Guest Blogger: Janis Patterson - Or Is It Janis Susan May?

It's both! And maybe more.

Janis Patterson also writes romances and horror as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson. LURE OF THE MUMMY by Janis Susan May, the first ever horror novel from either Carina or Harlequin, will be released August 29. THE HOLLOW HOUSE, a cozy historical mystery by Janis Patterson, will be released November 14, also from Carina Press. She and her husband, a Captain in the Navy Reserve, just returned from overseas deployment, live in Texas with three rescued furbabies – two neurotic cats and a terribly spoiled little dog. Janis has two websites – and

Well, here I am, sprawled under the Tiki Hut, a fresh Mangorita (a frozen margarita made with fresh mangoes) beside me, my laptop in front of me and for scenery, white sand, surf and palm trees. Best of all, not another human being in sight. What bliss!

Bliss, however, is not conducive to good fiction. While in life it might be a sustainable end-all and be-all, in fiction it gets boring rather quickly. That’s why when a book reaches the point of ‘Happily Ever After’ – it’s over! What makes fiction interesting is conflict.

Conflict is one of those convenient catchall phrases that means both everything and nothing. Basically, it is two things in opposition to each other.

Conflict comes in two varieties – external and internal.

An example of external conflict might be environmentalists versus developers. Two people with different visions want control of the same company. A man wants freedom and adventure while a woman wants commitment and a safe home (or vice versa) but they are overwhelmingly in love.

Internal conflict is just that – internal, within one person. The female developer knows that the new shopping center would be good for the town, but she hates to see the old swimming hole where she spent so many happy hours replaced by concrete and glass. A man might be attracted to or even falling in love with a woman who is so very like the woman who broke his heart so many years ago and he knows he has to stay away from her.

Now admittedly some of those examples were simplistic if not downright cheesy, but they are examples of conflict, and conflict is what drives books. If you’re writing a romance, you might have a wonderful time showing a man and woman meeting, liking each other and finally falling in love while taking lovely walks and enjoying nice dinners and attending symphonies. That would be wonderful – in real life. In a book it would be a snoozer.

Instead, bring conflict into play. Make him suspicious of smart women. Make her distrustful of charming men. Give them both backstories that make it seem unlikely they will ever get together. Throw in other conflicts, anything from differing business practices to hired killers. Make them earn their Happy Ever After – and then leave them to it.

Same if you’re writing a mystery. How boring if the detective follows every clue, processes everything according to the rules, finds the criminal and has him sent up for a good long time, then ends up having a lovely dinner with his adoring wife and ruminating about the nobility of his job. Again, a scenario to be wished for in real life and to be avoided like the plague in fiction.

Give them problems! Give them uncertainties! Give them bad ideas and bad luck! Make them think their world will end, and then let them save it and work things out at the last minute. It will make their Happy Ever Afters that much happier.

Now, here under the Tiki Hut, I am seriously conflicted as to whether to order a Pina Colada the next time around or stick with my Mangorita. Also, should I remember this is bathing suit territory, or curse the calories and order some botanas (snacks)? Sigh. Such conflicts.


Joanne said…
I like the idea of making characters EARN their Happily Ever After. When the book is an obstacle course of conflict that they have to maneuver, it seems the reader is so much more likely to be drawn in and root for them to make it to the end!
Yes! Conflict is key. Even the cheesiest sitcoms and reality shows know that without some kind of conflict, viewers (or readers) won't stick around for long. Too much bliss is dangerous, but I've also seen too much nothing. When I teach creative writing, many students have characters who smoke and stare at the wall and ponder their life. They aren't happy, but there isn't conflict either.

Thanks for this post and enjoy your next drink. As long as it has an umbrella in it, it's probably a good choice. =)

-Miss GOP
notesfromnadir said…
Great concept--earning the Happily Ever After! I certainly agree.

Mangorita -- great name! I think you should alternate! :)
LR said…
That's one thing I like about first-person narrative, you can build in inner conflict so well.

Mangorita sounds awe-some!
VR Barkowski said…
Yes! No matter what the genre, a story is nothing without conflict. I don't do happily ever afters but I do shoot for mildly contented until the next book, and even that my characters must earn. :)
Susan said…
Great to hear from all of you - sorry to be so late to the party, but not only had a big meeting today, had to take our oldest cat Squeaky Boots to the vet for her annual. Not fun. Imagine one very ticked-off cat.

I'm glad you all agree on the necessity of conflict. Stories without conflict of some kind just don't cut it.

Actually, Mangoritas come with a lime slice and a maraschino cherry - no little umbrellas, more's the pity. Sometimes I have to drink more than one to make up for my disappointment.

Can't even claim credit for the name - they're the staple 'exotic' drink at this little, family-owned Mexican restaurant not too far from my house. Food's good there, too, so we end up eating there about once a week. Another conflict - waistline vs good food. Not enough conflict for a book, though, and dreadfully predictable. Mexican food (which I regard as a food group of its own) wins every time!
Anonymous said…
Great post! I'm developing internal and external conflict in my WIP right now. Thanks for the tips!
Nice tips!

I like the Tiki Hut conflict, too! :)
Helen Ginger said…
Janis, you must sometimes worry that you'll forget which personality you are at book signings.

Ya gotta have conflict in the book or it's booooring.
Clarissa Draper said…
Great ideas for conflict! Thanks for the post, Janis... or whoever you are at this moment. ;)
Janet, said…
Nice meeting you, Janis. Nice post about conflict. Congratulations on your new releases!
Carol Kilgore said…
Okay, Janis ... I'm ready for my Mangorita now :)

What? You didn't make me one?

I'm about to show you some conflict - LOL.
Susan said…
Thanks for all the kind words, gang - never knew that conflict could be so pleasant or fun. Oh - talking about conflict isn't conflict. Ooops...

As for not knowing who I am, I had that problem long before all the names. But we're all aggregates of different personalities, right? Otherwise, we wouldn't be writers.

And Carol, I owe you one very special Mangorita - promise, first time we get together!
Julie said…
I'm a bit late to the party, but it's great to meet you, Janis! I really enjoyed this post, such great advice. Congrats on your new releases!!
Anonymous said…
From this small piece of writing, Janis, I can see why you've got so many books in print! This is a great exposition on conflict. I agree with everything. As the late Frank McCourt said, "a happy childhood isn't worth writing about." I've read some books that are very well written but are snoozers (for me) because there's very little significant conflict either externally or internally.
Ann Best, Memoir Author
Susan said…
Julie, Ann - thanks for the kind words. Glad you could join me at the Tiki Hut.

Ann, I appreciate the difficulties you face with doing memoirs - I did one of my mother, THE LAND OF HEART'S DELIGHT, using first person and putting her name as author (mine as co-author). She had been dead several years before I wrote the book, but it was the best tribute I could think of for her. It was also the most difficult book I had ever done, since I had to stick to the facts - no hired killers or space alien invasions allowed!
Carol Kilgore said…
Thanks so much for guest blogging, Janis. You shared some great conflict tips with us. I hope you'll visit again.