Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writer's Wednesday: Heidi Rice talks Conflict - and hunky heroes!

This is the first time I've ever done a Writer's Wednesday post, which I have to admit made me feel a little daunted! Being a complete seat-of-your-pants writer, much of my process is a total mess. It involves lots of trial and error and for every 50,000 word book I write, I've usually written double that... Of which 50% is crap! Although I like to pretend constructive crap. But even so, I was a little concerned about trying to write an informative post on my process, or my craft... Because frankly it's so chaotic.

But there is one crucial thing I have learned, from reading books on writing (such as Kate Walker's excellent 12 Point Guide), from getting published through the RNA's unbeatable New Writer's Scheme, from giving library workshops on How to Write a Mills and Boon, from my work as a mentor on New Voices and most of all from the constant struggles I have when writing my own books.... Drum roll please...

When trying to write a publishable romance, a story that will resonate with readers and make them really care about your characters, there's one essential ingredient that is the hardest thing to understand and also the hardest thing to get right ... Conflict.

So what is conflict and how do you know when it's working...? Well, I could go into lots of textbook descriptions here (And the temptation to plagiarise the excellent Ms Walker is almost irresistible!), but I thought a more organic way to look at conflict would be for me to select two iconic romance novels, and look at what I think their external and internal conflicts are... I wanted to get a little debate going - and getting to talk about two of my favourite heroes while doing it is never a bad thing. And then I wanted to leave the field open for people to tell us about a personal favourite and then define the conflict... And tell us why it works.


The mother and father of all modern romantic fiction IMHO, Margaret Mitchell's book has so much conflict and sizzling sexual tension between heroine Scarlett O'Hara and hero Rhett Butler it could set fire to Atlanta... Oh, actually it does set fire to Atlanta! Or was that Sherman?

The external conflict: A little thing called the American Civil War (or in some circles the War of Northern Aggression) and a gentlemanly and really rather insipid dude called Ashley Wilkes, who Scarlett thinks she loves, but actually doesn't.

The internal conflict: So what is really keeping Scarlett and Rhett apart during the course of this epic love story, and what tears them apart in the end? Scarlett is spirited, reckless, immature and volatile with a steely determination which sees her through the war but also makes it impossible for her to see the truth that is right under her nose. That Rhett is the only man who loves her for who she really is. And Rhett is the ultimate anti-hero, a daring blockage runner whose wry wit hides a cynical detachment from life that only Scarlett can penetrate. He wants to tame her, but then he falls in love... Which he sees it as a weakness, that he can't admit to until Scarlett admits it first. And she's not going to do that because she's too pigheaded to admit Rhett's her man and not Ashley!


Ah, the first of JD Robb's (aka Queen Nora's)  fabulous futuristic romantic suspense novels which introduces us to daring NYC murder squad detective Eve Dallas and her delicious hero, Irish gazillionaire Roarke.

The external conflict: The murder of a high-class prostitute — which Eve is investigating, when she has spectacular monkey sex with one of the prime suspects, the enigmatic and uber-sexy Roarke — a bad boy with a dark past and his own personal empire.

The internal conflict: Both Eve and Roarke have deep psychological scars from their childhoods. Eve to the extent that her job has become her whole life — and she is terrified of trusting anyone — and Roarke to the extent that he uses money and the power it gives him to guard against the powerlessness that nearly destroyed him as a boy. Watching the two of them being forced to expose old wounds, to make themselves vulnerable again and then help each other to heal — while tracking a serial killer — makes for one hell of an emotional journey, with added spectacular monkey sex.

So there you have it, two classic romances and what I think makes them tick... So what's your favourite? And why does it work for you?

Heidi is currently celebrating the acceptance of her ninth novel, which will be a brand spanking new RIVA in May 2011. Her Eighth and last Modern Heat novel, Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger, is about to make a bow in the UK on 19th November, and will be out in the US next April as a Harlequin Presents Extra. And her seventh novel, Unfinished Business with the Duke, is still on the shelves in the US! Come talk to her about conflict, or hunky heroes, or even her books on her blog, her website or Facebook!


  1. Great post Heidi, especially as I am in the middle of torturous writers block and cannot for the life of me come up with a conflict at the moment that's bigger than my hero liking coffee and my heroine hating it. Seriously. Not good. So thanks for the reminder, I'll try not to be thinking about Margaret Mitchell or Nora Roberts effortless genius or I might just top myself!
    By the way, just finished Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger and it's so good that I'm not going to go into any detail for fear that you'll get a big head. (But it is seriously hot, emotional and good. Damn you.)
    x Abby

  2. Cheers Abby, your payment is in the post!!

    And suspect you will have a conflict lightbulb moment on your new book if the brilliantly emotional conflict on Bride in a Gilded Cage is anything to go by!! Always nice to have problems topping your own brilliance, eh!!

  3. Roarke. Just the name alone gives me shivers. I LOVE that man and I refuse to believe he's merely a character in a book. I know I had something to say re conflict but seriously, I'm searching through my JD Robb section to find Naked In Death. Need to read that monkey sex again.

    I find conflict really difficult to get right. People are quick to point out that conflict is NOT two people shouting and arguing and those people would be right. But, and this is just my 'new' way of handling conflict, I've decided that it's all about shouting and arguing, though not verbally, I'm talking emotions. My characters emotions are volatile and since I've given them permission to listen to their screaming emotions I'm finding this conflict a tad easier. Make sense to anyone? Probably not, but I'm enjoying what I'm writing so it's got to count for something.

    Would you beleive I have BIAGC in my TBR but the mention of brilliantly emotional conflict tells me I should grab this in lieu of Nora.

    Thanks Heidi, straight forward and informative as ever.


  4. Aideen, if your characters are screaming their conflict at you (and each other, emotionally speaking) that sounds like you're definitely on the right track... Personally my characters will do that and then suddenly shut the heck up when I need them most to tell me what the hell is going on in their heads... Currently trying to write and opening chapter and they're both completely mute!! So have decided to channel Roarke and Eve and forget about them for the time being...

    And do read Abby's book, it's a cracker (as always, darn the woman).

  5. There is so much that goes into that little word -- conflict. It is such a seemlingly innocent word.
    But it is all about goals, motivations and stakes. What happens if they fail to get what they want? What do they think they want? Why should the reader care?

    Go post Heidi. And you would have enjoyed hearing Nora speak at the RWA Orlando.

  6. Aw Michelle, now you've made me really, really jealous!! Will have to get the audio recording of that speech.

  7. Great post Heidi - as someone else who suffers the torments of a chaotic writing process I was nodding madly as I read your accounts of your own writing torture. And now you've tempted me to go back and re-read two of my favourite books.

    I have Surf Sea and a sexy stranger at the summit of my tbr mountain to read when I've ironed out my current conflict, and I can't wait,

  8. Heidi - thanks for the recommendation . Your cheque is in the post! ;o) You're so right though about the importance of that one word - conflict - it reallt matters and the internal conflict matters most of all. I'll let you into a secret (there's no one else reading is there ;o) ?) I'm a total seat-of-my-pants writer too and I don't really sit and work out what the internal conflict actually is - just that the charcters tell me!

    Personal favourite? Conflict? Can I come back on that when I've finished the darn book???

  9. Cheers Sarah and Kate!! Yes, for goodness sake finish your books... I wanna read them!

    And Kate, it makes me sooo glad you're a pantser too!

  10. Great post Heidi
    I have Surf Sea and a sexy stranger when I've ironed out my current conflict, and I can't wait,
    You are great.