Clarifying Motivation

The biggest suggestion I got from one agent was that my hero/heroine’s motivation was murky. She asked some specific questions to show what plot points and actions she had trouble deciphering. She said clearing up the motivation would smooth out the confusion and deepen the conflict between them.

Great advice, right? I thought so, too. There was only one problem. I had no idea how to make my characters’ motives any clearer to readers without using internal monologue. And I’d read that internal monologue is a no-no in Harlequin novellas.

So I did a little research into how to show motivation. I found out some surprising things, the most amazing of all right on Harlequin’s own website, which boldly states that internal conflict is the most important conflict in a story.

What? Wow. For me, as a reader, that absolutely rang true. But I didn’t think that was true for Harlequin romances. I had made the assumption that if they didn’t like internal monologues that must mean internal confict was less important than external circumstances. Nope. Wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.

Okay so how to work in the internal conflict if a character can’t think about what’s bothering them? This was especially tricky because I also read and intuitively agreed with the idea that most internal conflict comes from what has happened before the story starts. It’s in the past. It’s backstory–another huge no-no for contemporary romance.

What I figured out is that internal thought and internal monologue are two different things. One is long and takes place in a static situation. The other is short and inserted into an active scene.

Once I had that worked out, I went back through my first few chapters and added a line here and there, just where needed to clarify character motivation.

Posted In,


  1. I usually like revision, but when I’m doing it under the these circumstances, I can’t shake the unease. The stakes feel so high. I recently had a few agents tell me my pages were missing something, and now I have to figure out how to put that in and hope the next pair of eyes (an editor! at Harlequin!) will actually like what they read enough to request a full.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.