A little over a year ago, my writer’s group hosted a guest speaker, and to my amazement, this speaker held the key to writing good romantic fiction. Leslie Kelly spoke for about an hour on the relationship between characters and conflict. In romantic fiction there are two basic types of conflict, external and internal. The dynamics of the characters determine the internal conflict and can even guide part of the external conflict. During the talk, the group developed character sheets describing the characteristics of our characters to help identify possible areas of conflict. These characteristics include things like family, education, bad habits, relationships, etc. I still do this exercise for every set of my characters. When I put my potential characters for A Shared Range through this exercise, something unusual happened, because not only did I get the internal conflict between the characters, I also got the scene of the story as well as the driver for much of the external conflict.
In A Shared Range, Dakota is a rancher who dropped out of medical school to take care of his chronically ill father, and Wally is a newly minted veterinarian from the city who hopes to be able to work on larger animals. Through a mutual friend, Wally gets the chance visit the ranch on vacation. Both Wally and Dakota find themselves attracted to one another, but they have very different views on a number of issues, including the wolves that have migrated into the area from Yellowstone National Park. Wally dreams of standing outside, hearing the calls of the wolves, while to Dakota, those cries represent a threat to his ranch and way of life. To me that sounded like an interesting source of internal conflict, but as I completed the exercise, I also got a great scene for the novel, with the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone as a backdrop, as well as one of the sources of external conflict, because much of the community feels the way Dakota does, and that causes additional trouble when Wally rescues an injured wolf. I absolutely loved writing this story and am not ashamed to say that I fell in love with my own characters.
A truck pulled into the yard, and Wally saw a small pack of dogs race out of the barn to the truck and then race back to begin circling his legs. “What’s all this?” He knelt down and was mobbed by the ragtag bunch. “Are they friendly?”
“Goodness, yes.” The smallest, some sort of terrier mix, jumped into Wally’s arms and began licking his face. “The mutt giving you a bath is Max. The lab is Libby, and the boxer mix is Sparky.” At the mention of his name, Sparky made a lunge and knocked Wally on his butt before he, too, joined in the lovefest. Wally made the mistake of laughing and got a doggie tongue in his mouth, but didn’t really care too much as he handed out scratches behind ears and received lots of doggie love.
“Mario,” Dakota called, and the man from the truck walked over. “This is Wally.”
Wally tried to shake hands, but the wiggling, squirming dogs sort of got in the way.
“Wally, this is Mario, my foreman.” Dakota started to laugh as Wally tried to get up, only to be jumped again by the dogs.
Wally finally got to his feet and extended his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.” They shook hands quickly.
“Boss, we had a few problems in the north range.” Mario turned his attention to Dakota, his face serious.
“That wolf again?” Dakota’s smile faded and his voice darkened. “Did we lose anything?”
“That’s the strange thing. It was definitely him, but there’s no sign that he tried to take down any of the herd. He just stood by the edge of the wooded area and watched until I took a shot at him.”
“Maybe he wasn’t hungry.” Wally spoke up, and saw both men looking at him like he was from outer space. “Wolves don’t kill for sport. They kill because they’re hungry or to feed their mate or young, and they’re more likely to take down small game than a full-grown steer.” Wally was on a roll and hadn’t realized his strong feelings had made him raise his voice. “And you took a shot at him?” Wally glared at the foreman and felt his anger build. “Excuse me.”
Turning away, Wally walked back toward the house, muttering under his breath. He really wasn’t sure if they could hear him, but at the moment he didn’t care. “Great, if you don’t understand something, just kill it and mount it on the wall. That’ll take care of everything.” Wally opened the door and walked into the house, letting the screen bang behind him.
As soon as he reached the living room, he stopped himself and flopped on the sofa. Jesus, he’d been here less than an hour and he’d insulted his host.
“What’s going on?” Phillip sat next to him.
“I shot my mouth off and made an ass of myself.” Wally looked up and saw through the window that Dakota was on his way in and didn’t look happy.
I’ve used the exercises that we performed in that guest lecture for almost all of my novels, including Love Means… No Shame and An Unexpected Vintage, but this was the one time when everything seemed to come together. I’m very pleased with A Shared Range and I hope you enjoy it.
And to Leslie Kelley, I want to thank you for sharing your insight with our group and with me. Your talk was truly one of the most helpful and productive hours I’ve spent since I began writing.
Andrew Grey grew up in western Michigan with a father who loved to tell stories and a mother who loved to read them. Since then he has lived throughout the country and traveled throughout the world. He has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and works in information systems for a large corporation. Andrew’s hobbies include collecting antiques, gardening, and leaving his dirty dishes anywhere but in the sink (particularly when writing). He considers himself blessed with an accepting family, fantastic friends, and the world’s most supportive and loving partner. Andrew currently lives in beautiful historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
E-mail him at email@example.com