Good morning at Christian Author Network from Gail Gaymer Martin. Last month I provide information about Conflicts That Lifts the Bar, but this month, we’ll talk about conflicts again but the topic is: Not All Conflicts Sustain A Novel. I hope you find this information useful.

Not All Conflicts Sustain An Entire Novel

Since I’ve taught writing fiction for years and wrote the Writers Digest book, Writing The Christian Romance, I have received questions from writers about many elements and techniques of writing that they struggle with. Below is one of the questions and my response.

Question:  This question is about conflict. I’m reading books, trying to figure out how to make my own conflict work better, but I can’t see that I’m doing anything differently than most writers. I don’t see that any of the conflicts I’ve read in fourteen books are any more developed than the conflicts that I have been getting “this won’t sustain an entire book” comments. Can you explain this to me?

 My Response: On this Writing Fiction blog I have discussed and shared tips on conflict, but this is a good question and it’s worth answering it again.

Sometimes novelists must step back and look at the conflicts in their fiction. A story needs more than one, and each is resolved as the story goes to have a larger more complex one rise to challenge the goal of the character. Some conflicts seem important but they drags on through the story  and a good conversation could solve the problem.

Deep Conflicts
Conflicts in fiction need to be real life conflicts that aren’t an argument or problem easily solved. Conflict must come from something deeper. It often begins in backstory, twisting the character’s psyche, affecting the characters goals and motivation, and driving them forward without commonsense sometimes. Many such conflicts deal with spiritual issues.

Other conflicts, and most often internal conflicts, develop within a character from a deep-seeded fear or need, and creates the inability to discuss it.

 Look At Your Own Life
If you look in your own heart, you will probably think of something you did in your life that has caused guilt or shame, something you know the Lord had been utterly disappointed in you. These are issues which we don’t easily admit and sometimes they become the “molehills to mountains” conflict in a story that takes more than conversation to resolve. Remember conversation does not solve problems. It helps provide information but the true help comes from an internal process to work through the problem and forgive or accept.

Your story must contain these types of  conflicts, ones that take courage and strength to open and to share with others because the possibility of ramification is greater than the power to share them. The question arises with the character is it better to remain friends than to take a chance on losing the relationship all together?

Examples of Deep Conflicts 
Conflict can come from two people wanting the same thing and only one can have it – or two people wanting the same thing but in a different way. It can come from fears that people don’t want to admit — a woman who’s hidden a rape—highly fears how her relationship will be with a man.

In romance, someone with the inability to have children will not want to fall in love with someone who deserves to be a father or mother, and logically this will hold them back from falling in love. One of my Love Inspired releases has this type of conflict. Even if the other party says it doesn’t matter, it matters to the one who feels to blame and the issue is complicated more if the character saw a marriage fail because of this problem in another couple.

Conflict can come from two people who fall in love and each has a career in different areas of the country—established jobs they don’t want to leave and each hopes the other will give in. The problems can appear simple, but when this job is something the character struggled for–if it provides him or her a sense of identity and purpose–then giving it up can lead to martyrism (if that’s a word) and ruin a marriage.

Conflicts Combine Situation and Characterization
We have to look inside the minds of a character to see how they are viewing the problem with their own set of complexities. Just as emotion is complex and never clear cut, neither is conflict. It has a multitude of issues that feed into the problem that make it a “big” problem, where in your personal life, it seems so simple.

Conflict And Emotion
Still it’s the authors job to provide enough depth to a conflict to make it real and to bring out the emotion of the situation so it makes an impact on the reader and touches them in a way that they can relate to the struggle and it is vital for characters to change and grow throughout the book just as we change with each experience. This makes the characters real and it makes the conclusion realistic.

As far as story dealing with an unbeliever as a major conflict, I avoid conversion stories. I often have a weak Christian who’s struggle is due to something happening in his past that knocked his faith on a tilt—and as he struggles the tilt becomes less and less until he realizes that the Lord has been waiting for him with open arms. Then the story conflict can draw to a conclusion with realism.

Conflicts In Romance
Because of the nature of conflict, especially in a pure romance (not romantic suspense or a romance in women’s fiction), when a character says I love you, it’s the end of the story and sometimes the solution seems to end too fast. But if the author has built up to this, then it works. I have used the “I love you” from one character and a “no” from the other.  In the character’s heart it’s a yes but something holds the character back from being willing to submit to the love they feel. Many things can hold people back, and I mentioned a few of them earlier.

