Romance Plots for the Conflict Adverse

Posted by on September 22, 2015 in fly me to the moon, harmony springs, recent | 4 comments

So, for those who don’t know me in real life, I’m one of the world’s most conflict averse people. (I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out how I spent seven years working as a litigator, arguing cases in state and federal court…)

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 5.21.43 PM

I live my life with very little drama — my husband and I don’t have screaming matches, I drift away from friends who purposely kindle drama to spice up their lives, and I tend to go with the flow on most group decisions.

Which would make me an incredibly boring character in a novel. Especially a romance novel, where heroes and heroines are expected to butt heads early and often. (Butting of heads, of course, leads to butting of other body parts 🙂 )

So, when I get to the Breaking Moment of a novel I’m drafting — the knock-down, drag-out confrontation, where the hero and heroine say and do things that irreparably harm their relationship (except, of course, the harm isn’t actually irreparable, because this is fiction…), I really need to prepare myself. My first draft of those fight scenes is about one paragraph long and generally consists of a few statements:

“I really hate it when you do X.”

“Really? I didn’t realize that. I won’t do X any more. Because, well, I love you.”

Not really worth reading 80,000 words for that, huh?

So I go on to write a second draft. In my second draft, my characters start to say what they’re really thinking. Usually, their statements are constructive:

“When you do X, I feel Y.”

“I do X because of Z, an incident in my past. But I’ll consciously try to change that.”

A little more emotion, a little more baring of souls, but not enough to make those 80K words worthwhile.

So then I go in for the third draft. I forget about all the things I know about the characters, all the reasons they say what they say, all the reasons they do what they do. I still know it; that knowledge influences word choice and stage direction, the actions the characters undertake in the scene. My third drafts are all emotions, all the thoughts that bubble up to the surface, all the unwieldy feelings my characters experience:

“I hate you when you X!”

“That’s who I am, babe, so hate away!”


*slam of door*

There are other scenes, later in the book, where my characters can recover. But in the moment, they’re raw. They’re messy. They’re vulnerable.

I hate hurting them that way, laying them bare, exposing every last nerve. But that’s what the story requires. That’s what makes readers turn the page. That’s what makes 80,000 words worth the time it takes to read, the money it takes to buy the book. That’s why one story is worth choosing over another.

Sometimes those I engineer those confrontations more successfully than others. And I just have to say, I am ridiculously pleased with the Breaking Moment in Fly Me to the Moon. The emotion grows out of the characters organically. It exactly matches who they are and what they’ve experienced. It’s made deeper, sharper, by the fact that they haven’t known each other for very long; they don’t have a history of working out problems.

Some days I love my job. Even if I wouldn’t want to live the lives of the characters I create! 🙂

So? What about you? What books have you read that handle conflict — especially in conversation — particularly well?


  1. I am also conflict averse, Mindy, but perhaps for different reasons to you. Litigators have to do a lot of negotiation, don’t you? . My family upbringing was more about angry, verbal knock-em-down-and-out arguments where disagreements were also a form of competition. I still get amazed when I watch friends and their families calmly talk through disagreements. I never thought of my childhood as good training for writing breaking points before, so thank you. There is always something to learn 🙂

    • I’m glad I could share some perspective (although my own family did not work things out in angry confrontations, so I don’t have direct experience with that.)

      Yes, lawyers negotiate a lot. But they also manipulate those negotiations (e.g., filing documents with courts so that replies are necessary on the Friday after Thanksgiving…) Strange ways to think about the world!

  2. Great post. Like any good self aware adult you can see your own weakness and compensate. Now I have to go reread my writing and see which of my personal fodder for therapy holds my characters back. Thank you? Lol

    • All writing is therapy. Right? 🙂