Process Post: What is conflict?

You know you’re in good hands with a story (usually!) when the opening of the story starts with a suggestion of good genre conflict, you get just enough setting to feel like you’re smart for noticing subtle details (that the author has carefully designed for you to notice), and you get a sense of who you’re going to be spending a lot of time with.

“Ah, yes,” I think. “Time for snacks.”

I’ve really been noticing whether or not writers hit their genre in the openings of stories. I recently read what was supposed to be a romantic suspense short story that started with…memories of a rape.

I flinched.

“Is this going to be a romance where she makes up with the rapist?!?” 

Four pages later, the male lead shows up, a detective. I sighed in relief. If I hadn’t been reading the story related to a class, I would have quit reading the story and probably the entire anthology.

I think what happened was that the author was trying to force the opening to feel more active than it was, and cutting back and forth from the current day to her memories, and just plain forgot to give us a hint about who the male lead was supposed to be. And probably the author hasn’t encountered the sort of rapey romance I was dreading, so it wasn’t on her mind as a possibility.

But, in general, if a story is a romance…then it should at least hint at who the romantic leads are before the conflict starts! 

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