My writing output seems to drop in direct correlation to any increase in blog reading. That’s a problem, I know — but if I don’t take the time to read a few blogs, how can I expect anyone to read mine?

Besides, if I stopped reading, I’d miss out on gems like this one from Janice Hardy’s blog, The Other Side of the Story. She writes:

Choices that don’t cause trouble are wasted opportunity. The whole point of a book is to show someone overcoming adversity to win. If there’s nothing to overcome, there’s no point in the winning.”

What a way to put it!

It’s no secret that I struggle with conflict. (I blame it on being a Libra. Libras strive for fairness and avoid conflict.) Judges’ comments I got on my first completed MS — even after several new drafts — consistently said “not enough conflict to sustain the story.”

What? You mean a girl falling for one guy when she’s trying to “snag” another one altogether isn’t conflict?

Not according to Hardy. She writes, “A choice between two good things with no consequences for making that choice is probably not going to hold your reader’s interest.”

Well, I already knew Brad and Erin’s story needed help. I tried to remedy it in subsequent drafts by casting suspicion on him … I even hacked out their original “black moment” (such as it was. The “Battle of the Birth Control” was pretty silly when I look back at it with a more experienced eye.)

The key for me is to remember that my hero and heroine have to make choices. And those choices have to mean something. The potential for disaster should loom around every corner.

I think that is the case in my more recent stories. Bethany’s decision to talk Cody into applying for the TV show lands them in a heap of trouble. When Kenny asks Kristi to pretend to be his fiancee, things get out of hand quickly.

Hmm. All my blog reading must be teaching me something about the craft.

A new heroine and hero have been talking to me lately, and I think their story has to be told.

They’re Bethany and Cody, the best friends of my hero/heroine in “Blind Date Bride” … the ones who enter poor Kari and Damien into the contest they think will ruin their lives. As secondary characters, they’re dating throughout “Blind Date Bride.”

I don’t know a whole lot about them yet. Laid-back, surfer-type Cody works with at-risk teens and is a recreational pilot. Bethany is a flighty, artistic wild-child that Kari has been trying to get to settle down for years. (I think the fact that she’s had more sex partners than he has will be a sore point between them.)

In preparation to start their story, I’m reviewing the element of storytelling that always gives me fits: Conflict.

In my defense, I’m a Libra. We Libras like balance in all things … the struggles throw me. Of course, we can’t have our characters happily bopping from date to date for 300 pages. Even I would get bored with that! 😉

Since I struggle with conflict, I read a lot about it. One tip I read while taking my online synopsis-writing class back in March really helped me put it in perspective:

It’s only conflict if it creates an internal or external war for your character. … Without the push/pull it’s just a situation. Maybe an uncomfortable situation — a situation the character would like to change — but still just situation.

— Sherry Lewis, “The Selling Synopsis,” Lesson 3: Layering Conflicts

When I read that, I realized that I’m the queen of putting my characters in uncomfortable situations (Bree running into Mike at the strip club — while he’s onstage … Dustin sneezing on Cassie on the dance floor …) But these things don’t really create an internal war for anyone.

Well, maybe Bree, the virgin, is a little put off by it. But does it set off a war? Probably not.

Other definitions of conflict, from Debra Dixon’s “GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict:”

  1. Conflict is a struggle against someone or something in which the outcome is in doubt.
  2. Conflict is bad things happening to good people.
  3. Conflict is bad things happening to bad people.
  4. Conflict is friction, tension, opposition.

I guess some of the things I’ve come up with could be “bad things happening to good people.”

Anyway, I’m going to try to come up with some strong conflicts for Bethany and Cody before I even start writing. Usually, I tend to be more of a “pantster,” but maybe I’ll write faster if I plot a little beforehand.

My time away from the day job, fortunately, has not meant a vacation from writing.

I must say I haven’t gotten as much accomplished as I’d hoped: A couple thousand words written in editing mode and three rejections received from agents.

Still, at least I’ve been getting something done. That’s no small feat when I can’t seem to settle to any single project. Not one of my stories is demanding my full attention.

I’ve been doing some reading, too. As I’ve mentioned before, it seems that when I’m reading more, I’m writing less. I read Jennifer Crusie’s “Faking It” and now I’m zipping through Vicki Lewis Thompson’s “Chick with a Charm.” (It’s the sister story for the one I read last month, “Blonde with a Wand.”) The hero and heroine are great. Can’t wait to see their happy ending.

In fact, I’m about to take myself to breakfast, where I intend to finish the book. Then I’ll camp out at Starbucks for a few hours and hopefully get some more writing done.

