#WritingChallenge: Pitch your race-against-time romance!

By Deirdre McCluskey

Last #WritingChallenge we talked about how well-developed characters strengthen the internal conflict in your romance. But what about external conflict?

Sometimes editors downplay the importance of external conflict because new writers may rely too heavily on contrived conflict at the expense of compelling emotional conflict. But good external conflict places your characters in situations where they’re forced to act, and action creates drama. Thinking about the external conflict in your story can help you identify what’s at stake for your hero and heroine, and pinpoint problems with plot and pacing.

One dramatic tool authors, playwrights and screenwriters have been using to heighten tension in their stories for eons is the deadline: the hero or heroine must accomplish their goal before time runs out – or the consequences will be dire!

As you’re working on your romance for the 150 day challenge, think about the tension and external conflict. Do your hero and heroine have all the time in the world to fall in love? What’s motivating them to act – and your reader to turn the pages?

Situations with fantastic potential for high-stakes deadlines include natural disasters, life-threatening accidents, political crises, serious illness, big life events (weddings, birth, financial crises), forced proximity, ultimatums, job deadlines, and more!

Your challenge this week: Pitch your race-against-time romance in the following sentence:

Your hero or heroine (or both) has just one________ (day/weekend/week – the shorter the time, the higher the tension) to________ (fill in the goal), or________ (terrible thing that will happen – make the stakes as high as possible!)

The goal could be tied directly to the romance, (“I have one week to show Alina she’s making the wrong decision before she marries Dev!”) or might be a separate goal that forces the hero and heroine to act in a way that changes their feelings or beliefs (“We can’t leave this hotel until we’ve completed the presentation for the new client on Monday – but how will I ever work with Josh?”)

Post your pitch in the comments below by Sunday, September 17, 2017, and we’ll check back with you on Monday!

44 replies on “#WritingChallenge: Pitch your race-against-time romance!”

This particular book doesn’t have as much of a race against time: it’s more internally conflicted. But there is a time line, so here it is. (I can’t make the time line shorter, because, legal.)
My hero has just seventeen weeks to convince his wife to talk to him, and possibly forgive him or their new divorce will be finalized (since they just found out they’re not divorced after all), all while making sure his new teammate doesn’t commit the same infidelity that led to the breakup of the hero’s marriage ten years ago.

Hi Anne! This sounds fantastic, and if this idea is as well supported by internal conflict as it sounds, it has all the ingredients for a great read. Only thought is that infidelity can risk being unsympathetic, so if you’re going to include it, make sure it’s well motivated and redeemable. But good work!

Cassie has just one week to find the money her late husband embezzled from his employer so she can pay her baby’s ransom or she will lose him forever.

Hi Maurine! What an idea – a brilliant way to heighten the emotion that readers look for with external events. What’s your hero’s role here?

From one of my WIPs, Cahoots In Caliente:

An accident prone hero has one short week to get a stubborn old pilot to sell him his desert airport or the hero loses his inheritance for not starting a successful business like his siblings. Run-ins with a sexy nurse who values family over money disrupts his purchase plans. The airport owner is her grandfather who doesn’t want to sell. Now, it’s obtain his goal and lose the girl, or take the girl and give up millions.

Hi Chrissie! Fabulous story, I love the desert setting. But you can definitely deepen the situation and conflict by adding an emotional layer – if it’s just money or love, the choice to a romance reader is obvious! Does he have additional conflict in a feeling of inadequacy, fear of failure, or difficult emotional situation, that makes his situation even more emotionally compelling?

Grace – The hero has two brothers who are in this competition with him: a professional rodeo champion and Vegas showman/entertainer, both with much larger egos and more self-esteem. The hero’s main flaw is when he gets nervous he becomes accident prone. He works hard to overcome his brothers’ famous shadows and his own inadequacies in the family unit. Heroine helps him relax and learn what’s most important in life, but they have a wild ride getting there. Both brothers have their own stories too in this family trilogy. Thanks for your input. I will work on all these things. 🙂

Former lovers Daphne and Ben have just one day to find the bomb his terrorist twin brother planted in St. Louis before it explodes, taking the city with it. Can they find the strength to work together again?

Hi Melanie! Oooh, exciting! My only suggestion is to plan this carefully, as it has a very tight timeline, so that the right emotional conversations moving them from their past to their HEA are woven in perfectly, along with the action. This could be incredibly emotional!

Another one that popped into my head that I really want to run with:
Asher and Summer have one day to escape from the underground compound they’ve just woken up in before their captors release the biological weapon they didn’t realize they’ve been working on.

Hello again, Melanie! Another great pitch, thank you! Only thought here is that there might be quite a bit of context to get across, between compounds and biological weapons. External events will up the stakes to thrilling heights, but just be careful the explanation doesn’t take over from the romance.

Jack has just one week to convince Kath that sleeping with her on his wedding night wasn’t a colossal mistake, or when she packs her bags to return to Canada to defend her dissertation, chances are she’ll not come back to England or to him.

Hi Kate,
Sounds like he has his work cut out for him with just one week to go, and the stakes are high if she’s leaving the country. Nicely done!

You’re right, Jack has dug himself a huge hole. I think, once I plan this out and put in my pivotal story points, even someone as charming as Jack might need more than a week to pull off a happy ending. Thanks for your feedback Katie.

