There are two things that I’ve been told time and again that every good story needs: conflict and suspense. (I’ve since been told that a great voice is another thing, but that’s for a different post.)
I’m not going to lie: as a writer, I struggle with conflict. In my mind, conflict is this bigger than life thing. Yes, I know that there are three types of conflict (Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self). I learned those in seventh grade. But I really have a difficult time working conflict into my stories! Or, maybe I just think I do. Maybe most of my conflicts are Man vs. Self and, because it’s an internal struggle, I don’t think it counts.
I don’t know.
I think part of my problem is that my characters have changing desires. I mean, who really wants only one thing? So, I’ve gone through Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up? and have listed below what I think are the Desires/Obstacles/Outcomes:
Desire #1: Remain in current state. (Not an exciting “want”, I know.)
Obstacle: She’s named Homecoming Princess and captures popular guy’s attention.
Outcome: Accepts change and has a new boyfriend.
Desire #2: Wants her friends to like her boyfriend.
Obstacle: He’s controlling and becomes abusive.
Outcome: She tries to break up with him.
Desire #3: Wants to get away from her now-ex-boyfriend.
Obstacle: Now-ex-boyfriend is stalking her.
Outcome: Big Event involving the hero.
Desire #4: Wants to be with the hero.
Obstacle: There’s someone the hero is really interested in.
Outcome: Happy ending! (Hey – it’s a romance, okay?)
Even worse than conflict, though, is my struggle to get suspense right. I mean, I’ve written a romance novel. Just the very definition of that alone indicates that the Heroine will ultimately end up with the Hero. So that’s, obviously, going to be the outcome.
I wrote something a while back on how I can’t believe suspense is as simple as just making your reader wait. And I still can’t believe it’s that easy, but it makes total sense.
So how do I know if the story is suspenseful enough?
When one of my Beta readers writes, “Nooooooo!” in the margins of my first draft, I think I’ve done something right. But when a different Beta reader texts me to say, “Ok. I confess. I cheated. I have read ahead. Thank God!!! I will resume ch 18 tomorrow,” I know I’ve done my job.
Now to craft a query letter that will get an agent and/or editor interested enough in the concept to even look at the first thirty pages. That’s the hard part.