How to Avoid the “Because You’re Stupid” Gambit

1311_Livesay_008Tracey Livesay 

I have a problem. I hate conflict. So much so that I won’t just come out and tell someone when they’ve hurt or angered me. I’ll bottle it inside until one day I’ll erupt over something minor. *cringes* It’s a problem, I know. And it’s worse for a fiction writer because we know conflict drives story.

You may have seen this on contest entries or heard it from critique partners: Your story doesn’t have enough conflict. What does that mean?

I grew up reading Harlequin Presents and back in the day, conflict meant a meddling ex or a convoluted misunderstanding. Today’s readers are more savvy. It’s hard to respect a protagonist who makes decisions based on the lies of a biased third party. And how many times have you closed a book in frustration because the matter could be easily resolved if the hero and heroine just sat down and talked to one another.

So it’s not just any conflict. Readers want believable conflict. Conflict based on inherent beliefs, fears, and experiences.

If our hero and heroine agreed on everything (no conflict), our story would be over by the end of the first chapter.

Him: I have to build these condos.

Her: You can’t build on this land.

Him: Why? It’s in a great location.

Her: Because it belongs to my family.

Him: Alright. I’ll find another place. Say, you’re beautiful.

Her: Thanks. You’re hot.

Him: Let’s get together.

Her: Sounds like a plan.

But we don’t want them arguing for arguing’s sake (forced, unbelievable conflict). There’s nothing more annoying than someone insisting the sky is green, just because you said it was blue. (Anyone with a teenager feels me, right?)

Him: I have to build these condos.

Her: You can’t build on this land.

Him: Why? It’s in a great location.

Her: So? It’s my land and I say no.

Him: You’re being irrational.

Her: And you’re being stupid.

Him: I hope I never see you again.

Her: Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.

However, if people differ because they truly see the world differently (believable conflict)?

Him: I have to build these condos.

Her: You can’t build on this land.

Him: Why? It’s in a great location.

Her: Because it belongs to my family.

Him: I’m sorry about that, but this project means I’ll finally be financially stable, and after a childhood of moving from place to place and never knowing when my next meal would be, it’s important that I never have that worry again.

Her: That must be hard. But this land has been in my family for generations and my father always said this land was our legacy. My father died recently and this land is all I have left. I plan to honor it and him and I can’t do that if I let you build on it.

Him: It seems we have a problem.

Her: We certainly do.

I thought about all of this when the time came to write my debut release, The Tycoon’s Socialite Bride. My heroine, Pamela Pearson, is gorgeous, smart and rich. But her life isn’t perfect. She lost her mother when she was younger, her father is distant and controlling and her former fiancé assaulted her. She’s felt love and happiness, but she’s also endured loss and had her heart broken. These are the experiences that motivate her decisions and help a reader understand why she makes the choices she does.

Like Pamela, my hero Marcus Pearson’s issues were set way before they met. His father died, sending him and his mother from a comfortable middle class living to one of poverty. While working two jobs to support their family, his mother was mistreated by her blue blood employer. Without employment and blacklisted, they were forced to leave their home and move across the country to live with distant relatives. These are the experiences that have shaped him—into the man he is and the choices he makes.

The very nature of their pasts, blue collar and blue blood, means there will be conflict. The way they view the world, their reactions to events that occur, all are determined by their experiences. And that’s where believable conflict comes in. Their problems can’t be solved with a conversation. There are no jealous interlopers, scheming behind the scenes, puppeteers to a clueless hero and heroine. Just two people, whose lives and experiences guarantee that when faced with the same choice, they would respond and react in differing manners.

Recipe for loads of conflict.

And I wouldn’t write it any other way.

What are your thoughts about conflict? Are there tips you use to add believable conflict to your stories?

Tracey Livesay wrote her first romance novel at the age of eleven, called “The Healing Power of Love.” With a detour through college and law school–where she met her husband on the very first day–she’s finally achieved her dream of being a published author. She lives in Virginia with said husband and three kids. Her debut novel, The Tycoon’s Socialite Bride, is available now from Entangled Publishing. For info on her upcoming releases or to chat about TV, movies and/or purses you can check out her website ( or find her on Facebook (TraceyLivesayAuthor) and Twitter (@tlivesay).

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