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!

Internal conflict- arrgghh! August 2, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:01 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I think the main thing for me is getting the internal conflicts to really be an integral part of who this person is- they can’t stay in a relationship with the other person unless they grow and change emotionally, but they won’t be the same person able to keep living their life the same way if they DO deal with whatever that internal issue is. So it’s a big deal, because their whole belief system about themselves and love and relationships has to change.

I also want to make the internal and external conflicts relate to each other. I was thinking “Yay, I’ve done that!” with the next story that I’m planning for the new HMB comp, but I’m wondering if it’s too tied up with their current relationships with their families of origin.  I seem to remember Jackie Ashenden being told the editors didn’t want that, that past issues were okay but current issues are a no-no. I wonder if that’s because often current issues mean family members might be too much in the story as characters themselves, taking some of the focus off the hero and heroine? So would it be okay if the conflict is current, but the relevant family members are kept out of scene as much as possible? Easy for him, because he’s an American in London, so his family are off scene anyway; harder for her, because her father plays a significant role. 

Anyway- here’s what I have for the next story. It’s very messy as I’m thinking this out as I go!

A key issue for this story (working title The Heiress and the Hotshot – wonder where I picked up that hotshot from?!) is that the heroine’s internal goal is to win her father’s approval as she’s always felt second best and unworthy of love and has worked very hard to prove herself to him by always being a good girl and doing what he wants. Then she meets the hero and they have have a weekend fling.

That sounds uncharacteristic but it does ties into her need to please and be seen to be doing the right thing, in a funny way- they get stuck in a lift together, which means she will be late getting to the friend’s wedding her date has just let her down for, he offers to drive her out to the country village where the wedding is being held, she asks him to help her out by posing as her date, they end up spending the weekend together. What she doesn’t realise is that he is her father’s business rival, so maintaining a relationship means giving up all chance of gaining her father’s love (not that there’s a “relationship”, as such, they agree up front it’s just going to be a fling). Her emotional growth is gaining her own internal sense of self-worth, which frees her from the need for Daddy’s approval. The first stage in this is dealing with her belief once she finds out who he really is, that the hero knew who she was all along and was only using her to get the upper hand in his business dealings. She went into their fling knowing it was only a short term thing, but she doesn’t like feeling used, it spoils the whole thing and makes it sordid and dirty instead of something special. He genuinely didn’t know who she was, and coming to believe that and that he had the fling with her just because he was attracted to her, and hey, it was great for him too, is the first step in her developing self-belief.

The hero’s issue is the opposite, he also grew up in a family with crippling high expectations, so extreme that his brother committed suicide as a way out. He dealt with it by running away and becoming a maverick free spirit who doesn’t value commitment or family at all, doesn’t even believe in love, seeing it as a tool used to manipulate people. So his journey to being able to love is even tougher, he needs to believe in love again and see being in a family as a good and desirable thing. I haven’t thought out his stages of emotional growth yet, but it needs to be escalating challenges to his beliefs too, like Nell’s.

What really makes the proverbial sh*t hit the fan for Nell isn’t so much finding out who Mace is, as later on when she finds out she’s pregnant. I think that will be a massive biggie for Mace too, but there needs to be more to it than that.

I dunno, does that sound like it would work, or is it all too tied in with family stuff?

Edited two hours later to add-

Oh my gosh, this is getting more complicated! Hanging out my washing not thinking about the story at all and the idea popped up that Mace also thinks that Nell must have know who he was along along and cooked up the whole broken down lift thing to help her father get  a hold over him in the business negotaitions (they are in her father’s flagship hotel at the time- he’s checked in under a fake ID to check it out from the inside before making an offer on it, and she lets him believe she just works there) and he says some pretty nasty things coming out of his belief is that women are manipulative and deceitful. When Nell’s father finds out she is pregnant, he demands she have an abortion. For the first time in her life she stands up to him and refuses. She knows she can’t tell Mace, she’s already heard his opinion of women who use pregnancy to trap men into marriage. So she simply disappears, taking herself off and getting a job in another hotel right away from London (the one they stayed at when they had the weekend fling?), determined she will stand on her own two feet and somehow make a life for herself and her baby. Mace finds out about the baby, and comes looking for her. He’s realised that he loves her, but he’s angry that she didn’t trust him enough to tell him herself, couldn’t see that he would be willing to change. He realises that this is a woman who is not manipulative, who isn’t making demands on him, and the fact that she didn’t try to make him change is paradoxically what allows him to change his beliefs, making their HEA possible.

Hmm, don’t know if this is going from bad to worse! Is this internal or external conflict?

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11 Responses to “Internal conflict- arrgghh!”

  1. Jackie Says:

    Hmmm, yeah, they did tell me that there was the problem with my heroine’s conflict being to do with her mother. It’s a complicated one. What they told me is that a person’s conflict cannot be simply due with someone else’s ill treatment of them. A bad relationship with a parent can contribute to a character’s conflict but cannot define it. I think that is to do with a character being a rational adult and by this stage in their lives, they should not be dictacted to by their parents. They should be making their own choices. Of course, in real life, there ARE people who are like this but the key here is this: do you want to read about someone like that? Are they sympathetic?

