Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

January 27, 2012

Musings, OSNB

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I’m afflicted — cursed, if you will — with being that most heinous of attributes: Nice.

Too nice.

Some people — normal people — might think nice is a good thing. And that is, indeed, the case when you’re dealing with fellow human beings. A little kindness can go a long, long way.

But when you’re an author trying to make life difficult for your hero and heroine, a nice streak as wide as the mighty Mississippi just gets in the way.

Trust me, I know. That’s my CP’s main complaint with the MS she’s reading for me right now — and it was the main point of one of the agents who gave me detailed feedback on my 2011 Golden Heart finalist.

Obviously, it’s a problem for me.

I think it boils down to this: My characters are like old friends (some of them very old, having been knocking around my head since the mid-1990s). As I wrote in a guest post on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood last spring, they’re folks I’d enjoy meeting for coffee or dinner.

And because I like these people, the last thing I want is to see them suffer.

But suffer they must. In the words of my CP, I need to  “Make them wiggle. Make them squirm. Make them unhappy. Uncomfortable. Put roadblocks in their way. Conflict is what drives a book and keeps the reader wondering how they will ever end up together.”

I can see her point. There’s not much keeping someone reading if they know the hero and heroine are meant for each other halfway through the story, is there?

That means I have to accept that torturing my characters — as much as I hate to do it — will make the story stronger in the end.

So I’m taking off the gloves. Now I just need to figure out how to channel the meanest person I know.

My writing output seems to drop in direct correlation to any increase in blog reading. That’s a problem, I know — but if I don’t take the time to read a few blogs, how can I expect anyone to read mine?

Besides, if I stopped reading, I’d miss out on gems like this one from Janice Hardy’s blog, The Other Side of the Story. She writes:

Choices that don’t cause trouble are wasted opportunity. The whole point of a book is to show someone overcoming adversity to win. If there’s nothing to overcome, there’s no point in the winning.”

What a way to put it!

It’s no secret that I struggle with conflict. (I blame it on being a Libra. Libras strive for fairness and avoid conflict.) Judges’ comments I got on my first completed MS — even after several new drafts — consistently said “not enough conflict to sustain the story.”

What? You mean a girl falling for one guy when she’s trying to “snag” another one altogether isn’t conflict?

Not according to Hardy. She writes, “A choice between two good things with no consequences for making that choice is probably not going to hold your reader’s interest.”

Well, I already knew Brad and Erin’s story needed help. I tried to remedy it in subsequent drafts by casting suspicion on him … I even hacked out their original “black moment” (such as it was. The “Battle of the Birth Control” was pretty silly when I look back at it with a more experienced eye.)

The key for me is to remember that my hero and heroine have to make choices. And those choices have to mean something. The potential for disaster should loom around every corner.

I think that is the case in my more recent stories. Bethany’s decision to talk Cody into applying for the TV show lands them in a heap of trouble. When Kenny asks Kristi to pretend to be his fiancee, things get out of hand quickly.

Hmm. All my blog reading must be teaching me something about the craft.

May 22, 2010

Stories

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A new heroine and hero have been talking to me lately, and I think their story has to be told.

They’re Bethany and Cody, the best friends of my hero/heroine in “Blind Date Bride” … the ones who enter poor Kari and Damien into the contest they think will ruin their lives. As secondary characters, they’re dating throughout “Blind Date Bride.”

I don’t know a whole lot about them yet. Laid-back, surfer-type Cody works with at-risk teens and is a recreational pilot. Bethany is a flighty, artistic wild-child that Kari has been trying to get to settle down for years. (I think the fact that she’s had more sex partners than he has will be a sore point between them.)

In preparation to start their story, I’m reviewing the element of storytelling that always gives me fits: Conflict.

In my defense, I’m a Libra. We Libras like balance in all things … the struggles throw me. Of course, we can’t have our characters happily bopping from date to date for 300 pages. Even I would get bored with that! 😉

Since I struggle with conflict, I read a lot about it. One tip I read while taking my online synopsis-writing class back in March really helped me put it in perspective:

It’s only conflict if it creates an internal or external war for your character. … Without the push/pull it’s just a situation. Maybe an uncomfortable situation — a situation the character would like to change — but still just situation.

— Sherry Lewis, “The Selling Synopsis,” Lesson 3: Layering Conflicts

When I read that, I realized that I’m the queen of putting my characters in uncomfortable situations (Bree running into Mike at the strip club — while he’s onstage … Dustin sneezing on Cassie on the dance floor …) But these things don’t really create an internal war for anyone.

Well, maybe Bree, the virgin, is a little put off by it. But does it set off a war? Probably not.

Other definitions of conflict, from Debra Dixon’s “GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict:”

  1. Conflict is a struggle against someone or something in which the outcome is in doubt.
  2. Conflict is bad things happening to good people.
  3. Conflict is bad things happening to bad people.
  4. Conflict is friction, tension, opposition.

I guess some of the things I’ve come up with could be “bad things happening to good people.”

Anyway, I’m going to try to come up with some strong conflicts for Bethany and Cody before I even start writing. Usually, I tend to be more of a “pantster,” but maybe I’ll write faster if I plot a little beforehand.

My time away from the day job, fortunately, has not meant a vacation from writing.

I must say I haven’t gotten as much accomplished as I’d hoped: A couple thousand words written in editing mode and three rejections received from agents.

Still, at least I’ve been getting something done. That’s no small feat when I can’t seem to settle to any single project. Not one of my stories is demanding my full attention.

I’ve been doing some reading, too. As I’ve mentioned before, it seems that when I’m reading more, I’m writing less. I read Jennifer Crusie’s “Faking It” and now I’m zipping through Vicki Lewis Thompson’s “Chick with a Charm.” (It’s the sister story for the one I read last month, “Blonde with a Wand.”) The hero and heroine are great. Can’t wait to see their happy ending.

In fact, I’m about to take myself to breakfast, where I intend to finish the book. Then I’ll camp out at Starbucks for a few hours and hopefully get some more writing done.

I’m trying to go back in and add a more substantial conflict to the second Willow’s Grove story. My hero and heroine, Cassie and Dustin, meet at Brad and Erin’s wedding and dislike each other immediately. Then they find out they’re working together (he’s an FBI agent assigned to a kidnapping case and she’s the police reporter covering the story).  I have the witty banter down cold, but they don’t have any deep-seated reason for their squabbles — yet.

I hope to rectify that situation soon. Her roller coaster moods remind him of his bipolar mother and she doesn’t want to get involved with someone who’s only in town for a short time. It should help me expand the story to the required length. Right now it’s at about 49,000 words, which means adding at least 6,000.