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!

Torturing our characters December 19, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

I woke up this morning still not clear which of the three sets of characters I am thinking of I will write about first.

I am good at creating characters I love, who feel real to me, who I want to see having a wonderful happy ever after.

Maybe that’s why I am not so good at creating conflict for them!

Deciding to try targeting Supers isn’t  an escape to a nice safe fluffy world where we can be kind to our characters and nothing bad ever happens on a sweetly flower strewn path to their lovely HEA. LOL, if there was a line like that I’d be a natural for it.

Problem is, no one would want to read it! What makes a satisfying story is the way the characters overcome difficulties on the way.

External conflicts feel easier to write. They somehow don’t seem so agonising for the characters. Throw some roadblocks their way, and strong characters will rise to that challenge, no matter how insurmountable it may seem. But have them struggling with deep and maybe previously hidden internal issues, have them yearning towards the other character, feeling it’s just not possible for them to be together? That hurts, it’s a painful process for the characters, and for me as a writer.

So it’s easy for me to create the most fantastically complex external conflicts. I have one unfinished story about a waitress/illustrator coerced into a marriage of convenience with a businessman who needs to be married to gain complete control of his buisness empire. This story has not one but two villains (one opposing each character) they have to work together to overcome, and complex backstories, especially for the heroine.

Reading the notes I did for the characters and plot, there’s a lot of internal conflict here too. The external conflict hooks into the characters internal conflict. It should be a good balance. But there’s way too much of it for 50,000 words!  I just gave up on this one because it got too complicated and tortured.

Somewhere, there’s got to be the balance between no conflict and way too much over the top conflict!

Reading my notes for that abdandoned story made me think of something that’s also important- not just the setting up but the resolution of the internal conflict. Should this be something that comes from within the character themselves, rather than being triggered by external events?

Example of just one layer of conflict from this complicated story- an adopted heroine has been told lies about who her natural mother is, which have damaged her self image and make her avoid relationships. That’s one of her internal relationship blocks. Does it work better for a reader if she meets her birth mother and finds the truth about herself and that  external event helps free up that internal conflict; or if she does it all internally and decides it doesn’t matter who her birth mother was, she is worth loving anyway?

The hero has a similar belief that he is intrinsically unlovable, though in his case it’s because his rich mother passed him from distant nanny to distant nanny, ensuring he never had the chance to experience being loved and really cared for. He feels women only want to be with him for his wealth and fame. For him, it’s discovering that the heroine (who is being blackmailed) is willing to give it all up to protect him that shakes that belief. Again, the external circumstance affects the internal relationship block. Does that work, or is it more emotionally satisfying for him to change that belief himself, without needing the external validation?

Looking at the plot ideas and internal issues I noted for the story I mentioned, it does not sound like I don’t want to torture my characters! I certainly planned to put these two through hell. But then again, I never wrote it. I moved on to an idea that seemed simpler, that didn’t have enough conflict!

I know I’m probably overthinking things again.  I probably need to just pick a story and start writing. But I feel that there’s something essential about satisfying conflict that I am just not getting!

I need to reread some published stories and make notes on the conflict and how it works out. I’m not very good on “reading like a writer” and crtically analysing this stuff. I get carried away on the story! But looking at how it works is probably the best way to see this, rather than trying to think it out.

At least I have decided which story I am going to work on. Some of this questioning about conflict might just be procrastination as well as a need to learn! The characters who’ve been waiting longest for their HEA- Kate and Adam- are going to get their story.

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3 Responses to “Torturing our characters”

  1. sally Says:

    Jane, you’re so right about balancing the conflict. With my current story I think I’ve finally understood how to do that. Every story I wrote before this one had both internal and external conlict, but the external always seemed to outweigh the internal and drive the story. The number of external plot twists that I added to previous stories was beyond ridiculous! The current story is driven entirely by the characters and it works so much better.
    There’s a lot to learn!

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    I feel sure you have “got it” with this one. So much to learn is right but we are all getting there- some of us faster than others!

    I think one of the things that I still find hard is that romances have changed dramatically since I first started reading them in the early 70’s. I grew up on heroine only POV romances, where the conflict felt all external purely because we couldn’t see what was going on inside the hero’s head and heart! All we felt was the heroine’s confusion and frustration that things weren’t working out. I still naturally seem to want to write that sort of story.

    I’m obviously a slow learner!

  3. Janet Says:

    “Does it work better for a reader if she meets her birth mother and finds the truth about herself and that external event helps free up that internal conflict; or if she does it all internally and decides it doesn’t matter who her birth mother was, she is worth loving anyway?”

    A third option is have the hero help her reach this conclusion. But I’ve no idea which approach is best. 🙂 (I could do with an on-line writing course or a how-to-write book dedicated solely to building a story from internal conflict. anyone know of one?)


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