Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Misunderstanding IS NOT a conflict

This is one of those big reasons why I pass on so many manuscripts!

I honestly think many writers out there fail to understand the concept of conflict in a story. Needless to say, this lack of understanding what a conflict is results in not only stories with no purpose, but also a lot of rejections, especially from someone like me that values a good story. It seems that many writers believe that a misunderstanding is the same as a conflict. This is far from the truth.

I have seen far too many of these stories recently and frankly, it is really wearing me out. The solution is too easy to fix. If the two of them talk, then the problem is solved. End of story. But nooooooo, the writers seem to make a big deal out of nothing and make me have to stomach the mindless drivel of the writer as he or she tries to reach that minimum word count.

When I see stories with nothing more than a "misunderstanding" I am force to think of nothing more that those bad episodes of Three's Company: "In tonight's episode, Jack overhears Crissy and now thinks she is pregnant with his child (despite the fact that they never did anything." Sorry people, this is a misunderstanding and that is it.

The conflict, on the other hand, is that serious issue that has to be worked out by the characters so they can come to a full resolution at the end of the story. Sure, there might be some misunderstandings leading up to this conflict, but it is not the big issue. As readers we want to see that, if things don't work out right, the relationship may not finally happen at the end of the story.

I am reading a story right now that in the beginning, the hero and heroine meet. It is clear they have the hots for each other, but don't know that one will be the other person's neighbor. Oh my, what will they do when they have to live next to each other. (Hope that sarcasm comes out in the italics). So what? There is absolutely nothing stopping them from moving on to that next level.

Now why does this happen? It's very simple. The writer has spent more time trying to create the totally hot characters or that amazing sexy bedroom scene. There is not prep, no thought, no planning.

Now, get out there and find a real conflict before you send me your story.



  1. I am incredibly sick and tired of all romances having to have that "hot bedroom scene." Why can't there be just a romance without leading to the bedroom; just a boy meeting a girl or a man meeting a woman and actually developing some kind of compassion for one another before saying "give it to me." Real life romance doesn't just jump into the sack immediately. You can actually see the love between the two characters and feel the love between the two characters. It speaks to you and you can feel it in your soul. Romance and sex are not equals. Please show me the love!!

  2. I get where you're going with this post (and your core point, I agree with), but I think it's a mistake to categorically eliminate misunderstandings as a valid source of conflict in novels.

    As with everything, it's all in how you handle it. A writer who spins a misunderstand that would be easily cleared up if people just talked, but then doesn't let them just talk (much like the writers on Friends who bogged us down with the whole multi-season re-re-reprise of the Ross/Rachael saga) deserve to be rejected.

    Not all misunderstandings are created equal. If two characters don't talk, is there a valid reason for it? Does the nature of the misunderstanding itself lead the people away from talking?

    Or is the misunderstanding based on something deeper? A misunderstanding can turn out to be a simple surface manifestation of something that turns out to be a genuine conflict on deeper moral, cultural, or philosophical grounds.

    Mary Doria Russel's amazing book "The Sparrow" ( is, at heart, the story of a misunderstanding. It takes a whole book to explain the deep moral, cultural, and philosophical basis behind that misunderstanding. But when the reader finally understands it, it's a doozy.

    And note, there was no lack of characters talking in that book. The main character's whole job, his entire reason for being mired in the situation he was in, is because he was put there specifically to communicate.

    He did his job, and he did it very well. Where things fell down was that he and his allies had very different assumptions about life than the people he was trying to communicate with.

  3. I wish the publisher had followed this advice for the last book I read. I wanted to scream, "Sit down and talk! You're sleeping together. A little openness is in order."

  4. We might be tired of it but sex still sells.

  5. Working on some serious conflicts. Thanks for a great reminder that misunderstandings don't work!