Let’s face it: in a romance novel, we know how the story’s going to end. If our hero and heroine do not fall in love by the last page, we might just get frustrated enough to toss the book across the room! It’s the “how” of the story that makes each one interesting and unique. There has to be some sort of obstacle (and in the best stories, it’s a significant obstacle) that keeps you turning pages and sincerely wondering how the two will ever get together.
Bethany House has two books releasing this February that do a great job with creating tension between the hero and heroine right away.
In Amish Sweethearts by Leslie Gould, the couple can’t be together because Lila is Amish and Zane is not…and to make matters worse, he enlists in the Army. Though they were childhood friends, the conflict between them is highly realistic, because they have cultural barriers and strong clashes of values to work through.
Meanwhile, in the first few pages of Dani Pettrey’s Cold Shot, you learn that Griffin and Finley feel a strong attraction to each other, but are prevented from expressing their feelings by both internal and external opposition. Since the story is romantic suspense, that means that they end up exchanging witty insults…while someone is trying to kill them, which makes for all kinds of tension.
These two novels have totally different conflicts, and I’m sure you can think of dozens more—hidden secrets, class differences, family or professional rivalries, or unresolved guilt to name a few—that would prevent the couple from getting together until (of course!) the happy ending. The stronger and more believable the tension, the later readers will stay up to find out what happens next.
Take a look at these excerpts from both novels to see tension in action, even early on in a novel. (And if you want to read more, click on the covers for an excerpt!)
Amish Sweethearts by Leslie Gould
The warmth of the soil radiated up from the ground. She gazed toward the sun, shielding her eyes with her hand and began to quote Wordsworth.
“What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight. . . .”
A rustling stopped her. Probably her younger brother, Simon, sneaking up on her again. Or maybe her twin, Daniel. Mortiﬁed, she stumbled to her feet, brushed her hands against her apron, and straightened her Kapp. No one was in front of her. She spun around.
Zane stood at the gate, his honey-blond hair pushed back on his forehead. He wore jeans and a white T-shirt, the sleeves tight against his biceps. Lila kept her expression blank, trying not to let on how much she’d missed him. Or how her heart raced.
He grinned and started quoting the poem from where she’d stopped.
“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the ﬂower. . . .”
The words hung between them, in the stillness of the warm spring day. The breeze stirred up the earthy scent of the soil. A honeybee buzzed among the squash blossoms.
For a moment Lila considered leaving the garden, taking Zane’s hand, and leading him to their childhood fort. Beside the creek, in the shade of the poplar trees, they could step back in time. She could almost feel the mud between her toes.
She exhaled. Meeting together at the fort was no longer a possibility. Everything had changed in the last year.
Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey
Her phone vibrated again in her palm, and she looked back to it. Clicking on the voice message, she held it to her ear, attempting to ignore the oﬀended looks of the other concert patrons.
“Ms. Scott,” Ranger McCray began with that tone—his nerve-pricking emphasis on Ms., which burrowed under her skin. How many times had she asked him to call her Finley?
“This is Chief Ranger McCray from Gettysburg National Military Park.”
Like she didn’t know who the infernal man was. If she’d had any idea the planned three-month dig would run so far past estimated completion, that she’d be forced to endure his brooding and incessant lectures about disturbing hallowed ground over and over, she never would have applied for the grant in the ﬁrst place. It seemed a safe enough job. Controlled. Helpful. Just how she needed to spend her summer. But she hadn’t foreseen Ranger McCray or the feelings he stirred—both the good and the bad.
“We’ve got a . . . situation. Could use your expertise. Come as soon as you get this.”
What possible situation could he have with an archaeological dig at a Civil War battleﬁeld at nine o’clock on a Saturday night?
He, of all people, would manage to ﬁnd one.
What’s an obstacle/conflict in a book you recently read that you found compelling?