Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Exciting news, and some words on CONFLICT (part1)

Working on: Copy edits of Once Dance with the Cowboy
Listening to: Il Divo, The Promise (the novelty hasn't worn off yet)
Reading: To Marry The Duke, Julianne MacLean

Ok, let's start off with the BIG EXCITING NEWS, shall we?

First of all, I can now safely say that I have a title and release date for Andrew and Jen's story, and it's ONE DANCE WITH THE COWBOY and will be out in May 2010. It's the first of a duet about brothers, and I'm waiting for revisions on Noah and Lily's story. But I have the copy edits of ODWTC to work on as I wait.

Secondly, and this is SO exciting. Well, maybe I should be more blase. It would probably be more becoming, but after doing this for three years the novelty of good things happening does not wear off, and I still feel the thrill, you know? THE SOLDIER'S HOMECOMING is a finalist in the Golden Quill Awards! Winners will be announced on June 1. I'm still trying to find out who else is among the finalists - so far my friends Nicola Marsh and Fiona Harper are there with me in the Traditional category.

Also - I finished reading Forbidden by Suzanne Brockmann last night. I really enjoyed it. A nice blend of action and romance, lots of sexual tension and internal conflict...wonderful. At 250 pages, I realize it is published by Bantam but it could have been a category novel so easily. In fact I checked the inside to see if the initial release was in the category market, but it said Bantam. The way it was constructed, the affluent cowboy, the conflict, the pacing...fits category so well. That is NOT a criticism. Merely an observation that the form works.
It is the first Brockmann I've ever read, and I'd definitely read more. My neighbour and sister are both big fans.

Now, I promised some words on conflict, and I think I'll do this in two parts. Lacey asked about something I said a long time ago about having too much conflict. When you're trying to get published, time and time again you hear "Lacking emotional punch" and "not enough conflict to carry the story". I'm going to look at this from two angles, and bear in mind that everyone's mind works differently and everyone articulates things differently (look at Kate Walker's ALPHA series going on right now) and so hopefully the way I think and put things will make sense to someone other than me.

Every time I start a new book I get to about chapter 4 or 5 and think, OMG, do I have enough conflict to carry this to 260 pages of courier new? And somehow I always do. But a couple of times I have put in TOO much. Wait a minute, you say. Too much conflict? How does that happen?

There are two kinds of conflict and both SHOULD be present in any story. The balance changes according to the kind of story you are writing. So for me, Harlequin Romance is very internal conflict/character arc driven. For Intrigue, the balance will be different with loads of fast-paced external conflict and a smaller internal conflict arc operating within it. I used the word balance for a reason. If you take a book that needs high external conflict and add in too much internal, what happens? You bog down the action. You kill the pace, filling up crucial moments with introspective narrative. And yet you need SOME, so that the reader cares about the characters making it through.

In Romance, (and I'll talk about that because it's what I know best), the external conflict is a place to hang your hat, so to speak. It's the hook that brings the two characters together in the same place at the same time, with problems to solve that have nothing to do with each other. A classic hook is the marriage of convenience. The hero needs a wife because....the heroine needs a husband because....and they fit the bill. But guess what - here's where the internal conflict takes over. WHY does the solution to the problem now BECOME the problem? Because of the internal conflict each brings to the table.

If you look at my very first Romance, Hired By The Cowboy, this demonstrates the principle perfectly. Connor needs a wife to access a trust - if he has a hope of saving the family farm. He can't wait until he's the age stipulated on the trust. He needs it NOW. The kicker is, the money is released if he is married. Alexis is pregnant and abandoned and determined to do whatever she has to, to provide for her child. Connor's proposal is CRAZY. But the glimpses she gets of his character show her she can trust him. And it is only a temporary solution. They both agree. They help each other. They just have to go through with a farce of a wedding first, and after the baby is born, he gets his ranch and she gets a fresh start with baby.

But it's not that easy, because they fall in love. And they don't WANT to fall in love. They are unsure of each other, they know it's temporary, and the long and short of it is they are afraid. Afraid to show each other how they really feel. Afraid to put their hearts on the line. Internal. This is what really drives the story. I like to say that the external conflict forms the framework of the story, but the internal is what fills it up and operates within it.

