Anonymous snarking

A big problem with having an anxiety disorder means I have trouble leaving dissenting comments on another person’s blog*.


I love Jenny’s novels. Love them, read them over and over again. A comrade reminded me of her blog, and I resubscribed. I was really looking forward to reading her blog series on writing; she is a witty writer and I wish I had a tenth of her skill. A new post showed up on my reader, so I went and read it. And a line stood out to me.

Conflict is a struggle between two people who both want goals and who are blocking each other.

I mean, I read that and thought, have things changed so much in literature that they only classify Man vs Man as conflict? A quick google said nope, there’s the three I learned in school, plus four more that many people agree count. (Man vs Man, Man vs Self, Man vs Nature were the ones I learned).

So went to the previous post, Conflict, A Definition. Again, Man vs Man. There were no questions about that in the comments, so I went back to the first page I’d read. I was hoping someone had also had trouble with this.

And there someone had posed the question, asking about Man vs Nature, using a story about climbing a mountain. Jenny clarified herself in the comments:

An antagonist fights back, and in that fight escalates the plot.
So the mountain, which is just sitting there minding its own business, makes a lousy antagonist.

To which I say:

You do not need an antagonist to make your story work. A decent description of ‘conflict’ can be found at wikipedia:

Conflict in literature refers to the different drives of the characters or forces involved.

Limiting the meaning of ‘conflict’ in writing to one thing, Man vs Man, limits potential stories.

I can think of dozens of books that have lots of conflict and action without relying on Man vs Man as the primary focus.I’m sure everyone can. Which is why I can’t wrap my brain around why she states it as a universal truth.

Maybe her point is that Man vs Man sells better? And this might be true for her, especially since she’s moved from straight romance to romantic thrillers. But she doesn’t phrase her advice as being just for romantic thrillers, and that’s where I get frustrated. The first post of the blog states that she’s “presenting the basic theories of fiction in general and of romance writing in particular”. So maybe I’m just reading way too much into this and being pedantic. And yet I can’t help but wonder, if she’s already redefined ‘conflict’, what else is she going to modify?

I’m not going to give up reading the series, but I’m going to be more wary. A writer should always be looking to expand their skill set, and there may be useful things ahead. I hope.


*I’m using donotlink because I am a coward. Jenny is a fabulous and great writer, and I am a hack. Meh.


11 thoughts on “Anonymous snarking

  1. dépaysement says:

    Interesting. I wasn’t aware of the various definitions of conflict, which is probably why my first reaction to the post was to disagree that “people fighting ” (in whatever fashion) is the only driver for a story. I don’t really want to read that. It makes me think of today’s mention of Anne McCaffrey’s novels. One of their weakest points, I always thought, was their cardboard villains. They often seemed to have no reason at all to behave as they did.

    On the matter of anxiety and commenting – I hear ya. Besides, we’ve seen what commenting on other blogs can bring. If it’s anxiety, it’s got a realistic foundation.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Gods, I had to stop reading Anne McCaffrey after I hit a certain age. I loved the books, but so much of it was problematic (especially her views on homosexuality). As for the villians, as a tween they worked, but I much preferred the novels with no real villians, like the Harper Hall trilogy, where the ‘villians’ were very much secondary when it came to creating conflict.


  2. Whoops, hit the send button by mistake. The above “conflicts” are other possibilities and all of them contain jillions of subsets. I think you are probably right if there is one stated limitation then there probably are others as well. So, good for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see the POV that the conflict between two people in a romance novel is important, I just disagree with it, lol. One of my favs (that I forgot to list, of course) is MaryJanice Davidison (I don’t like her Betsy novels, but I do like everything else), who rarely puts conflicts between the romantic leads. It kinda hit me like a freight train of relief and shock; I hadn’t realized how much it bothered me to have storyline-destined lovers spend all their time blocking or fighting each other. Main characters who can work together against external conflict? Fabulous!

      Liked by 2 people

      • dépaysement says:

        Yes, this! I know romance novels are often bound to a formula, but really, how many lovers go through all this conflict with each other business first? I’d much sooner read us-against-the-world. Which just reminded me of Melanie Rawn’s Sunrunners series; do you know them? She had quite a few devoted couples in them. And a very sexy villain in Prince Roelstra, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Us-against-the-world is definitely underutilized these days (so many tropes, so little time).

          I found Rawn hard to get into; I can’t remember which series I tried to read, it was ages (probably decades) ago. I may have to give her another try.


          • dépaysement says:

            Yeah, I never tried her other series. I got about halfway through that one, but when it turned to major invasion and killing off major characters, I quit. I don’t like reading fantasies of death and destruction.

            My alt history/gay romance novel was an us against the world tale. That was its whole point, to give the protagonist someone he never had. I gave it up when I painted myself into a plot corner that would have had a destructive secret between the lovers. I didn’t want any sort of taint like that.

            Liked by 1 person

              • dépaysement says:

                That’s pretty much what I was advised to do. But it worked out perfectly, though not for the never-to-be-resumed novel. Friends on the writing website suggested trying poetry, which I did, which got other readers, and took my life (gah this is sounding so pretentious) down a new and happier track. 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

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