loved their story and ALL of your books!).
    Thank you again for sharing this - - it is going to the front of my Keeper File!
    Hugs, Patti Jo

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  124. Laura, Conflict is what I struggle with most in my novels, especially internal conflict. When I think of movies with conflict, I think of a classic movie named Notorious starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. They also costarred in a lighter movie called Indiscreet that is a cute movie that also has romantic comedy conflict, but in Notorious, there's lots of conflict revolving around treason, spying, and more. She plays the party girl daughter of a traitor who is recruited by Cary Grant to spy on Mr. Sebastian but the only way she can infiltrate Sebastian's household is by marrying him. It's directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and this movie combines internal and external conflict for the heroine as she desperately wants to prove to Cary Grant she's more than her party girl image but fears he will only see her as someone who is willing to do anything to get what she wants.

    Thank you for the hints on internal conflict.

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  125. Tanya, that's one of the only Cary Grant movies I've never seen. Not sure how I missed it. LOVE those old movies! I've even named characters after Abby and Martha, the sisters from Arsenic and Old Lace (although that's a different kind of movie altogether, LOL). I've also seen a good many of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. I will make it a point to watch Notorious, it sounds really good. Thank you!

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  126. One of my favorite examples of conflict is Laws of Attraction where the H/H are two divorce lawyers representing the two spouses divorcing. Big time conflicting goals!

    And of course, Pride and Prejudice is thick with natural conflict.

    Great post, Janet!

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  127. Janet, I definitely write more of an action story. Maybe that's why the external is easier for me.

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  128. And I love the movies people have come up with. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of my favorites. I also just watched Wait Until Dark. Audrey Hepburn is blind and her handicap definitely plays into the conflict. Hope that earns my name a spot in the drawing.

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  129. I love reading through posts like this. It reminds me to review my own conflict development.

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  130. PATTI JO, no tardy slips in Seekerville! Just glad you were able to stop by and hope the post helps. Conflict is tough, especially for sweet, peace loving writers like you.

    Janet

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  131. MEGAN, Must check out Laws of Attraction.

    Thanks,
    Janet

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  132. TERRI, you're in the drawing. Thanks for the examples of movies with strong conflict.

    Janet

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  133. JUBILEEWRITER, thanks for your interest!

    Janet

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  134. Hi Janet, this was very interesting. I love the idea of making things worse and worse for the hero/heroine. Conflict(s) are great...and fun for the author...but as you reminded, the conflicts must be deep enough to sustain the story to its resolution. Lots of great information. Asking a movie buff for favs is near impossible, but I would suggest the 1939 western "Stagecoach" and 1952 "The Quiet Man" (John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara). Thanks so very much for this post!

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  135. Sorry I missed you yesterday Janet. I started over several times and then hubby had something for me to attend to and I'd get sidetracked. Terrible excuses, I know. please forgive me and thanks for such a great post.

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  136. I always love watching Pride and Prejudiced the 1995/1996 version between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I loved the back story on how Colin Firth had to prepare himself to make the first proposal. Thanks for the chance to win.
    Becky

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  137. Wow, Janet.

    What a super story in the first place, and that you broke it down for us to completely understand HOW you did it... And point by point! That makes things so understandable. Thank you!

    Another printer-offer from you fabulous Seekers! Love it.

    Happy happy 9th barkday! ;)

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  138. Oh my! These are great tips but I never realized just how detailed the planning is to produce a great read. Just proves again that I am a reader, not a writer! Thanks for sharing.
    Connie
    cps1950(at)mail(dot)com

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  139. I am intrigued by the way you explained conflict and how you connected it with the characters. Best way I have seen yet.

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  140. Janet, I started this yesterday and just had a chance to come back to it. This is excellent. Thank you.

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  141. REBECCA, thanks for the great movie suggestions!

    Janet

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  142. SANDRA, life can throw up obstacles. Not all conflict is in books. :-)

    Janet

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  143. BECKY, P&P is a great example, the reason it's a classic.

    Janet

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  144. KC, thanks for your encouragement! Glad the post was print-worthy.

    Janet

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  145. CONNIE, where would we writers be if not for readers? It's fun for me to read a book and not know from experience the work that went into writing it. :-)

    Janet

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  146. WALT, you are welcome! Thanks for getting back and finishing it. I know how busy life is.

    Janet

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  147. Best. Post. Ever. I know I'm late for the drawing, but wanted to thank you for making conflict a lot easier for me to understand. I just wasn't getting it. Taking the same class as Wilani and Josee so I know what they're saying. Wish I could come to the class when you teach it! You and Seekerville rock!

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  148. MARCIA, I'm delighted the post helped! Thanks for your confirmation that I should turn this into a workshop.

    Janet

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  149. MARCIA, I'm delighted the post helped! Thanks for your confirmation that I should turn this into a workshop.

    Janet

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  150. I don't really watch a lot of movies but I see a few I've watched here and agree about the conflict. Maybe North and South.. a lot of conflict there..
    Toss me into the hat please :)

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  151. I had cinnamon rolls early this morning. I don't really like conflict. It's good for drama, such as TV shows, but it's also great when all the characters get along.

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  152. I find external conflict the toughest because this is the plot itself and takes a lot of brainstorming!
    Jan

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