Friday, September 19, 2008
Conflict ~ Gotta Love How They Hate Each Other
Mary Connealy Conflict - Gotta Love How They Hate Each Other
What would Gone with the Wind be like if Scarlett and Rhett had gotten along beautifully from the very beginning?
What if Romeo and Juliet had been fixed up by their parents who were close friends?
What if Ariel hadn’t been a mermaid wearing a girl suit?
Would we even remember them, would we have kept turning the pages?
I don't think so.
Conflict is what hooks a reader and makes the story interesting. If everyone gets along fine, there’s no book. A romance novel needs each character to have two conflicts, an external conflict and an internal conflict. Yes, you can have a ‘it’s us against the world’ theme. Yes, you can write a book where the h/h are compatible and work for a common goal, but that’s not Formula. If you want to write within the romance formula, get yourself an external and internal conflict. External conflict is the easy one for me. External really is only one because it’s the story – the plot – the mess you make that you have to clean up. It’s what is obviously keeping the two characters apart. It’s only one thing, not two. All you’ve got to remember is; make it insurmountable - the worse the better.
Whatever he has to have - has to destroy her. They can’t both get what they want. It’s impossible. There, that’s conflict. Easy. The classic conflict is - If he’s a fireman, she’d better darn well be an arsonist.
It’s easy to muddle internal and external conflict.
The external conflict bleeds into the internal conflict and before you know it, it’s hard to say which is which. Here are some examples of external conflict from my own books External Conflict
A stalker torments an idealistic college professor who writes best sellers about responding to everything with love. A cynical cop assigned to protect her says, “If I adopt your theories I’ll be dead by the weekend.” In “A Soft Answer” I’ve created one of my favorite external conflicts. She is absolutely right that Jesus calls us to love and to return good for evil. But a man who arrests people for a li ving can’t try and sweet talk a violent stalker. He’s right. She’s right.
He destroys years of work in her rose garden and offers her a check. She throws him off her property only to find out he’s living a hundred yards from her and planning to build a house that will tear the heart out of her Ozark Mountain home.
This novel, “Scent of Heaven” is a neat little ‘he’s city, she’s country” story. When his plans to build a house destroy the rose garden that has supported her all her life, he’s real sorry. But sorry doesn’t bring her roses back to life. How’s she supposed to ‘Love Thy Neighbor” when he’s this dense?
For the perfect external conflict just remember, whatever he has to have - has to destroy her. They can’t both get what they want. It’s impossible. Easy.
Internal Conflict Internal is more complex(to me).
It’s what shapes your characters into a person who won’t take a chance on love. There needs to be two of these because each character has his or her own, that those conflicts have nothing to do with each other, except it influences how they deal with each other. It has to do with emotions, fears, old memories, things you can’t see that go on inside a person. In Christian fiction, that internal conflict can often be a spiritual struggle one or both of them is going through.
A classic example of internal conflict is:
For Her: Her parents died when she was very young. Her fiancé died on their wedding day. Everyone she loves dies, she’ll never risk her heart again.
For Him: His first love announced in front of the whole congregation - at their wedding - that she was in love with the best man – no, make it his brother - no, let’s make her pregnant by his brother. He’ll never risk his heart again. (the wimp!)
She was married at fifteen to the older man who had become her guardian when her mother died. He has dominated, cruelly, every aspect of her life for three years. Now he’s dead and, in the old west, she’s forced to remarry. She’s carefully submissive, trying everything to please her new husband. This is the internal conflict from my novel Montana Rose, coming next year from Barbour. She can’t express an opinion and, when he begins to realize what the problem is, he realizes he can’t trust anything she says, including ‘I love you.’ Because she only tells him what he wants to hear.
Her new husband’s conflict is; he married a non-believer. He had to do it to save her, but in his heart, he believes he’s committed a terrible sin. Even when she begins to share his faith, he can’t decide if it’s real, or is she just being obedient. It takes time for him to step back and see that God was in control all along.
He’s a burned out engineer who specializes in disaster sites. He’s hiding because he can’t say no when he’s needed, but the ugly things he’s seen are destroying him. When his new neighbor begins to interest him, he can’t make a commitment to her without facing his old life.
In The Clueless Cowboy, coming in November from Heartsong Presents, she likes the new neighbor very much, but she knows he’s going to leave. Having been abandoned, through death, by her parents, she is raising her little sister. If the new guy did love her, he’d drag her away from the farm and that could destroy her fragile sister. Note that each example of internal conflict I’ve given is personal. It’s all her pain or his pain. Their shared pain comes from the external conflict.
It’s not enough to say, “She’s untrusting and he’s a loner.” Why is she untrusting? Did a mere six broken engagements destroy her trust in men so profoundly that she will never risk her heart again? Why is he a loner? Did his years as an assassin warp him to the point he will never risk his heart again, even though the people he killed were all ‘bad?’
Defining your conflict is Step One in writing your novel.
The external defines the plot the events that put them at war with each other
The internal defines the character, their reaction on the battlefield.
Once you have the internal conflict the characters begin to take shape. Because the internal conflict is often rooted in their past, you’ve got to develop three dimensional characters. As you do that, you start to know how the h/h will react, what drives them, how they speak and move. What sets them off, and what gets past their defenses. The book I’ve written with my favorite conflict digs a chasm between them so deep that I really thought for a while I’d have to bag the story. I just couldn’t solve their problem – they w ere both right – neither of them had any reason to give, each of them would actually be wrong to give in, and it didn’t even make sense for them to give. You know you’re on to something when the conflict is this juicy, this much of a stumbling block, the only thing that will get them past this conflict is True Love.
The thing about conflict is, it’s the basis of your book. You need to put conflict into words before you type out that first word of your story. Even people who say they’re seat of the pants writers know the basic plot before they start. Some might just have an idea for a great character, now what trouble can I get her into? Some might say, I want to do something with a southern belle falling in love with a Yankee soldier. You have to have something before you start typing away.
A lot of the readers of this blog are Christians.
No doubt we spend a great deal of our time being loving and nice – let’s hope! So take some suppressed aggression out on our defenseless characters and give them some of the conflict we strive daily to avoid in our own life. Good luck making them hate each other enough to make it interesting. Then really good luck making them get along after all the trouble you’ve caused.
If someone wants to put this in better words I'd love to here it. And tell me...define for me...the conflict in your current Work In Progress.