    I think for this idea you need to ask yourself these questions: Why does your heroine feel unloved? Why does she need her father’s approval at this stage in her life? For Modern Heat, the heroine needs to have some strength (because she needs to be aspirational, someone the reader can imagine being) – perhaps she’s decided she DOESN’T need Daddy’s approval. Perhaps an affair with his closest rival is a rebellion. But deep inside she still has these feelings of insecurity and wanting to be loved. Again, you’ll need to ask yourself why she feels like that.
    For the hero you’ll need to ask yourself why he feels women in particular are deceitful. Why is love manipulative? Or is it really that following his brother’s suicide, he’s decided that he’s never going to try an live up to some impossible ideal that someone else has set for him?

    Now, the real internal conflict here isn’t Mace and Nell finding out about who each other is – the business rivals thing is external. The internal conflict is your heroine’s sense of self worth and the hero’s fear of expectations that are too high (am I right here?), and also how the baby affects these. Is the heroine going to expect things of hero (being a good father)? Can he live up to these expectations or is he afraid of failing? Is your heroine going to think he’ll run away once she’s told him about the baby since that’s what he’s always done? Does she wonder if that’s because she isn’t good enough?
    See what I mean?

    Jane, I would really concentrate on the the internal conflicts here (ie, nothing to do with her father/the business/mistaken identities) because they sound good – I like the hero’s particularly. But the heroine’s does sound a lot like the problems my heroine had, which ultimately led to a rejection. If you can figure out WHY she feels unloved and second best, then that’s a great start.

    Feel free to ask me any questions about this if you want. I’m happy to help, though obviously with the usual ‘hello, still unpublished’ caveat. 🙂

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Jackie, thanks so much for taking the time to gve such a thoughtful answer. Because I know you had this issue, your opinion is particularly valuable! I’m seeing that the way I write is to see two people in an external situation, then dig down to find what is going on internally for them. Which can work, but can also get me in a pile of steaming doo-doo if I get so involved in superficials that I don’t dig deep enough. I see Nell as a sympathetic character! She’s funny, frinedly, the sort of girl everyone likes. But inside she has this nagging insecurity, the belief she doesn’t quite measure up. She doesn’t realise just how much her life is run by her need for her father’s approval, until it comes to the crunch. I think you are right that the business rival thing is an unneccessary complication. It doesn’t take any thing away from the story to drop it. So dropped it should be! LOL, I think I am figuring out how my brain works. I start off with an image of two people in a situation. Then I think about what could be going on for them. This is always incredibly complicated and always all externally based. Then I go deeper and start getting to know the characters and what is really going on for them, and this is the juicy internal stuff. So all I need to do is keep the situation, keep the internal stuff, and chuck away the external stuff! All that complicated external stuff is exactly why I’m struggling so much to edit the WIP. Its really the story of an inexperienced woman with low self esteem who believes herself unlovable, that her only value is in being of use to others; and a man who’s been hurt so badly he’s never letting himself feel love again, deeply cynical about the motives of others, and carrying a hidden load of guilt. So why the hell have I put a surprise inheritance, becoming a princess, a kidnap, a marriage of convenience and a whole load of other stuff in there?

  3. Jackie Says:

    Lol, Jane! Yep, that stuff is just complication. Let me tell you what I had with my rejected MS. I started with an external conflict too – geek heroine has to set up an internet date for research into internet dating scene. She has NO conflict apart from geekiness and therefore thinking herself not the hero’s equal. Hero is your usual alpha male hotshot (his conflict apparently was fine). Goes on the date with the heroine (for reasons I had to invent because why would a hot alpha male be dating via the internet??) and they have one night stand. Then I got into all this stuff where his company is rumoured to be using child labour and she rescues him by investigating it (she’s a computer journalist). Big mistake – big external conflict.
    So I took all the child labour/rescues out after having this ephiphany. The second half of the book is all them working out their internal conflict – M&B loved that part.

    BUT, they didn’t think geekiness was enough of an internal conflict (note to self: stereotype is NOT internal conflict). So I changed it to her mother running her down all the time. Nope, that wasn’t a goer either because as an adult she should be taking charge of her life, not letting her mother run it. So I changed it to her being super bright and never feel like she fitted in. Again, nup, as an adult and if she was super bright, why would she be feeling like she never fitted in? Why would she be so unconfident?
    As it happens, they actually DID like her character, I just never gave a good enough reason for her to act the way she did.

    So, in order for your conflict to work you need to ask why she has this nagging feeling of insecurity. Why does she feel she doesn’t quite measure up? Did her father always want a son and feels a girl isn’t quite the thing? Did she fail him once and never managed to gain his approval again? Why is his approval so important to her?