Seeking The Deepest Conflict
When a conflict is not deep enough or not motivated by reality, it doesn’t work as the major “dark moment” conflict. The author needs to find something more important and deep-seeded that will cause true tension and emotion. Conflicts, like emotion, must be layered, deep and realistic.

(c) Gail Gaymer Martin 2015



Gail Gaymer Martin


Wishing you blessings from Gail Gaymer Martin and the Christian Author Network.  As always, I’m busy working on a new novel, and  that always reminds me of the many techniques and elements it takes to write a salable book of fiction.

Today I will talk to you about conflicts and why lifting the bar and presenting strong conflicts is important in any kind of fiction from thrillers to romance.

Problems, crises and conflicts need solutions, but the conflict needs to be strong. It can’t be running out of wine at a party or disagreeing on what movie to see. You all know that arguments and disagreements aren’t worthy of being considered a conflict in fiction.

A conflict needs to involve a vital situation or issue needed for the main character to reach his goal. He needs enough money to pay the taxes and buy back the family ranch. He must find the killer to prove the accused is not the criminal. The more desperate the need the more exciting the solution is to readers. So what can you do to raise the stakes in your novel?

Near Home
Stakes are raised when the conflict or threat is close to home. Someone was murdered on the next street. The neighbor’s child was seriously injured by a hit and run driver. The situation could have happened on your street. The child could have been your own. Still the situation creates a problem and desire to resolve the character’s fear. He wants slower speed limits on the highway. He wants a neighbor watch or better police patrols. These types of issues can happen in novels as they do in real life, but they cannot be the major conflict in the story until the problem is on the character’s doorstep. Then it becomes more personal.

Raising the Stakes
Take a scenario such as this: A coworker has a seriously ill child whose life can only be saved with medication not approved by the FDA, yet successful used in Europe. This situation would sadden a family man, but if the situation happened to his brother’s son, it’s his nephew who will die without the medication. The grief and concern deepens the closer the issue. Now it becomes personal. The situation involves his brother and nephew. He is more than sad. He fills with anger and writes to his congressman and the FDA. He writes an article to the local newspaper asking citizens to start a petition to force the government to act on the approval of this medication that is affect in other countries.

Deeply Personal
But let’s raise the stakes even more. It’s not a nephew and his brother dealing with this situation, but the plight is his own son who is dying from a disease that could be healed by this medication. In this case, resolving the conflict is vital to his need to save his son. The situation is desperate, and the courses of action grows to unknown heights. The father would do what he did for his nephew, but he would do more. He might decide to travel to Europe and bring the medication into the U.S. illegally. This adds deeper conflict and brings it to crisis level. It could mean imprisonment for him, but it’s a father saving his son, and he will do anything. The stake is deeply personal and it becomes deeply personal for readers who stand behind the father and his desire to save his child.

The stakes can also be raised by facing a community crisis. Everyone recalls in history when radiation was close to homes and families become ill. When water became polluted from chemicals emptied into it by local factories. These are real life concerns that all people have. Today we hear of pieces of land dropping off into mud slides and taking more and more land from people’s property and endangering their homes. These problems also raise the stakes when the character’s home and family are involved. While a community crisis affecting many, authors can bring the desperation home by involving the main character or a family member into the political fray of corruption and greed as they try to save their communities.

As you work with community issues, again, bring it home. Involve the main character and his family. Ask what will happen if this problem isn’t resolved. What political or industrial reaction could add to the main character’s danger? When big business is threatened, it can afford to fight to protect their business even when they know they are at fault. In fiction, such interference by the main character could put his life in jeopardy. Think deep and broad.

Authors writing speculative fiction understand the battles that war in the netherworld, aliens and beings that can destroy the world as we know it, such fiction as: War of the Worlds, Marvel’s The Avenger, Men In Black, Independence Day, and Transformers to name only a few. The author begins in an ordinary world and then strange things happen. Deeper into the story, the main characters’ lives are threatened by the oncoming attack. The world will change forever. Desperation and cunning is the keyword. These stories are action-packed, but within them, a bit of reality must remain. The story goes from saving the family to saving the world. It is a broad sweep of excitement, ingenuity, wisdom and courage. The stake raises when the main character finds his and his family’s lives are in jeopardy. Remember the more the character has to lose means the more his goal at risk. Readers will read with escalated pulses as the stakes become higher and higher.

