Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Conflict May 5, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 5:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This started off being a response to this comment from Melissa on a different post, but it got so big I decided to give it a post of it’s own!

Melissa said – I now know my external conflict was driving the story. NOt good. Now I’m focusing on making the internal conflicts huge. Feeling better about it.

This is such a major issue for me, and for so many of us.  I’m not sure if it’s just a romance thing, or if all fiction writers have it. I guess they must, because when I think about the books I have enjoyed the most, whatever the genre, they are only really satisfying to me as a reader when the characters have taken an internal journey that parallels their external one.

It’s getting that balance between internal conflict  and external conflict right that’s the tricky thing for me to deal with. It just seems so much easier to come up with plots driven by external conflict. But my story won’t have the same emotional intensity or level of reader involvement as one fuelled by believable internal conflict.

 There are some articles about this here , and here .

I’m still concerned the balance of conflict may be an issue in my WIP, Nick and Kate’s story, as though the heroine is at a crisis point as the story starts (hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with her boss for years so decides to leave her job to give herself a chance to get over him), it’s an external conflict that really acts as the catalyst to get them together (they get kidnapped in a dangerous and volatile country, while on their last business trip together). So far so good, but from there on the conflict is all on her side- he sees a different, desirable side of her while they are locked up together as she lets down the Miss Efficiency ice maiden mask she had hidden herself behind, and he wants to get to know her better outside of work when they get back to England; she is so used to having all her defences up around him and keeping her feelings hidden she doesn’t know how to deal with this. She’s gotten so used to seeing him as a hopelessly remote dream man who would never fall for a woman like her that she has no idea how to respond to him actually being interested, and she can’t believe that he is really and truly wanting her, ordinary Kate Gallagher, when she knows he’s been dating supermodels in the past.  She’s had years of practice in keeping her feelings under lock and key. Meanwhile, he is so used to women falling at his feet he has never had to work to woo someone before, so he doesn’t know how to respond to the prickly, defensive but oh so desirable woman he finds behind the mask. The other complicating factor is that they were forced to get married – the strict religious laws of the country they were in mean that even though they were kidnapped and forced to be alone overnight together, they must marry, or she will be punished and he will forfeit any chance to do business in this country again. I have such a clear image of this strange wedding ceremony, almost dream-like for Kate, I think I am remembering the Greek Orthodox wedding in a very different story, Jane Aiken Hodge’s Greek Wedding . I just splashed out and bought a 1p copy on Amazon to read it again- I haven’t read this book for about 15 years!

 I think my plot is okay as far as it goes, not sensational, but okay. I am stuck wondering what her “black moment” can be, that moment when just as we thought it was all coming right, it looks like its going to completely and irretrievably fall apart? I feel strongly it should be something coming from the internal conflict, that somehow her self-doubt is going to sabotage everything when it looks like they are finally getting together at last. I have no idea how to do that in this story, and done badly it can be all too prone to the sappy “I’ve seen him with another woman- he doesn’t really love me so I’ll run away- no it’s all okay she was my cousin/ cousin’s wife/ sister/ new PA/ suitable female of your choice, of course I love you” syndrome. All I have come up with is something stemming from the external conflict- he has been getting death threat letters which he hasn’t told her about, and he actually has an assassination attempt made on him in London, which she sees on the television. This shocks her into rushing back to him. Maybe this happens just after she has told him she doesn’t want to see him again. This is her self-doubt crisis, I guess- she’s not telling him to go because she doesn’t love him, only because she can’t believe he loves her- but why? Ooh, just had a bit of an aha moment there while typing that sentence. What if she thinks he is only wooing her because if they divorce, he won’t be able to keep doing business with the other country, which he not only has invested a huge amount of money in, but is his ancestral home, his grandparents having emigrated from there to escape the Soviet invasion back in ther 1950’s? So she has good reason to believe he doesn’t really love her, besides her own insecurity. I quite like that, because I was wondering about her being so insecure she keeps him at bay for the whole book (maybe succumbing once or twice!), seeming  a bit pathetic or downright stupid. Of course, she does have good reason for her insecurity and defensiveness, she has had some cruel comments and bad experiences when she was younger, including sexual harrassment in her last job; plus she has put him on a pedestal for so long its a big mental shift to make. But she needed more reason, and that could just be it.

Yee haa, another fun idea to play with! I may write a rough synospis with what I have so far and see if it looks like it might work. I don’t know. Comments welcomed!

Thanks Melissa for getting me thinking in that direction!


2 Responses to “Conflict”

  1. Madeline Smyth Says:

    Good morning,

    I jumped over from the e-Harlequin site.

    Although I’m published, I’m not a published author of romance. But I thought I would leave a few words of encouragement, for whatever they’re worth.

    Start with the internal conflict (what will force the H & H apart)and then, come up with the external conflict (what will force them together).

    Don’t limit yourself to being either a panster or a plotster, but perhaps try being a bit of both. In other words, don’t set off without a definite idea of a destination, but be adventurous enough to stop off here and there along the way.

    Writing is like anything in life– you get better at it as you do it. With each ms, characters become more interesting, backstory falls away more easily, internal conflict intensifies, external conflict serves only to drive internal conflict, setting becomes less a travelogue, and pace quickens.

    Last, but not least, and perhaps most important of all, never doubt yourself. It can destroy your natural inclinations; it can destroy your voice; it can destroy your enthusiasm; it can destroy your soul.

    So, I suppose this is what I’m really trying to say: Write, write, write … submit, submit, submit!

    Good luck,

    Madeline Smyth

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Hi Madeline, thanks for stopping by!

    I think I’m definitely a mix of pantser and plotter- I’m just having fun trying different options to see what works for me. That may well be something different for each story!

    It can be quite a challenge deciding if the mix of conflict will work, without actually wriitng the story and finding out! I hope that discernment at the planning stage will come with time to save too many false starts. In the meantime, I’m reading published stories to see what conflicts work there and how different types of conflict affect the emotional intensity.

    I am keeping on writing! I see this stage as my apprenticeship, learning the craft of writing. I too have had non-fiction published, and spent all today working on a technical handbook for my “day job”. Fiction wriitng is so different!

    Good luck with your own fiction wriitng!

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