Monday, November 17, 2008

Conflicted Musings

Do all romance novel hero/heroine pairs have to bicker through the first half of their story? Or have a blood-feud or professional rivalry or some other I-hate-your-guts kind of reaction at first?

I received my contest results from the MORWA contest on Friday night, and I’ve been mulling over them this weekend. My results were very mixed—of the three judges, the top score was over double the bottom one! That low-ball judge hated the concept, hated the setup, hated just about everything about it. For each criteria, they could give 1-5 points and I might have gotten two 3’s on the whole score sheet. Everything else was a 2 or a 1. Yikes. I’m trying not to take some of that criticism to heart.

The basic setup Chivalrous (which has a slightly different name for querying) is that Jake and Becca meet as participants in a Renaissance Faire, and are thrown together in a role-play setup posing as bride and groom. They’ve never met before, and throughout the festivities, end up liking each other. A lot. But Jake’s engaged to someone else, and Becca doesn’t know that till the very end of the evening. His relationship with the fiancée is exposed in parts throughout the rest of the novel, but it's not just dumped into the first 25 pages. It is already flawed at the point of this meeting, but Jake isn’t consciously aware of it. It begins to seriously crumble as the pages turn. The first Renn Faire is the so-called tip of the ice berg.

One comment that was common to all three judges was that there wasn’t enough conflict in the very beginning. And I’m trying to figure out just why it’s needed there, or how it would work. Because there is conflict—internal, mainly, on Jake’s part. Looking at the comments on the depth of my characters POV, I could improve how that conflict is shown to the reader (it’s going on my “to-do” list for any possible edits).

For my heroine, there isn’t much to be conflicted about. She’s single. She’s had at least one serious relationship in the past that ended badly, but at this point she’s not bitter or carrying a grudge against all men or anything silly like that. She meets a cute guy, who is clearly enjoying the role-play Renn Faire thing as much as she is, and they hit it off. There’s no conflict until she discovers, rather rudely, that he’s engaged to someone else and willing to shove her aside and pretend that he did not return his attraction to her, in order to save his own reputation.

Jake’s character is flawed, obviously, as this is not the only place in his life where he’s made a poor choice. But he fully believes that he’s doing the right thing, for himself, his future, and his fiancée. During the story, he has a much more complex journey from the person he starts at to the final scene. Not that Becca doesn’t have a few issues of her own, and some hard choices to make about her life. She’s more about firming up her life choices, and really committing herself to take a chance, instead of always relying on a safety net.

I believe in my story, though I admit, freely, that I’m not placing any bets that it’ll ever sell. And I don’t know that I’d enter it (or at least the beginning) into any more contests because I don’t know that it would show well against other, slightly more traditional romance setups. People aren’t going to like the fact that Jake’s “cheating”. They’re not going to like the fact that the H/H both admit their attraction in the beginning (“where’s the conflict?”).

My takeaways:
1. I can improve on the POV in some parts of the beginning.
2. I need to pick up the pace a bit. It meanders a bit more than it probably should, and readers want a novel to charge out of the gates at top speed.
3. I will try not to laugh (too much) at the one comment that Jake ought to have been sharing more thoughts on the fiancée, his background, anything in the middle of a swordfight. Come on, ladies. When a guy is in the middle of a physical activity, he’s incredibly singleminded. We might be able to muse about our shopping list and hairstyle for an upcoming event while our body is otherwise…engaged…but Guys. Just. Don’t. Ask them—my husband laughed at that comment too…


Amanda said...

I was able to take away things from the comments I received as well, but what it all boils down to is it's your story. Only you can tell it. Conflict is important, but there is also character development. It's hard in a first pages contest for that to come through if there isn't a synopsis to show the upcoming conflict and this is setup. Trust me there were a few contemporary novels that I recently read that were slow to take off. I didn't find your chapter all that slow. No I didn't judge it. :) I like your setup, but I'm not an agent or a publisher and neither were the judges. Who are we to decide whether you are publishable or not? It's very hard to judge contests and I know some people wait until the last possible moment to do it. I really thought long and hard before I gave anyone less than a 3 and made sure to go through and explain my rationale for giving anything less than a 5. I hope with more pages and a synopsis you'll have better luck in the Golden Heart.

Amethyst Willow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amethyst Willow said...

Whoops messed up with my previous comment: skills... Anyway what I said was, though I'm a nobody and though I haven't read your book or chapters or in fact anything more than the outline you just posted I think it's a really great story and that your heroine certainly doesn't seem to need much more conflict etc. It's much more real (I think) if not everyone has an issue or three with the other person and so adding in conflict or difficulties would change the story, characters and how you felt about them, which is clearly wrong. Now, I don't know Becca but it seems like the biggest issue she could have would be being slightly weirded out by being "married" to a man she doesn't know but if this isn't her first RennFaire that's not going to happen either! I'm not trying to make suggestions obviously though it sounded like it, um, whoops again I guess. But yeah sometimes people (and therefore characters) are actually just in a good place. My heroine *isn't* well she sort of is but she has conflicts and struggles that makes the place worse before it gets better but the heroes are almost totally chilled out and laid back (isn't that always the way!?) Because life doesn't hand out two people that have some kind of rivalry with each other and make them get along and the wonderful thing about romance, surely, is that fact that it can happen to anyone - even happy people! That's my 10 cents for what it's worth (about ten cents...)

Robin said...

Hi Kristi! I'm sorry the contest results weren't what you hoped, but remember, it's very subjective. What one person likes a lot, someone else might not. I think the important thing is to read the comments and take what you want from them and ignore the rest. Best of luck with the Golden Heart and keep writing!

Caryn Caldwell said...

Okay, first of all I've hated a lot of books that most people have loved, and known plenty of people who have hated books that I have loved. It's a matter of taste. I know you know that, but I'm hoping it helps to hear it again. ;-)

As for conflict, that's a toughie. Have you read the book Goal, Motivation and Conflict? That's helpful. Still, it's one of the areas I have trouble with, and one I've seen lots of others having problems with, too. I think it's tempting, though, to make the hero and heroine bicker a lot just to give them some conflict. It's easy to do, after all. But I agree that it's often not the best course. (I'm assuming that's your thought on it, too, since you seemed skeptical.) My other recommendation would be to watch movies with romantic threads and see what keeps the heroine and hero apart -- and what brings them together. Or just think about it in your favorite movies.