Morning, RU crew! Romance readers love their HEAs (Happily Ever Afters), but we don’t want the hero and heroine to hit that spot in their relationship immediately. We want to go along for their relationship roller coaster ride first. Only after the H/H weather those ups and downs do readers think the author should allow them happiness. Laurie Schnebly Campbell is here today to tell us how writers can throw their characters on the tracks before allowing them to board the love train. Welcome, Laurie!
Challenging couples in love is fun. We get to take two wonderful people who are really just perfect for each other, and make them suffer. If you’re cringing at the very idea, you’re not alone — most of us became romance writers because we believe in happy endings, and we hate to see the people we care about suffering!
So all too often, we don’t let it happen. My critique partner used to warn me, “Laurie, you’re acting like a counselor again…you’re trying to fix these people’s problems in Chapter Two.
But of COURSE they need to go through that suffering in order to deserve their happy ending. Who’s gonna want a book where everything goes perfectly from page 1 right to the end? By the time our characters are marching up the aisle to their happily-ever-after, everyone’s bored.
So we writers are actually being very NICE by challenging these couples. Because we’re saving our readers from boredom…we’re giving them something to root for.
Which means we need to take two people who really are just perfect for each other, let them fall in love, and then show how loving each other makes their world a lot tougher. Yet BECAUSE they love each other, they can’t just walk out. (If they could, we wouldn’t have a book.)
So we’ve got these two swell people, and they’re both reasonably intelligent and reasonably kindhearted and reasonably willing to compromise. (If not, it means one of the characters is a jerk.) But if they’re BOTH nice, competent, good-hearted people, how can there possibly be conflict between them?
That’s a question that marriage counselors face every day. And they’ve saved us a lot of work, because the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapists has come up with a list of the seven basic conflicts that are most likely to cause problems between couples in love.
These aren’t weird, exotic conflicts like “she’s a mermaid who has to live in the ocean; he’s a birdman who has to live in the sky.” Or “one’s a vicious child-abusing serial killer; the other is an angel come to life.” (Not to say you couldn’t get a decent conflict out of that situation, but it’s not one that troubles many couples.)
No, what we want are realistic conflicts. Things that could bother any couple…things that might’ve even bothered US at some point. Things that can tear a couple apart — or, if you want a happy ending, that can be overcome when the couple is willing to work at it.
So, those seven basic issues are:
- GENDER ROLES (things like who should make decisions for the castle, who should change the flat tire, who should nurture or protect the other one?)
- LOYALTIES (where does each person rank the importance of family, work, community, friends, etc?)
- PRIVACY (is each person a “glommer,” who likes to glom onto their loved ones and spend as much time together as possible, or a non-glommer who wants more time alone? Either can work fine, but couples are a lot better off when they’re both the same type.)
- MONEY (how does their approach to earning-spending- saving reflect their values? It’s not too likely their choices will be a perfect match.)
- SEX (when-where-how-why-what? It can be a huge source of conflict in real life, but sex rarely creates problems in a romance novel…well, unless maybe they break the bed?)
- POWER (or CONTROL can be the worst of all, showing up in any of the other areas or in unrelated areas — like who decides on the dinner menu?)
- CHILDREN (should we have any? How should we raise them? What about kids from a previous marriage?)
Now, children aren’t usually a problem during the first date. The problems change as the relationship develops, and a hero & heroine probably aren’t going to run into any issues about privacy while they’re gazing rapturously at each other. Once they’ve been together a while, that’s a whole different story.
A first-date problem might be something like Gender Roles — he expects to pay for everything and she expects to at least buy the popcorn — or Loyalty — he wants an evening for just the two of them; she wants to give her sister a ride home since they’re driving that way.
But whether it’s on the first date or later in life, any of those problems can create wonderful conflict for your characters!
And we NEED those issues — because, in romance novels just like in real life, no couple ever gets by without facing some kind of challenge.
Some challenges bring the couple closer together. Some drive them apart. And depending on whether we’re setting up the black moment or the happy ending, we can make it happen either way in our books.
Let’s take a shot at this — think about Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Which of those seven areas do you think bothered them? Or how about Beauty and the Beast? Elizabeth and Darcy? Buffy and Angel? Ross and Rachel?
Along with any questions on making things better or worse, I’d love to get your opinion on which of the seven issues challenge the couple in a book YOU love — one you’re writing, one you’ve read…
And since I believe in rewarding people who post, this weekend we’ll have a drawing where somebody wins free registration to one of my upcoming online classes: “His Personality Ladder” or “Plotting Via Motivation.” So I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and/ or questions on challenging couples in love!
RUers, what’s the biggest “challenge” you’ve forced on your hero and heroine in one of your books?
Don’t forget to join us Monday when Tracey Devlyn talks about the benefits of recruiting a beta reader (or two).
Laurie Schnebly Campbell (www.booklaurie.com) grew up in a family that discussed psychology around the dinner table. With a marriage counselor for a mother, she felt well equipped to get her romance-novel couples to a happy ending…which might be what helped her win “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts.
The only thing she loves more than writing romance is working with other writers, which is why she now teaches an online class every month and has written a book for novelists who want to create believable characters with built-in fatal (or not quite fatal) flaws.
- Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw
- Mental Health Spa with Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- M is for – Motivation with Laurie Schnebly
- The Flame & the Family: How to Keep Passion Alive in a Busy Married Life
- How to Write a Best Selling Romance with Melanie Milburne