So last week I said that books tend to come to me with a scene. But that “scene” may only be a few lines of dialogue. There are people who have fully-formed characters that enter their world. I’m not that lucky. My characters kind of dare me to get to know them. “We gave you that little taste. You want more? Figure us out!”
It’s cruel, but it’s the way they play. Over the years I’ve had to find a lot of tools to help me figure out who they are. If I’m lucky that little bit of dialogue gives me a hit about their internal or external conflicts, their goals and motivations. I start trying to figure out who they are by looking at what I learned about them from that scene.
When The Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge came to me, I got the first line of the book: Meg looked up at the man who hated her almost as much as her father did, and said the four words that would change her life forever. “I need your help.”
She’s standing out in the rain and has to beg the hero for help. A man she’d hoped to never see again. And he’s not budging, not happy about letting her in. So why does she turn to him? And why does he finally let her in the house? Then there’s that whole comment about him hating her almost as much as her father? There’s some baggage to unpack. Why does he hate her?
Why, why why?
It all comes down to why. That’s where the conflict is, and conflict is what makes readers turn the page. The fact is the story ends with happily ever after because that’s where the conflict ends. We’ve gotten our happy ending. How many pages would you keep reading after that if there wasn’t conflict? The beauty of Once Upon A Time is that Snow and Charming got their happily ever after, but it only lasted about five minutes. Then the Evil Queen showed up, cursed everyone, and now they’re all stuck in Maine with amnesia. Five minutes is about all we can handle of happy.
For romance novels, we need two conflicts, internal and external. We need them because our readers know how the story ends. The internal conflict is the emotional issue, and each character in your story has one. The external conflict is what moves the story along, what the characters are trying to get, be it a house, a business, a client. We might not know the conflicts of the waiter in the restaurant where your leading couple is eating dinner, but he has them.
In The Heiress and Her Fake Fiancé, Matt’s internal conflict is tied to his mother leaving him as a child. He wants to be loved, wants a family, but he wants a woman who won’t leave Blakely. Because he fears being left again. So the last person he should fall in love with is the woman who admits she’s come back home to lick her wounds before she leaves town again to escape her father.
You’ll notice I threw in the because statement there. When we look at conflict whether it’s internal or external, we also need to look at the character’s backstory. We need their goal (I want), motivation (because) and conflict (but). I want a bowl of ice cream because it’s heaven on a spoon and reminds me of my favorite times with my dad, but if I eat it my butt will get larger than it already is. Hey, it’s an external conflict, and it was easy. Will she or won’t she eat the ice cream? Tune in tomorrow…
The because makes it interesting. What memories does ice cream bring? And the conflict: do I want the walk down memory lane or the fat thighs and butt? You have to have all three to have believable characters because everyone has goals. And we all have backstory. That’s where I start with my characters. My backstory includes ice cream. What about yours?