Monday, February 14, 2011

Ten Beats of a Romance: Part Two by Susan May Warren

Happy Manuscript Monday and Happy Valentine's Day, dear readers. This craft-focused day we'll continue our series on writing romance with Susan May Warren. Today's topic, creating a good fight.

Adding Sparks to your Romance*
by Susan May Warren

We’re talking this month about the 10 beats in a romance – those ten elements that help us craft and structure our romance. Today, we’ll build to Beat 5: Sparks!

A great romance has a lot of Sparks! I love a book or movie with great dialogue. It’s that spark between the hero and heroine that makes us fall in love with them.

You want to build in some witty conversation, and especially FIGHTS! A great fight causes great tension.

My two favorite scenes in While You Were Sleeping are the couch scene and the walk home/leaning scene. But have great dialogue where they share their hearts. Often this happens when they are in a fight…so, think of a place where your hero/heroine could have ONE great fight—go write it in!

One writer recently asked, “On fights: what do you suggest to make fights not contrived, and not about one being childish, or about a simple misunderstanding?”

God question! A fight might start with a misunderstanding (as most fights do!) but in the end, they are often about core values—what they believe about each other, or things they need to confront. A good fight should make each of them think about who they are and cause some shift toward change in their lives (as do all good fights). A fight built on a misunderstanding at its core is frustrating for the reader. And although we’ll buy it for a while, as they get deeper into their relationship, it needs to be a real core issue that holds them apart.

“So how do we keep the reader from getting frustrated? I guess I’m asking how to make it a good fight without confusion the reader?”

Let’s take You’ve Got Mail—it’s basically built on “miscommunication.” But as we go deeper, we realize that he has unraveled her entire life, and she might not forgive him once she finds out who he is… so he has to woo her in the flesh to get her to overcome the “little misunderstanding.”

Get at the core of their misunderstanding and make that be the WHY NOT—not the miscommunication. The biggest fight, the one that keeps them apart, should be about core values.

“Is there a way to make the fight not sound too cheesy or too the other way, if there is one?”

You need to make it real. Which means you need a fight that is sort of…well, not childish, but not mean either. Here’s what I do—I weave into the fight, peeling back the layers until I get to the core. I also fight dirty—I use sarcasm, name calling, I will even throw things (all things I would never do in real life. *grin*)

I might reveal the fight in little bits—but the BIG fight is the one where I go for the jugular. It’s actually sort of therapeutic, now that I think about it. I love a great story fight! In a great fight, I don’t finish sentences, I cut people off, I assume things, I basically throw out everything I’ve ever told my children about fighting, and let my character misbehave.

A good fight scene reveals the core of the character…the issues they’ve been dancing around. He sees her core but she believes she’s hiding something, so he calls her out on all of her stuff. Then she reveals what she sees in him. A good fight scene really has to get straight to the core, revelatory issues. Otherwise it’s boring and you lose the good stuff in between.

You want to have it all hang out, right there, bleeding. Ugly. So they can take a good look at them and grow from it.

This is just my opinion, but polite fights (unless it is sub-texting) are cheesy fights.

You want them to say something really sharp, profound. Which means it might get rough out there. And most of all, NO APOLOGIZING!!!! Don’t pull your punches!

If she calls him a jerk, let it hang out there. Don’t write that she feels bad and says “I shouldn’t have said that.” And let the argument be sub-texted so we see they are really fighting about falling in love, not the fact that she lied to him about her identity.

You might have her think later, “I shouldn’t have said that” but at the time, don’t. It lessens the energy of the fight. I see SO many people pull back from that great, painful moment—if it needs to be said—say it!

I love it when I read a great piece of dialogue and I think—AH! I can’t believe she said that! He so deserved it!

So, build in a great fight, or a series of good fights/conflict between the heroine and heroine, and you’ll have a story with spark!

Next week we’ll finish up with the last four beats!

*Article series first appeared on Book Therapy Voices blog in October, 2010. Used by permission.

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To learn more about Susan, visit her website. Her latest release, Point of No Return, is a romantic suspense. Here's the blurb:

An American boy and a warlord's engaged daughter have disappeared—together—in an Eastern European border country. Only one man can find them in time to prevent an international meltdown—Chet Stryker. But Chet is taken aback when he realizes the boy is the nephew of Mae Lund, Chet's former flame. When Mae insists on rescuing her relative herself, Chet knows he has to protect her from the enemy on their trail. Yet can he protect himself from falling for Mae again?

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