Erin stares at the video of a romance that went terribly wrong. Surely she did not just witness a murder and her boyfriend is the killer? Something isn’t quite right as her detective instincts kicked in. Erin knew her boyfriend couldn’t have done it. He faints at the slightest drop of blood and Erin should know. She’s pricked her finger many times with Daryl around, often times on purpose, just to see him faint so she knew he couldn’t have murdered someone and he was certainly no cheater. There has to be a better explanation then this. Erin talks to Daryl.
That’s not me. Daryl said. Baby, you know I can’t stand the sight of blood and I never cheated on you. I love you. Erin wanted so much to believe him but the evidence was perfectly clear. Still, something kept nagging at her very core. Take another look at the video. Daryl continued to deny he’d committed such a heinous act as she and the other officers watched. When Daryl turned around with his back to the camera she noticed a 3D fanged skeleton tattoo on his back.
That’s not Daryl! She exclaimed, he doesn’t have a tattoo! That’s his twin brother! Release him now!
You know how this works. Detective Starnes said to her. If you can prove your boyfriend’s innocence, I will let him go.
You have one hour to bring me Davis and I’ll set Daryl free. It occurred to Erin that she never said Daryl’s twin brother’s name. So how did Starnes know his brother? She’s been given an hour to find out and if she doesn’t come through, her boyfriend’s life rests on her shoulders but finding his brother in an hour seems too daunting a task but she must for both their sanity.

Lakisha, you’ve definitely created a high stakes, life-and-death situation here. Your heroine is really under the gun the track down her suspect and save her boyfriend!

I think I might add: Jack has to find a way to save Jane’s Eats & Treats, but more importantly, he has to get Jane to trust him so they can build a life together.

Great job, Yvonne! I like that you’ve given your heroine a month to sort this out–gives it a looming deadline but we still have time to see a full story unfold in that time. Sounds like a great read!

Last-minute substitute director Leo Roman has just one week to put together the live broadcast of NBC’s holiday musical and maybe, just maybe, win back the heart of producer Samantha Oliver or his career goes down in flames forever — again.

Jane, this sounds like a great story! Sounds like a fun read to curl up with at Christmas–and you’ve given your hero high stakes and a tight deadline. I’m curious as to whether the heroine has something to lose in this situation, as well?

Thanks, Katie! Good question. She also has career stuff at stake, though not as much as Leo. Feared heading into melodrama if she might lose her job.

or from the heroine’s pov I could write
In the space of three weeks Clarissa must convince her fiancé that he is safe in her arms or lose everything.

Really interesting premise, Margaret! I’m intrigued by this serial killer–does he avoid going after couples and that’s why they’re safer if they pair off and get engaged? 🙂

Thanks Katie for your comments. 🙂 I’m trying to put together a synopsis and these exercises are helping me to focus on the main hooks/themes of my story.

Jordan Swift has just one month to find a fiancée, or he’ll lose the chance of a lifetime business deal. This can’t be a quick engagement, they’ll have to play it out for at least a year.
Brie Knight has two weeks to close a business deal that will make her family’s new company successful in its own right, but she can’t make headway with the selection committee, her only chance now is to agree to be Jordan’s fiancée. 

This has great potential for an entertaining forced proximity situation. I like the way you’ve build in an emotional layer to Brie’s motivation – nice! Your challenge is with your hero’s motivation – how to make him sympathetic when he’s pressuring the heroine to join him in a deception in order to win a business deal? Something to think about. Thanks for taking on our challenge. 🙂

The heroine has one month to raise a huge sum of money to save a beloved village church or it will be sold to a property developer who will convert it into condos that will destroy the beauty of the village and leave them without place of worship and community.

The spiritual element here could be great for Love Inspired. Interested to know how the hero figures into this!

Lauren has three days to find what the fentanyl/heroin runners think she’s taken from the ditched truck she discovered in her creek – a truck belonging to DEA agent Mason’s now dead informant – or the drug cartel will kill her son. Only Lauren doesn’t know what she’s looking for. And Mason doesn’t know it’s his own son’s life he’s striving to save.

Bronc buster, Justus Lester and Veterinarian, Victoria Anderson, have a very limited time frame to figure out why the rodeo horses are being drugged, who’s behind it, and take the info to the police before the ones behind it silence them for good. In fact, they may not have enough time, what with their pursuers closing in and fast. But can Victoria push fast her fear of cowboys and Justus conquer his of failure so they can rely on God and each other to survive each danger filled hour? Or will the next hour be their last?

Nice job on building high-stakes into a rodeo setting! Don’t hesitate to throw your characters into the fire by giving them a hard deadline, rather than “a very limited time.” Your readers will feel the sense of urgency even more. 🙂

Thanks so much, Deirdre!
I’ll see to adding a specific deadline, how about 72hrs?
Thanks for the feedback!

Ramona is young and gorgeous, but a year of cancer treatment has taken a toll. Her prognosis is open when Joe asks her to go with him to a wedding. It’s not just his looks that get her; Joe is a detective with the Port Authority, and he doesn’t wait for others to step in. Right now, the sighs people bring feel false and wearing something pretty is what she wants, even if it is only for an afternoon.
Ramona decides on a vintage necklace she has seen advertised for sale online in a pawn shop. The shop is dubious and the red stones may be paste, but the color will bring Joe’s eyes back to her. Is it coincidence that Ramona overhears someone talking about international shipments of stolen goods and wakes up locked in a room when she follows the ad or has her relationship with Joe been noticed?
Joe has seven days to find Ramona and get her back into medical care or she could die. Joe can’t stand that his invitation made her act rashly, but he might be underestimating the fight in the girl and how much he will fight to keep her as part of his life.

There’s great potential here for a high-stakes romantic suspense. My tip would be, focus on the essential conflict when you’re pitching your story. A missing heroine with a terminal illness, international thieves and a detective in love with the heroine – you don’t need to communicate much more than that!

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