Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Upping the Stakes

This is another quality common to breakout novels according to Donald Maass in his Writing the Breakout Novel. It doesn't surprise me at all--we've all heard that we need to keep building on conflict to drive the reader racing through our story. But my problem with this is that I write inspirational romances, and not suspense ones.

Few inspirational romances that I've read keep upping the stakes in a traditional way, as in building the external conflict, but yet most of them still draw me consistently into the story with each passing page, so how do they do it? (Disclaimer: I'm not reading breakout romances, so I'm just looking at stories that sell while deciphering this quality in romances.)

I believe it's the internal conflict. The inspirational romances that keep me reading do a great job of building on the hero/heroine relationship. As the story progresses, the protagonists invest more interest, more respect, and more energy in one another and thus what they can lose relationship wise grows with the story. In effect, the author grows the story line until what is at stake is the hero and heroine's hearts.

Donald Maass says it best on page 78. "Skilled romance writers know how to grow the passion between heroine and hero over the course of their stories, to escalate it, or perhaps to restrain it at first so its full power emerges later. That heightened love is, in effect, higher stakes. As the story goes on there is more to lose."

So, if you write romance, just how do you grow passion in your stories? Or, how do you grab the reader, make the connection, in the first few pages, but leave enough growth room to sustain the length of the novel?


Surrendering to Him,

Eileen

23 comments:

Tabitha Bird said...

I am going to have to get that book by Donald Mass. Great advice from him. Thanks for the post :)

Katie Ganshert said...

Growing passion... I love that wording. How do I grow passion? I'm not quite sure. It's definitely something to think about. Thanks for getting my cogs turning this morning, Eileen!

T. Anne said...

I once read a romance that moved me in this way. The initial flirtation was nurtured, there was no 'heated' rush into the relationship as I've found so many times since and before. I think the longer you court and the more wonderful your hero is, you have quite the hook!!

Sarah Dawn said...

Popped over from On the Path. Hope you don't mind if I splash around a bit here. Your words are encouraging and it is a pure joy to meet writers who are using their syllables for HIs glory.

Blessings from Costa Rica,
Sarah Dawn

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm working on a romance novel now so this really helps! Keep 'em coming!

Cindy said...

I write a lot of romance so this is helpful to me. I usually make my characters risk something when they get further into a relationship. They have to take a risk to trust someone else or they have to risk leaving some kind of comfort. Thanks for the post.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Hmm...
I think the most important thing is to have a likeable heroine and hero and also that the reader can see or feel their "spark" or chemistry. If they do, then they'll want to turn the page to see where it leads.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Hi, Eileen!

Though there is romance in my stories, I don't write in that genre. I fall somewhere in women's fiction or Southern fiction, so it's a bit different for me. I'm curious as to what the rest of your readers will say!

Girl in My Own World said...

Well, maybe you could up the stakes through something that is happening around them. You know, like the life situations that they go through. Then as you expand upon the romance in the story; you can also build and expand up what is going on around them and how it effects the relationship to keep the story moving since all relationships go through their share of seasons and changes. I don't know if that makes sense. I hope that it helps though. :O)

Keli Gwyn said...

Eileen, I like how you clarify the difference between a suspenseful story driven by increasing external conflict and a romance, which, by its nature, focuses heavily on internal conflict. For me, the struggle is in the emotional tug-of-war between the main characters. I want to feel their angst, their confusion, their pain--and their long-awaited and hard-earned joy.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i love to restrain the passion at first so that when it finally explodes (like that kiss scene you read of mine on seekerville post) it's really something to contend with. julie lessman does such a great job with this!

jeannie
Where Romance Meets Therapy

Jessica said...

This is funny! I'm getting double lessons today. LOL Did you read Katie's post?
And yet, you both brought up different aspects to internal conflict. :-)

I like to have my hero and heroine attracted to each other, and then throw in some huge internal conflict (realization) that makes it seem like getting together will never work.
That's what I want to do, but actually making it work in my stories is different. LOL

Jeanette Levellie said...

Wish I could help with this one, but since I write non-fiction, my stories don't contain the passion you're discussing. Unless a chapter from my WIP entitled "Can Preachers Have Sex on Sundays?" counts!
Jen
Audience of ONE

Carla Gade said...

Eileen, I'm really enjoying these insights that you are sharing.

I just finished Ruth Axtell Morren's "Bride of Honor". You know, as a writer, you just can't keep from analyzing the books you read. I've been learning a lot about stakes, etc. and was trying to figure out why the novel was so compelling. Your Maas quote "heightened love is, in effect, higher stakes" explained it so well. That's making me realize that I do not alway have to throw in a crisis to increase the stakes, nor do I want to. I'm writing romance not suspense. Although it never hurts to throw a little of that in either!

Carla Gade said...

Great discussion, by the way!

Lazy Writer said...

I think internal conflict is what draws the readers in. I have learned recently from my critique partners that I need to do exactly what Donald Maass recommends here: let the relationship escalate. I have a lot of rewriting to do. :(

Jody Hedlund said...

I love stories with incredible tension between the hero and heroine. The push and pull of the relationship as well as the conflict of a well-constructed plot keep me invested in a story. Lately I've read a couple of romances that don't seem to have much of a plot beside the relationship one. And that often isn't enough to keep me interested.

Jill Kemerer said...

You nailed it. The internal conflict and subsequential growth keep me rivoted to the page. I don't know if I'm entirely successful at it yet, but I sure love trying!

Gwen Stewart--Singer-Scribe said...

I think Jody said it well: the stakes, even in romance, need to be external and internal. I write romance without suspense; just pure romance. And in this day and age when most heroines are running for their lives, and readers are used to gripping, page-turning uncertainty, it CAN be difficult to keep those stakes high when writing pure romance.

I continue to think, though, that there is a market for romance without the suspense. Hopefully, I blend both internal and external obstacles to add depth and layers to my story.

One more thing: agents and editors want to be drawn into a book within ten pages. So, another conundrum, how to draw in a reader/agent/editor but also play a light hand, upping the stakes throughout?

Sheesh...wish I had more answers, but I don't...just lots more questions! Thanks for this post, Eileen. You gave me lots to think about!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, yes, there definitely has to be external conflict, but what I'm suggesting in this post is that it's the internal conflict that keeps me glued. I know the external will always work out, even if one has to bend a little, it always does, they're HEA's after all, but it's the journey of the internal conflict that keeps me glued if done well.

Erica Vetsch said...

Ive often struggled with this in writing romance. I keep thinking that if I could just blow something up or have an international incident it would up the stakes.

Terri Tiffany said...

I have really enjoyed reading all the comments! I love the build-up too of internal conflict and the dance of close then far etc.

Diane said...

Good comments. Many TV shows end because the build up/tension ended. That's the exciting part! :O)