Does the external make a reappearance? Of course. Sometimes, like if you're writing a suspense or something plot heavy, it's a constant. In Falling For Mr. Dark and Dangerous, the external conflict - the reason why Nate was at Mountain Haven to begin with - is an important line all the way through the story. But it is SO tied to the internal - what he does for a living is really important to the internal conflict. And what he's doing THERE at that particular time is another complication. In Hired By The Cowboy, Connor gets some news close to the end that has to do with the external conflict that forms a turning point for him. But again, it too is tied in with the internal conflict, and demonstrates his character arc - what he wanted in the beginning isn't nearly as important as what he wants RIGHT NOW.

So can you have too much conflict? And surprisingly yes. Because what you really need is a CORE conflict - and complications that branch off from that. The core conflict is your trunk, the complications are the branches. If you have too much conflict, you end up with too many trunks and not enough branches. Not a very pretty tree. LOL. Think of summarizing your book in a one paragraph pitch, or a back blurb. What do you state? WHO the hero and heroine are, and what the PROBLEM is. ONE problem. Core conflict.

Before I run, because this is going long, and I'm going to talk about core conflict more tomorrow, I want to share something of my farm roots. When you are pruning a tree (I was brought up on an apple farm), you trim so as to promote what's called a central leader. That's the branch that's going to go right up the middle of the tree and form the structure. If you don't prune for that central leader, you get competing branches. The tree does not grow as well as it is trying to support all the leaders, and you get mayhem in the structure of your tree. Nor will it produce to its potential. The same thing happens with your conflict. Too much conflict competes, creating NOISE as I like to put it. Your structure will be off. And your story will not reach its true potential because without a central leader - a core conflict - you lose the heart of your story.

I'll be back tomorrow to talk about core conflict and complication more.


  1. Congrats on the shortlisting, Donna!

    And interesting re conflict. I'm fine-tuning mine at the mo. (I'm beginning to think that you, as well as Michelle, are becoming my spiritual twin. Or make that spiritual triplet *g*)

  2. How I look at it might not be how someone else looks at it. It's like learning math. Everyone's brain works differently. My youngest's brain doesn't see math problems - or structures - the same way mine does.

    So every time I blog or speak on craft, I just hope that something I say jives with how someone else's brain works and assimilates information. LOL

    And LOL on the triplets. I have so many writing sisters....

  3. Congratulations on finalling!!! Great post.

  4. Congratulations, Donna! I hope you are keeping your website up-to-date with the awards that you are 'accumulating' (don't forget to include the category of nominations/finalists, too). I've just been there because I am having trouble remembering the details! I think you are at the point now where you need a separate section for awards.

    Thank you so much for today's post about conflict. I just happened to be spouting off to a friend a mere few hours ago on this very topic, saying: 'I really need to know more about internal/external conflict' -- and voila! This will help me strengthen my storyline.

    Looking forward to part two.

  5. Anonymous2:20 p.m.

    Congrats on finaling!!
    Wow - on your explanation of conflict. I like how you explained external and internal - I knew what they were, but how and when and why to balance both. I've read Falling for Mr Dark and Dangerous, so I could think of the story while reading your definition. Looking forward to part 2.


  6. Congratulations on getting through to the finals Donna. Thanks for the great insight into internal/external conflict. It's always a pleasure to log onto blog sites written by romance writers and get great information and help from you all! Take care. Caroline x

  7. *Waving streamers and a huge congratulations banner* Congrats on your good news about both your book and the shortlisting Donna!

    I'm obviously tickled pink by the entire blog. Thank you so much for posting on conflict. I can see now that I have the potential to grow trees with too many trunks ;-) and suddenly I want apples...

  8. Congrats on the finalling!!
    Thanks for the comments on conflict too. What an interesting post!

  9. Loved the tree analogy and the use of the word "scared". Funny how when you see it written in such simple terms it all slots into place! Will definitely be back to read your second part!

  10. Yay, Donna! Major congrats.

    Great post, too and I really understand the analogy with the apple tree.