Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guest Blogger - Bronwyn Scott

To create dark moments, I usually look to the conflict management style preferred by each character and then figure out how those two styles might create a spiraling tension.
Here’s a recipe for doing that if you want to try it out: First, pick two of the four ingredients below. There are essentially four different choices people make when faced with potential conflict.

Style #1 Avoidance/Accommodation. This style focuses on either ignoring the problem in hopes that it will go away (avoidance) OR setting aside one’s own needs in order to give the other person’s needs priority (accommodation). This style works well in the short term and if it’s not used too often. Used too often and it can lead to low self-esteem and of course it does not lead to real resolution of the serious issues in a relationship.

Style #2 Direct Aggression: This involves threatening verbal or nonverbal behaviors and honestly, it’s not the style of choice except in situations where personal safety is on the line and the situation must be resolved within minutes before harm to one’s person occurs. One consequence to this style is that it creates a growing spiral of defensiveness and hostility. Someone else, the other person yells back, then something gets thrown, and the stakes are upped until someone wins and someone loses.

Style #3 Indirect assertion: This style is focused on resolving issues without directly addressing them and causing the involved parties any outright embarrassment. For instance if my next door neighbor has a barking dog and it’s driving me nuts, I might stop over with a chew toy guaranteed to silence and entertain dogs for hours on end. If I present it as a gift, “Hey I was at petsmart today and saw this. I thought your dog might like it.” The neighbor thinks I am being friendly, the dog stops barking and I’m happy without having a direct discussion over the subject that might be fraught with tension. In the long run, the neighbor might get the clue and he/she might not. That’s the risk here. This style depends on both parties abilities to read between the lines. If not, the clue can get overlooked and then you have to try again.

Style #4 Direct Assertion: This style operates under the premise that the parties involved will address the issue head on in a non hostile way.

Style #5 Passive Aggressive: This style is the choice to maintain an outwardly friendly fa├žade while taking less than friendly actions. A great example is saying “I’m fine.” And then slamming the kitchen cupboard doors.

Different combinations of these styles get different results. There are two types of conflict patterns: complementary and symmetrical. Complementary patterns are patterns where the parties each use a different style; maybe one is indirect and another is direct assertion. This will create a different outcome than being accommodating and indirect. Symmetrical styles are when each party involved is using the same style—both might be indirect or both might be accommodating.

Step two in the recipe is to mix up the styles and see what happens. In Libertine Lord, Pickpocket Miss, Julian and Sophie start out with a symmetrical pattern of indirection. Julian is in Vienna to reclaim a set of missing jewels for the monarchy and Sophie is there is steal the same set of jewels for an Italian count. Neither one of them can tell each other much about their tasks or about themselves without giving away too much that might jeopardize their missions. So what happens is a delicious cat-and-mouse game until the game gets too dangerous. The dark moment happens when Julian realizes if Sophie gets to the jewels first she’s dead. The Italian Count will never let her live and risk her spreading the story about how she took the jewels for him. Concern for Sophie drives Julian to adopt a different tack and he becomes an example of direct assertion, forcing Sophie to change her tactics too.

Another favorite technique with these styles can be seen in my May 2008 release Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady. In the book, Julia Prentiss decides to take matters into her own hands to escape an unwanted marriage to the villain. She models the direct assertion approach but the villain meets that with direct aggression. For every move she makes, he ups the hostility level until it spirals into the ultimate dark moment where Julia is captured and the unwanted wedding looms and the situation has to be resolved.

Have fun mixing and matching and making your own ‘trick or treat’


  1. I love the games of cat and mouse that you see in romance. The element of danger can make it even more exciting. :)

  2. Me too. It creates tension and excitement. What will happen next? How can the hero and heroine up the ante next time? And of course it's a challenge to write that way because you have to be careful not to make the hero or the heroine look bad. They have to 'get one over' on the other person, have their moment of victory but without damaging the relationship or making the other person look too foolish.

  3. Ooh, I don't think I've ever seen it outlined so clearly before, Bronwyn! And count me as another who really enjoys the cat-and-mouse as part of the story's build up! It's definitely tricky to bring it all together and resolve the conflicts at the end in a realistic way without cutting the legs out (so to speak) from under anyone or any relationship! You writers have a gift!

  4. I had such fun in Pickpocket Countess with the cat and mouse element. It kept me on my toes. it's a great read too. There's plenty of sex in it but it's really a story for people who like strong plotting. Remember everyone, one lucky visitor today will win a coupon for a free download of one of our undone shorts!

  5. Great explanations! All of the books outlined today sound wonderful. When does the launch happen? What’s the length of the books? I can’t wait to read these!

  6. Fascinating stuff, Bronwen. Interesting how much of this one does instinctively, out of observation, I suppose, but so useful to have an analysis of it too!

  7. Cat and Mouse game are really fun. These are some of the ones I really love to read. Along the same lines, think about the great characters we have seen over the years in romances on TV. Many of those really were cat and mouse stories as well.