How Not To Write: in Any Genre

Kurt VonnegutIf you want me to abandon your book mid-read, please avoid all conflict.

Conflict is what makes us want to keep reading; it’s what makes the story interesting.  Conflict is not equivalent to fighting; it is two people wanting different things.  If the heroine wants to meet the hero, but can’t get close enough to say hello, that’s conflict.  If the hero has a plan that can save the kingdom, but he’s too shy to speak up, that’s conflict.  And yes, if an unmarked SUV tries to run your protagonist off the road, that’s conflict.

Let me tell you about one book that made me want to scream.  For several chapters the Amish protagonist had been slacking in her farm chores.  She had a good (and secret) reason for it, but to her father it looked like she was lazy and irresponsible.  The father is getting impatient, she’s getting worried, and the tension is delightful.  But when I turn the page, I get three pages describing the family’s produce stand and ONE paragraph that says ‘Dad sure was mad at me last night.  I guess I need to step it up’.  I was looking forward to that fight.  Will her dad lecture or yell?  Will she defend herself or take it? Will she finally spill the beans about her secret?  How will their relationship change as a result of this discussion?

Photo courtesy of www.colorado.edu

Instead, I got boring nothing.  Conflict is hard to write, but it has to be there in every scene.  That’s right, every scene.  Kurt Vonnegut said “every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water”.

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How Not to Write: Romance

Edmund Blair LeightonIf you want me to abandon your book mid-read, please have nothing happen.

Have you ever read a book that would have made a good short story or novella, but instead was fluffed out to make it “book length”? I have (of course I have, I’m the one ranting about it, right?) It was a sweet 50 page love story that had been stretched to 150 pages. The author only gave us two or three conversations between the main characters, but she told us what they ate for EVERY meal. They met, they liked each other, got to know each other a little, there was a conflict about him staying in town, and it was resolved. Nice neat story. The extra fluff ruined it for me.
Romance novels need just as much plot as other novels. SOMETHING has to happen. The characters need to do something, say something, go somewhere, earn something, lose something…I don’t really care what they do, but they need to do more than like each other, do nothing, and end up together at the end. If I’m on page 100 of a 200 page novel, and there’s no reason for your couple not to be together, you either need to add 100 more pages of plot to keep them apart (for real reasons, not dumb ones, please) or end it and make it a novella.

What do you do when you’re 50 pages from the end of a book and you realize the plot is exhausted?

Painting by Edmund Blair Leighton