No More “Cup of Coffee” Conflict

So I swapped out my old idea for the shiny new one and it really wasn’t difficult. I did a tiny bit of research, wrote for awhile in longhand and then finished up on the computer. Now all I need to do is read through the rest of the manuscript and delete the old references and insert the new which will heighten the conflict and make for a terrific black moment. I am psyched! The idea has been brewing for awhile and I knew it was good but I didn’t realize how easy it would be to get it into the story. So I’m also relieved.

I’ve gotten some criticism from editors on earlier projects about having “cup of coffee” conflicts. This is when “if the hero and heroine can sit down and solve the problem over a cup of coffee” it’s not great conflict. I have two feelings about this “cup of coffee” issue.

Yes, it does bug me when characters don’t tell each other the truth, what’s on their mind, and to sit down and talk frankly would be easier and more real. Let’s say he saw her kissing another guy and gets mad, but the guy is her brother and the kiss was innocent. That’s a “cup of coffee” conflict. “Hey, I know you saw me kissing him, but you got the wrong idea.” Easy.

But in my story, these are people in love who have yet to declare their feelings. They are not ready to divulge their deepest secrets and longings. They have baggage. They are no way going to sit down over coffee and say “Now look. I love you. I think you love me. Let’s stop all this angsting and get married.”

Not being the first to admit love is a real issue with couples early in their romance. OTOH, novels are not life, and taking a while before saying “I love you” is not a big enough thing to create a black moment. Or even build much tension, really. Not by itself. There has to be more at stake than “boy when is he ever gonna say he loves me?”

So I added something that would put physical distance between them. And while that was good, it wasn’t spectacular. It’s sort of my default thing, geography. But I was able to add more to it so that it really resonated with both characters internally. So now it works with external and internal conflict. It works on all levels.  

And there is no way given these two people and their backstories that they could possibly sit down and solve this thing over coffee. It’s just way to complex for that. Finally!

You know I realized something today. Writing is not the hard part. Plotting, finding good ideas that fit characters and provide conflict, that’s the hard part. At least for me.


  1. As much as I love coffee, I can see how a conflict this easily resolved wouldn’t provide much drama to the story. I am learning so much from watching your process unfold.


  2. I wonder if you shouldn’t go for the jugular to avoid coffee conflict… because I always think of the tales in which there are a billion reasons why two people shouldn’t be together (he killed your brother, perhaps*) and only one that they should be together (they like each other). And I think that’s true, to some extent, of real relationships too. You know, if you were an accountant and made a pro-con list on paper you wouldn’t enter a relationship because there are bound to be things that annoy you about them and vice-versa. They might be little things or they might be huge things.

    Oh and if you ever want to see some great (and often, frankly, quite amusing) examples of reasons people shouldn’t be together tune into any television soap opera. The reasons can be absolutely anything:
    * the person of your affections is your best friend’s ex;
    * you (or them) are pregnant with someone else’s baby;
    * they’re on the run for a string of crimes;
    * your family and their family are rivals;
    * you (or them) are cursed or have some sort of paranormal secret;
    * you made a mistake that you know annoys the person of your affection so you misrepresent yourself, knowing all the while at some point you’ll have to come clean;
    * you’re sick – possibly dying – and don’t want anybody to know, and suspect it’s unfair to start a relationship;
    * you suffer from inexplicable memory loss and are more preoccupied with knowing yourself;
    * you have a sinister interest in the other party but despite your original intentions ‘fall’ for them;
    * you’re from different social classes, cities, countries, planets, species (a girl having to choose between a vampire or a werewolf as her beau, anyone?);

    And actually if we’re being completely honest a lot of these things probably could be overcome with some heartfelt discussion (with or without coffee) but the point is that they aren’t aren’t. Perhaps they’re too shameful to discuss, perhaps they seem too silly to discuss. (I think of how Julia Cameron talks about ‘small’ things that keep a person blocked. They’re too small or silly to mention so you don’t mention them and they fester somewhere in the back of your mind. And, of course, they inform your actions.)

    * Disclaimer: I watched West Side Story recently.


  3. They must have great soaps in your country, John;-) I actually was addicted to Coronation Street for years (Canada is across the river from us here in Detroit, so we get CBC). And I had to laugh at the West Side Story nod. I am with you, sometimes in real life people don’t say what they’re thinking, usually out of pride. Well, in my case anyway!


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