By far, the best workshop I attended at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference was Michael Hauge‘s presentation, “Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories.” Unlike every other workshop, Michael gave his presentation twice. I attended on the second day and the room was standing-room-only packed. The first day was likely the same.
Yeah… It was popular. And for good reason.
I’m now at the point in my learning curve of craft knowledge where most workshops aren’t telling me anything new. That’s probably a good sign for my skills, but I love pushing myself to learn new things, so the lack of insightful workshops can also be a bit disappointing for me.
That’s why Michael’s workshop rocked. Many ideas he shared were things I “knew” instinctively, but the way he presented the concepts created new connections in my brain about how to apply the information.
Whether you write strictly romance or not, if your stories include a love interest, Michael’s teachings from this workshop can help bring your characters to the next level. I’m going to use the term “romance” here, but just translate that in your head to “love interest” and you’ll be able to pick up useful tidbits from what I learned at Michael’s workshop too.
The #1 Issue Plaguing Romance Novel Characters
The biggest weakness of romances is that there’s no logical reason for the couple to be together. Logic? Ha! Who needs logic. Love transcends logic, right?
Wrong. All characters—in all types of stories—need motivation for their actions. Love plots/subplots aren’t exempt.
Characters without motivation are puppets. That’s true whether the characters are stupidly going into the basement even though the lights are out because the plot needs them to or whether they’re falling in love with someone who seems wrong for them because the plot needs them to. No matter how the “no motivation” problem manifests, it’s not good for the story.
“Because they’re the hero and heroine and I need them to fall in love” is not a good reason. Author motivation doesn’t equal character motivation. Relationships in a story without a motivation feel forced. And that’s not quite the happily ever after that romance authors aim for or that romance readers expect.
What Makes Love Seem Logical?
So what does logic look like when paired with love? A character should fall in love not because the plot needs them to, but because the other character sees behind the mask they present to the world and accepts them/loves them back for who they really are.
This goes in the other direction too. A character will fall in love with the potential they see in the other character. They see who the other character can become and will fall for that person, even if the character isn’t quite there yet.
In other words, characters will seem right for each other, even destined for each other, if they connect on the level of their inner “essence.” That deep connection gives them motivation to pursue the relationship.
Readers will see how they’re perfect for each other—how they know and accept each other better than any other alternative on the planet—and they’ll think, “Of course these two should be together. It’d be illogical for it to happen any other way.” Connecting on a deep level gives the characters motivation, which makes the relationship feel unforced and logical to readers.
The Trick for Making Love Triangles Seem Logical
A fascinating tidbit Michael shared was about how to make love triangles work. I’ve never been a huge fan of love triangles, as the (usually) heroine can seem flighty for not being able to make up her mind and/or stupid for being attracted to the “wrong” guy.
Michael pointed out that one member of the triangle could be a perfect match for the heroine’s mask and the other member of the triangle could be a perfect match for the heroine’s essence. Both heroes would be perfect for her in some way (thus avoiding the stupid factor), but only one would see the real her. Bingo. There’s the guy she should end up with if she completes her inner journey.
Ooo, inner journey. We’ll talk about that more next week, along with these masks, essences, and connections. *smile* And after that, we’ll talk about how to combine the inner journey with the external plot.
Have you read stories with a shallow-feeling relationship before? What made it feel superficial? Would this tip have helped fix the problem? Have you seen love triangles with this mask-vs.-real approach? Did it work for you? Have other triangles that didn’t follow this approach work for you? What made them work?Pin It