Monday, January 11, 2010


Over the weekend (which was fabulous, by the way), I was chatting with one of my guy friends and we were talking about pets. The gal he is dating just got a dog and it's annoying him to no end. He doesn't want a pet. He doesn't have the time nor the inclination to take care of one. She, of course, is adament about having the dog.

I'm thinking this may be the dealbreaker in their relationship.

Now I tend to side with the girlfriend on this one because I am a huge dog lover. When I lost my beloved dog Charlie in July of '08, I plunged into a very deep grief. That dog loved me unconditionally. Having to let him go was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I finally feel like I'm ready to have a dog again, but it's not the right time. When my daughter and I eventually find a nice house to buy (a book deal would sure move that process along!), we intend to get a dog. She wants a white German Shepherd. I'm going for a Golden Retriever. Maybe we'll get both!

Anyway, as I told this to my friend, and said that there would be no question in my mind that we'd get a dog, he laughed and said, "It's a good thing we're friends. We could never date."

That was a dealbreaker for him.

Now we could get into the whole compromise thing, which I am a firm believer in and which I hope my friend and his girlfriend will do. But for this post, I want to talk about how you can use dealbreakers that you come across in real life in your fiction.

Dealbreakers in relationships offer a fascinating technique to use as conflict for your novel. It's the old adage of "two dogs, one bone." Each person wants something, but neither can have it exactly the way they want it.

To build on the example above, a dog lover and someone who dislikes dogs might fall in love and have everything else in common except for that one thing. How do they work around it? Is there any working around it for them, or does this particular couple have to go their separate ways because they'll never be able to reconcile this difference?

Here is where it's interesting to dig into your characters' pasts. Let's say the dog disliker had a dog bite him when he was little and he's distrusted them ever since. This might very well be something the couple could work through - undoubtedly through the very tender affections of a loving dog and a loving woman. On the other hand, this same character could be a fastiduous dresser and can't tolerate dog hair on his clothes. This might be a dealbreaker that isn't open to compromise.

Let's look at another dealbreaker - religion. I've come to discover that I cannot date someone who doesn't share my faith. This is a dealbreaker for me and it's really not open to compromise. Is that harsh? Maybe. But having gone through a marriage with someone who didn't share my faith, I know from first-hand experience what an incredibly hard struggle it is. I was open to compromise on this issue before - but not now. Can I use this for a future story? You bet. Which brings me to my next point.

Another bonus to using "dealbreakers" from real life in your fiction is the authenticity you can give your story. I could write a novel using characters who have conflicting faiths and have a greater understanding of how they wrestle with the situation. It also gives me the opportunity to examine the situation from both sides and perhaps give myself greater insight into the problem itself.

If you're searching for conflict for your characters, make a list of dealbreakers that you might have for any potential relationship. Mine would look something like this:

  • Must love dogs AND cats
  • Must share my faith
  • Must be financially responsible
  • Must like to read

Now, for fun, write down the opposite of what is on your list and be creative. Look at how it changes and just imagine what kind of character would have these requirements!

  • Must hate dogs and cats
  • Must be an atheist
  • Must leave all finances to me
  • Must never lose themselves in the fantastical world of books - reality is where it's at

Now I don't know about you, but that's one person I really don't think I want to be friends with, nevermind a relationship!

Dealbreakers can be a great way to introduce conflict to your story, and the resulting compromise or lack thereof can make for some incredible writing. Your story may take a turn you never expected - and that's the most fun of all. :-)


  1. Great points. I think, as writers, we're always searching for new areas of conflict.

  2. Just want to say that I grew up with a white German Shepherd and she was the best dog EVER!!!

  3. Great thoughts on character development, definitely! Conflict is such a useful tool for driving the story, and what's more fascinating than this kind of personal conflict. Fun to write, fun to read!

  4. Robin, my daughter has one reason and one reason only to want a white German Shepherd - BOLT!

  5. Ahh ... but love is often blind and lust even more so so at times most of us have gone off list.

  6. I never thought about dealbreakers as a source of conflict in fiction. What a smart idea! Thanks, Melissa!

    p.s. I have a golden and he's done WONDERS for my kids!

  7. This was a very helpful post to me especially since I am setting up conflict with my characters now. I have never thought of it in just this way. Thanks!

  8. Those are great suggestions! I need more conflict in my WIP. Thank you! (I'm glad in real life my hubby agrees with me on all points. Mostly ;)

  9. I love this thoughtful post, Melissa! As a reader, I want characters to have depth--and conflict within relationships, due to past choices and current desires perhaps, makes the story so much more interesting.

    I used to think I'd marry a guy who loved going to both sports and theatrical events with me. And he'd also love to sing. Uh, negative on all three! And yet, none were dealbreakers. : )

  10. Great post Melissa, sorry I'm a little behind in responding. My Google reader is acting up!

    I love that you brought this interesting topic to light. Differences are both interesting and tragically entertaining. Sol Stein, in his book Stein On Writing calls it THE CRUCIBLE technique.

  11. Great post.

    I think life throws us many deal breakers as we go through it, and I'm definately less likely to compromise about certain things, ie having pets, now that I'm older.

  12. Awesome post! What a great way of looking at things. And I'm with you - must love dogs. When I lost Cooper I had every intention of having another dog when the time is right and that was one of the first things I said to John when we started dating. Thankfully he was all for it and we pick up the new pup this Thursday!

  13. Excellent idea! Thanks for sharing. I'll be visiting your site often!


  14. Terrific! Turning our characters' musts into must nots is a great idea!


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