I’m trying to go back in and add a more substantial conflict to the second Willow’s Grove story. My hero and heroine, Cassie and Dustin, meet at Brad and Erin’s wedding and dislike each other immediately. Then they find out they’re working together (he’s an FBI agent assigned to a kidnapping case and she’s the police reporter covering the story).  I have the witty banter down cold, but they don’t have any deep-seated reason for their squabbles — yet.

I hope to rectify that situation soon. Her roller coaster moods remind him of his bipolar mother and she doesn’t want to get involved with someone who’s only in town for a short time. It should help me expand the story to the required length. Right now it’s at about 49,000 words, which means adding at least 6,000.

In an effort to get over the disappointment of not finaling in the Golden Heart, I’ve been a busy, busy writer. 😀

No giving up for me, no sir.

I spent the weekend working on a synopsis for “Blind Date Bride” and reworking the ending on my losing GH entry. (I’m getting rid of their silly argument for a meatier one. There’s probably still not enough conflict, but I think it’s getting closer.)

I also discovered I may be eligible for PRO status with RWA. I’m going to look into that.

Thanks to inspiration that struck on the drive down to the Boyfriend’s, I ended up writing 2,595 words today.

According to the Excel spreadsheet I’ve been keeping, that’s almost the most words I’ve written in a single day. (Only one day is higher, with 2702.)

Now I’m that much closer to finished with this manuscript. Maybe I’ll even be able to finish before the month is out.

I still have at least a couple of scenes to write before I get to the dreaded Black Moment … and then I’ll have to make them miserable for a while. (I’m really not good at that part. I hate making my characters suffer … probably why I struggle with conflict so much, but that’s another story. I’ll get to that post soon, I promise.)

The dialogue presentation I’m giving to NARWA on Saturday is almost ready. I’ve practiced it more than once (once in front of a human audience and twice for my cats, who didn’t seem impressed) and keep finding things to change with each telling.

I’ve also been plugging away on my WIP — Meg and Matt are a bit above the 40K-word mark now, so I only have between 15,000 and 20,000 to go. It might be time for them to stop with the deliriously happy lovemaking and get back to being in conflict. (… If only I were better at conflict — but that’s another post.)

The one thing I haven’t been getting ready for? The possibility of getting THE CALL that I’m a GH finalist. A part of me thinks I have a very good chance; another little voice says “not a snowball’s chance.” All the see-sawing is starting to make me a nervous wreck — and there are still several days to go before the calls go out.

For those of you not plugged into the whole Golden Heart experience, March 25 is the big day. (But I have to ask, are you living under a rock?)

Last year’s finalists are having a big countdown on their blog, the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood. I’ve been checking back there more often than usual because their excitement is infectious. (In fact, until they started their countdown, I’d managed to not think too much about the fact that March 25 was inching ever closer.)

After reading Monday’s entry on things you should do to get ready for THE CALL, I Googled myself (no, it didn’t hurt a bit!) to make sure people — important publishing-type people — could find me. I also checked the RWA Web site to make sure they had the correct contact info. (I’d hate to miss THE CALL because they had my now-defunct home phone. We switched from a land line to just our cells quite some time ago.)

Guess that means I’m as ready as I can be. Less than 10 days to go!

Based on the contest feedback I got on “Operation Snag Mike Brad” today, there’s no way in hell it’s going to final in the Golden Heart.

Guess that means I don’t have to worry about coming up with $425 to pay for Nationals, eh?

I got scores back from a contest I entered right before I sent everything off for the GH. One judge gave me an 80 out of 100. The other two? 60 and 57.

I can buy 60’s assertion that there may not be enough conflict to sustain the story. (She should have seen it BEFORE I beefed up the conflict in one of my rewrites!)

However, I find 57’s comment that I don’t know how to use punctuation insulting. It reminds me of my freshman year of college when my World Cultures prof (who taught art history) tried to tell me I couldn’t write an essay.

I know punctuation, darn it. I’m a freakin’ copy editor for God’s sake. I may not do old-school punctuation, but what I do is perfectly acceptable in journalism. And I should think that if my punctuation was that darn bad, someone else would have pointed it out to me when they were proofing my GH entry for me.

Nary a peep, though. So I’m inclined to write that one off as ravings.

Guess I should be thankful that all my scores were at least a 2 (shows promise but needs improvement).

I’m sure I’ll be able to look back at the scores with more detachment later, so I can get more out of them. Next week … maybe next month … Right now, however, I’m still smarting.