Lifting the bar to conflict, whether near home, personal, deeply personal, community or world, means the closer the character is to danger and the deeper he is involved in risk and conflict, the higher the excitement grows for readers. Leave them breathless and wanting more.

Read Gail’s novel, Treasures of Her Heart, for examples of strong conflicts in a mystery and romance. Conflicts are needed in all genre.

About Gail:

Multi-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of Christian romance, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction with 64 novels and four million books in print. She is a cofounder of American Christian Fiction Writers and a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at conferences across the U.S. Look for her novels on Amazon or on her website at www.gailgaymermartin.com.




Marti Pieper

Greetings from steamy, summery (even before summer officially begins) but beautiful Mount Dora, Florida. Today, I have the privilege of interviewing a friend I’ve never met. Gail Gaymer Martin and I share several writing connections (including CAN) that have allowed us to pray for one another, as well as a “Gail” connection (her first name is my middle one). Gail is a multi-published novelist with lots of insights about marketing and promotion, so let’s get right to her encore interview.

Gail Gaymer Martin

Gail Gaymer Martin

Welcome back to the CAN blog, Gail. How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?

I have 64 books published in fiction with over four million books sold. The most recent novels and novellas are: Romance by Design, Lattes and Love Songs, Apple Blossom Daze, and A Trip to Remember.

A Trip To Remember LDYou were last featured on the CAN blog in 2012. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?

What I’ve learned in the last four years is that nothing stays the same. Publishing has gone through major changes with many publishers folding or merging with other publishers, Christian publishers merging with secular publishers, and independent fiction growing strong. Small presses are new everywhere;  in fact, I am now writing for Winged Publications, which has been a good experience. I’m not only able to bring my out-of-print books back to life as the rights are reverted to me, but also to publish novels that did not fit my previous publishers.

I agree—publishing has certainly had more than its share of major changes over the past few years. So what are the chief lessons you’ve learned about promotion since your last interview?

Authors are expected to do a major part of the book promotion for traditional, small press, and independent publishing.

So true! What are the most effective means of book promotion you’ve tried? Read More →


Award-winning author

Award-winning author

Welcome to the CAN Blog on Fiction Writing. I always enjoy stopping by to share with you my many years of writing Christian romances, romantic suspense and women’s fiction. You can find more about me and my books on my website at www.gailgaymermartin.com

Today I want to talk with you about hooks. Hooks are an important technique to arouse a readers interest in a story and to keep them reading.  Reader or writers, these techniques are excellent for both. Who doesn’t want to read a gripping story that tugs you to the end? I think we all do.


Every novel can use a variety of hooks to keep the reader turning pages. Hanging on to the reader’s interest can result from story hooks based on a theme or a twisted premise. Opening hooks keep the reader captivated by using accepted techniques that grab the reader’s interest. Finally plotting hooks can move the reader from the end of a chapter or scene into the next without realizing it. A hook makes the story memorable. It involves the reader so deeply that all sense of time vanishes, resulting in late dinners and missed appointments.

 Theme Hooks

Certain universal fiction themes have been proven through the years to attract the interest of romance readers of both secular and Christian fiction. These themes tend to grab emotions or provide unique backdrops for the stories. Some of the standard romance themes that have proven themselves are: medical romances, office romances, holiday romances—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day. Other themes involve: undercover agents, cop heros, women in jeopardy, single moms, mom’s with twins, reunions,  exotic locations, forced proximities, hidden identities, hidden agendas, kidnaps, characters on the run, abducted children, heroine transformations, second chances, match-makings, and marriages of convenience.

The opening of  “Christmas Moon” uses the marriage of convenience hook.

“Rose…I want you to marry me.”

            Rose Danby’s spoon clanged into the sink as she spun around to face her employer. She searched his face, expecting to see a grin, but he looked serious. He was handling the joke with the skill of a stand-up comedian.

            “So…what’s the punch line?”

            Paul Stewart faltered. “It’s not a joke. I was thinking that—”

            “It’s not a joke?” She felt her forehead rumple like a washboard. Though she would want to marry a man as kind and handsome as her employer, she was his twins’ nanny. “What do you mean it’s not a joke?”

            His gaze searched hers. “I’m sorry. I shocked you.” He moved closer. “It just makes sense.”

            “It makes sense to you, maybe, but I don’t get it.”

This theme, like the others mentioned, grabs the reader’s interest from the opening lines and draws them into the story. This particular marriage of convenience theme also has a twist.

