Monday, January 26, 2015


Please welcome Mary Gillgannon to Muse Monday. Read on!

Years ago, a romance editor told me what she looked for in a synopsis:  “Tell me what she wants, what he wants, and why they can’t get it.”
I was trying to figure out how to condense my ten-page synopsis down to the two pages she’d requested, and at first her advice puzzled me. What about the development of the romance? What about character growth? I eventually came to realize that what she was talking about was conflict. Because something is keeping the characters from getting what they want, there is conflict. And conflict is the engine that drives the story. It is what builds suspense. If the characters get everything they want, the reader isn’t going to care about them, or keep reading to find out what happens. Without conflict, you don’t have a strong plot. 
In a romance, the conflict often starts between the hero and heroine. Sometimes it’s overt and they are actual enemies. In one of my books, she’s a Saxon and he’s the Norman knight who takes control of her home. Their first response upon meeting is wariness on his part, and outright hatred on hers. There is a big conflict between them and it takes a long time to work out.
In a contemporary romance conflict may be more subtle. They may be on opposite sides of a political issue or work for competing businesses. Or they may just rub each other the wrong way. She’s a free spirit and he likes things by-the-book. She may be fiercely independent and he’s a take-charge kind of guy. Whatever it is, they clash from the beginning. Sometimes in big ways. Sometimes in little ones. The tension of their conflict is part of what draws them together. It makes them think and behave in different ways. By its very nature it changes them. And the reader follows along, wanting to see what happens.
Then there is the conflict that takes place inside them. They may be very clear in their goals at the beginning of the book, but by the end, they have often completely changed direction. What they think they want turns out to be unimportant, and something they didn’t think they cared about turns out to be crucial to their happiness. We enjoy this process of the characters growing and changing as they work out the conflicts happening inside them.
Very often the conflict that drives the story changes over the course of the book. The internal conflicts at the beginning are resolved as the hero and heroine fall in love. Meanwhile, outside forces threaten to destroy everything. The villain who has been lurking in the background takes center stage. But the hero and heroine, who have learned to trust each other and work together, now take on the threat together. The conflict has shifted from the dynamic between them to something outside them. Depending on the story, the threat may be psychological or very real. But either way, the struggle with this opposing force will take them to nearly the end of the book.
As they—together—triumph over the obstacle to their happiness, the reader experiences the satisfaction of their success and a sense that all is right with the world. The happily-ever-after is the payoff. But it would not be nearly so sweet without the conflict that made the story come to life.

Tell us a little about your latest book, Mary, and something about you...

In the ninth-century, Irish warrior Connar fell hopelessly in love with Aisling, one of the Nine Sisters, a group of priestesses skilled in healing. When Aisling came to a tragic end, he used magic to travel to the future to reunite with her. But someone has followed Connar from the past, and they are determined to keep Allison and Connar apart. As Allison struggles with terrifying visions, she must learn to trust in a love that transcends even death.

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Mary Gillgannon writes historical romance and fantasy, often with Celtic influences. She’s married and has two grown children. She now indulges her nurturing tendencies on four very spoiled cats and a moderately spoiled dog. When not working or writing, she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course!


  1. Great post, Mary! I love one of the Disney stories where the evil villain says if she didn't exist, the story wouldn't either. I always thought that was cute. But true. She was the conflict. :)

    1. That's cute. And very true. I'm reading a book now (The Winter Witch) with a really evil villainess and I'm frantic to get to the end and see how the hero and heroine prevail.

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  3. Enjoyed the post:-) Congrats on the release!

  4. Excellent definition of conflict! Without adversity, books are merely a recitation of benign events. I've read novels written like that and wondered how and why they were published.

    1. You sound like me. I like a lot of conflict, even in a romance. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Terrific take on conflict, Mary. Enjoyed the post!

  6. Great post, Mary. I've been struggling with plotting and your advice has triggered all sorts of solutions. Thanks for the help.