Thursday, May 07, 2009

On Conflict 3 - Bits and bobs

Working on: Sold to the Highest Bidder
Listening to: whatever tickles my fancy when the house is empty in exactly 36 minutes
Reading: To Marry the Duke - it's fantastic!

Before I launch in, I wanted to mention that I forgot in the hubbub of stuff at the first of the week to send you over to Romantic Ramblings for Ingela Hyatt's Ask an Author event. This week's question is about travel...and there are some great books up for grabs. If you use the above link, scroll down to the bottom to find me. :-)

Ok, now back to conflict, and there were some questions in the comments I wanted to address and also some further points that Michelle and I talked about yesterday through e-mail.

Michelle made a couple of points that I agree with 100%. The first is that the conflict has to be in the present, not the past. Again, this can be tricky. ESPECIALLY with shared pasts. Look at it this way. A lot of internal conflict comes from what's happened to the characters in the past, but if you write a story where the characters meet for the first time, it becomes all about how that past affects the now. The problem is in the present. But that's not so if you've got a marriage in jeopardy or a reunion story or high school sweethearts.

Two examples of it working and not working. The book that is waiting to go into my editor is a shared past, and a bit of a traumatic one. But when the story starts, the problem is in the present. Gina is trying to reinvent herself, and be more independent whereas Dante is trying to make amends and prove himself. Underneath it all - and I emphasize the underneath - is their past relationship and how it ended. But it is not front and centre.

However, One Dance With The Cowboy gave me some problems because it is about high school sweethearts. I made it, in the first version, too much about "you left and you're not going to hurt me again.". It took my editor 2 rounds of revisions to get me straightened out - and it was hard. At one point I thought, but if you do that, I'll lose my conflict half way through the book! DUH. Because it's the WRONG conflict. Many thanks to Biddy who brainstormed on MSN with me and was utterly brilliant in making my mind shift.

The other thing Michelle said is about yearning. And listen up - yearning is NOT enough. This is why I had trouble with the first half of Twilight. I thought it was boring! What was it about? Yearning. It isn't until we get half through and Bella clues into WHAT he is, and the impact that has on them that the story really picks up. It is NOT enough to build a story on.

Lacey asked in yesterday's comments: If the heroine is pregnant and becomes ill (flu etc) giving the hero a chance to look after her and perhaps demonstrate that he cares for her even if he does it through the book is it unnecessary conflict?

Well, Lacey, if it ties into the core conflict, no. It can be a complication. For example if part of the heroine's conflict is that she hates being taken care of, and she needs him right now as she's sick, you can work with that. Honestly I thought more about the overuse of the flu than I did about unnecessary conflict. But that's a personal thing with me...the heroine gets sick and is gross and the hero somehow still finds her sexy. Or she is just barely better and she's up for...well, you know. And I'm thinking, dude, when I've just heaved my guts out for 24 hours or had a fever and chills, all I want is a nice bath and some toast.

Lorraine also asked if there are any conflicts too heavy for a romance novel, and I'm going to say NO with the caveat that it is all in the execution. My first editor told me that it is good to take those risks. It's how you handle it - if it's in a positive or negative way. The book that I'm waiting for revisions on could be a downer except the hero doesn't wallow. He is always looking forward, even though he can't ignore his scars. When you use heavy conflicts though, you have to make sure there is forward motion, that it is inspirational rather than a downer. You have to LIKE the characters after all, and no one likes 200 pgs of pity party.

I hope that helps, and now I'm off for errands and working.


  1. Thanks for answering my question Donna. It's a really good answer and I'm off to ponder it :-)

  2. Brilliant post Donna. You put that in a way that made lots of things just click. Thanks

  3. The last three days on your blog have helped me so much. Yesterday I actually made a chart to sort out the conflict in my story. As a result, I didn't get much written (the SRW gals are doing a writing Blitz in May leading up to our retreat at the end of the month). But it was a useful exercise because elements of the story are becoming more clear, and the core conflict more defined. I was worrying for a while that there was not enough external conflict, but was reassured when you said there are genres where interior conflict and character arc can dominate.

    I am now thinking that the shared past of my main characters is merely a 'complication' tho certainly a contributing factor in the current conflict. So I thank you and Michelle for pointing out that dwelling on the past will NOT move the story forward.

    Thanks again for sharing your expertise.

  4. Thanks for answering my question! The fact that the flu has been over used made it the first example in my head I'm afraid lol! But now I understand it's contribution to complication. Thanks so much for all your time!

  5. Ha, that's funny re the pregnant morning-sick heroine! Because I've got that happening in one of my WIPs. But it's a device for the hero to step up and be dependenable while at the same time showing the heroine he can be relied on. But no, no sexiness involved. I remember too well being vilely sick with morning sickness and definitely a hot guy was the LAST thing on my mind. :-)