 Twisted Premise Hook

A premise is an assumption the reader makes from the story’s beginning, based on what is usually expected—a doting husband is in love with his wife, a beautiful woman who has everything is happy, a successful businessman is confident, an engaged couple is planning a wedding.

When hints suggest early in the story that things aren’t what they seem, the reader’s curiosity is nabbed. He or she can’t put down the book until the reader understands the story’s twist. If a book opens with the death of a fiancé, the reader assumes he is dead, but what happens if that is not the case and it’s all a set up?  Think of movies like The Sixth Sense, Ghost, Rosemary’s Baby, and others that lead the fascinated reader on a twisted journey.

 Page One Hooks

Good writing uses a variety of techniques to grasp the reader’s interest from the book’s first pages. Some of the methods to open with are: action or dialogue, at the point of change,

with a sense of urgency, with captivating characters, with a humorous or novel situation, leaving the reader curious, puzzled, or intrigued, or with the reader wanting to know what happens next.

Notice the effect of these samples from well-known Christian authors.

Action: Angie Hunter stared out the tiny window of the Bombardier turboprop, keeping a death grip on the armrest as the plane bounced and dropped in the turbulent air above the still, snowy mountain range.  (From Legacy Lane, Robin Lee Hatcher)

Dialogue: “Listen kids. Stay right here while I get the car.” Standing under the shelter of the covered mall entrance, Debra fixed her gaze on one precious child then the other. All the while a downpour hammered against the roof above them. (From Footsteps, DiAnn Mills)

Humor: Two things had been on Cat Simmons’s mind. Gage Farrell’s handsome face. And a dirty undershirt.  (From Hope’s Garden, Lyn Cote)

Intriguing, Curious: Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton.  (From Double Vision, Randy Ingermanson)

What will happen next: The noises, faint, fleeting, whispered into her consciousness like wraiths in the night.  (From Brink of Death, Brandilyn Collins)

Opening lines as those above hook the reader and give the promise of an intriguing writer’s voice and a compelling story. Remember though that those lines must deliver the story that it’s suggesting.

 Plotting Hooks

Two standard plotting hooks are: the time bomb and the Jack-in-the-box. The time bomb refers to a story line that has an explosive time limit—time is running out. A young woman is heir of her wealthy uncle but most find a husband within the month or she loses the fortune. A kidnapped child must be found before his next life and death medical treatment.

The Jack-in-the-box technique is a plot with surprises. From hints, foreshadowing or rising conflict, the reader senses something is going to happen and the waiting helps to cause tension. For example, the hero is in love with the heroine, but hints he has a secret that would destroy his relationship with the heroine.

 Chapter and Scene Hooks

Most readers prefer to put down the book at the end of a chapter or scene. A good writer can learn techniques that will draw readers into the next scene or chapter without them being aware. End each chapter with action, a vital piece of information or a thoughtful question that pulls the reader into the next scene. Don’t stop the scene at the end, but carry some of it over at the point of interest.  In A Love for Safekeeping, the heroine senses someone is following her. She darts for her car, hits the remote to unlock the door, and these two lines end the chapter.

A hand clamped down on her shoulder. 

            A scream tore from her throat.

The next chapter opens with a continuation of the action.

Another technique is to shift action and point of view (POV) from one character in a scene to a new scene involving another character’s action and POV. This works well especially in a dramatic situation. In Loving Hearts, the hero and heroine end their relationship. In frustration, he takes his sailboat out too late in the season and a storm comes up on Lake Michigan. Meanwhile she has second thoughts and tries to call him to beg his forgiveness. When she learns he is on the boat and knows a storm is brewing, she panics. The reader is moved between the two characters and experiencing their independent struggles.

 Using Hooks

Hooks are vital to writing a page-turner. A combination of hooks: plotting, theme, twisted premises, openings, and closing scenes or chapters can be used to capture the reader’s interest. Not every chapter or scene needs to open and close with a dramatic hook, but these techniques should be scattered throughout the story. The goal of a good writer is to write a book people can’t put down until the end.

© 2016 Gail Gaymer Martin





HR Gail- 3 2015


Welcome to the Christian Author Network (CAN)  from Gail Gaymer Martin.  Winter is fading in some areas of the country. I spend the winter in Sedona, Arizona and enjoy the spring days that stay with us through the winter, and bask in God’s glorious creations from our townhouse deck. The red rocks  remind us of the Lord’s might, strength, and power, and we are  blessed. Read More →