    Look, I hear you with the whole starting with the external situation. I do the exact same thing. And it’s really, really hard to stop doing that so don’t beat yourself up about it.
    I think if you have to start adding things to your plot in order to get your characters to behave a certain way then you kind of have to stop and think ‘is this what I want or what they want?’ Those ‘why’ questions again.

    Easy eh? 😉

    Oh and interestingly enough, I have finally given the heroine of my rejected MS some decent internal conflict. It will require huge rewriting but they’re not getting rid of that story so easily. 🙂

  4. Lorraine Says:

    I really sympathise, I too get carried away with external plot. It’s a very basic suggestion but have you tried writing a synopsis based purely on the internal conflict (without focus on secondary characters too)? If you strip out all the external and still have a book then you’re on! I think this story could really work so happy thinking!

    Why did no one tell us how hard this would be??? Or did they and we weren’t listening?

    P.S. in the editors’ podcast on eharl one of the eds made the comment that an unplanned pregnancy can be the ultimate in internal conflict which surprised me as I would have thought it was external but anyway I thought I’d throw that comment into the mix for what it’s worth!

  5. Oh wow, this is giving me a headache. *g* If I could tell you what I do to make my internal conflicts work, I would! But the truth is I fly very blind into the whole thing. The book that was just accepted had a heroine who was abused as a child, and a hero who blames himself for his wife’s death.

    The one before that has a heroine who is afraid of building her whole life around one man to the exclusion of her child (like her mother did), and a hero who, though the heir to the throne, is a bastard and wouldn’t be the heir if his brother hadn’t recently committed suicide.

    I rather like what you’ve though of, but then Jackie has experience with why some things don’t work. So I’d say to make the heroine’s conflict be deeper somehow. It’s okay to want Daddy’s approval, but there has to be a deeper reason that really cuts to the core of her.

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    Jackie, great comments as always!

    So glad to hear your heroine got herself some good conflict!

    Hmm, reasons Nell felt she never measured up. Her father definitely wanted a boy. He takes it as a personal slight on his masculinity that he has no son and that sense of failure he always feels when she’s around makes him angry and demanding with her (not that she realises that- Mace recognises it and tells her). Her mother who died when she was in midteens was spectacularly beautiful, so she feels her father could have forgiven her being female if only she was beautiful like her mother. None of this shows on the surface, somehow Mace triggers it and brings it out.

    Lightbulb moment! The internal issues are often lying dormant. The characters may not even be aware of them, until they are brought to the surface by the relationship.

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Lorraine, I was surprised to read that an unplanned pregnancy was an internal conflict too. Then I saw one of the editors write somewhere (eHarl, or the M&B community?) referring to it as “conflict internal to the relationship”.
    That makes sense, I guess, but I didn’t think so at first.

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks Lynn! That’s what it’s about, isn’t it, the “reason that cuts to the core” as you say. I need to keep asking my characters “Why?” til I get right to that core conflict.

  9. Jackie Says:

    Aha! Yep, Jane, those sound like excellent reasons to me for your heroine. And definitely the interest of a hot guy would be something that would set up all kinds of issues for her – especially if he’s the one that points it out to her.

    That lightbulb moment is a great one! Indeed, the conflict is always in the present.

    As to my experience, Lynn, well, all this is from the point of view of Modern Heat. It could be different with Modern.

  10. Eileen Says:

    The following suggestion helps me work through things but if it makes you nervous please throw it out:

    I often get so tangled up in my own mind and my own narrow view of my story that the characters begin to seem more and more like cartoons than live-action and so I step back to the “big picture” and think about something much more “epic” but similar.

    What I find myself thinking as you’re writing out your conflict with the conflict is that your external conflict set up is that of Romeo & Juliet. While I’ve studied the play time and again in school (and I could tell you how every dirty joke translates into modern English, and between Romeo’s friends and Juliet’s nurse there’s a-plenty!) I never looked at it and wondered ‘what are their internal conflicts and motivations?’ In truth, I think Shakespeare is a little thin in that department for this particular play, perhaps because of the genre, but let’s not make excuses for him.

    Anyway … I like breaking it out into this really big frame because you get to look (a) at how someone else did it, (b) think about how you would have done it better in all those thin spots and (c) steal, twist and innovate.

  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    Poor Romeo and Juliet- they’d have Child Protection wanting to interview them these days.
    The Nurse definitely got the best bawdy lines, though Mercutio didn’t do too badly either. Til, he died, anyway. I always like him better than Romeo. It reminds me of Anne McCafferty’s Ship Who Sang- she got to play the Nurse role, didn’t she.

    Gotta agree with you, Shakespeare is light on the internal conflict in a whole lot of plays, not just this one. What was demanded was a show, a lot happening on stage, and he certainly provided that!

    I see what you are saying though, which is step back, take a longer shot, so I can see the whole thing. And yeah, “steal, twist, and innovate” sound good!


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