Monday, March 12, 2012

Heading South - Conflict Dead Ahead

Last Monday, Hellie talked about finding your True North. Getting to know your characters and their goals and how important those goals are to the story. When I first started writing, my characters rarely had goals. My heroine just wanted to be left alone. That Celi, she was a stubborn one. To this day, her story has never been written. I don't really blame her *cough* but this is a perfect example of no story with no goals.

However, once you have those goals, you need something to stand in their way. Obstacles. Road blocks. Complications.

What you need is CONFLICT.

When looking at your Writer's Compass, SOUTH is where you'll find your conflict. Once  you've found your True North and have awesome, fleshed-out characters, it’s time to turn our attention south and throw some ugliness their way.

Think of South as the devil on your shoulder ready to torture these imaginary people. If your character wants to avoid people, throw people his way. (Think Shrek.) If your character wants that promotion, give the job to the boss’ nephew then make your character have to train him.

It’s always an interesting twist when you give the conflict a touch of irony. Your character has spent four years forgetting that guy who stood her up on prom night? Make sure her first reporting assignment (the one she must nail to land her dream job) is following around Mr. Prom-Deserter turned movie star.

Think of North and South as exactly what they are – opposing poles pulling in two different directions. (I hope that's right. Science is not my forte.) There cannot be one without the other.

So let's say you're cruising through the rough draft and you've hit that blessed milestone of 100 pages. You sit back, look at your work, and realize if you keep the story on its current path, your full-length MS will end in exactly eight pages.

Not good.

What to do, what to do? Look South, my seafaring friends. Pull out that compass and head South for the choppiest waters you can find. Bring on the tidal wave then give your characters a canoe. Without the proverbial paddle.

The danger here is when you start throwing out options that have nothing to do with your story. Remember, you're using your compass to catch your bearings, not create a brand new story. No "What if I have aliens invade during the ball?" or "How about instead of a movie star, he's a bull fighter?!" Too drastic.

Look at the journey on which your characters are traveling. If she's an heiress embarking on her first season in London and doing her best NOT to fall for the money-hungry charmer who makes her heart dance in her chest, then bring in exactly what she wants. A wealthy aristocrat who looks perfect on paper but evokes no palpitations whatsoever.

This may sound like you're solving her problem. But this is Romance, my friends, and we know love must win out in the end. What you're really doing is creating a conflict in your character. Does she follow her heart or her head? Protect her money and her virtue or risk it all for a real adventure.

Get creative and pull the conflict from the same place we pull everything else. From character.

But internal conflict is not the only kind, of course. Maybe that same heiress is kidnapped then rescued by the money-hungry charmer who, SHOCKER!, is really a royal special agent who knew she was to be kidnapped and was really sent in to protect her. Now your characters are fleeing danger AND your heroine knows Mr. Charmer was only acting and doesn't really care for her.

Or does he? [insert evil laugh here]

The options are endless but specific. They're right in front of you but often elusive. Find your South and you'll find your conflict. Your story will be moving again (for way more than eight pages) in no time.

Tell me, what is your favorite kind of conflict in a book. Do you prefer the hero and heroine trying to outrun the killer, or prefer more of the "Do I follow my heart" kind of conflict? For the writers, any tricks for creating conflict? Do you know your major conflict from the start or do you find it along the way?


MsHellion said...

For a second there, when you said we pulled conflict from the same place we pulled everything else--I was so certain you were going to say "your ass"--which goes to show--GREAT WAY ON KEEPING YOUR AUDIENCE GUESSING! Which is another trick with conflict.

Don't just use the typical stuff--though you should stick with the most likely with your characters, the goals, and their villains and their goals--but try to pick the unpredictable. The one that makes readers go, "I wasn't expecting that."

I tend to go for more internal conflict than external conflict, but books need both. I'm reading the Hunger Games, which you'd think is most external, but there is a shit-ton of internal conflict going on in the mind of our heroine. In a game that is every man for himself, here she has to think how to protect herself (though she did this to protect her sister)--she is torn when her fellow District 12 tribute is kind to her. She's always talking herself back out of it or looking for the underlying backstab. Horrible way to live, to think. You feel awful for her and for him. But I *LOVE* the conflict of it. It's brutal. And I know when it comes to actual games, the external conflict is going to be brutal as well.

By the way, love the charmer who is the bodyguard/spy...HAWT! *LOL*

Maureen said...

Do I have a standard way to push a conflict and shove the ship off course? Well...yeah. Generally it's a personal revelation for the heroine...she gets what she wanted. Often it really is what she wanted! But...getting it complicates things.

She wanted the man who raped her happens. Now what does she do with her life? It didn't fix everything...she's even more lost now. But the hero is there...

Plus, since I write adventure-type stuff, I usually do toss in something bizarre. Villian steps in, danger!

I love how we're all the test class...this is gonna be a real cool class!

quantum said...

I thought that finding your 'True North' just meant getting the map properly aligned. You don't have to actually head North or South. Its bloody cold at the poles and any passion will just freeze solid.

No, my dear. You need to head WEST. Unless the earth has changed its spin or orbit then you ride into the sunset by heading WEST.

I think that conflict must above all seem plausible and natural. I like it when the H/H just stumble into each other's arms by a process of serendipity and fate, when from circumstance this seems about as likely as pigs flying. That way leads to humour and surprise. Sophie Kinsella is a master at this.

Last night I looked at the night sky and found that Venus, the evening star, had a close companion. It appears that Venus and Jupiter are moving into conjunction. You need the romantic equivalent of such a celestial event to set my romance reading heart spinning!

Fab blog Terri *smile*

Marnee Bailey said...

A great blog, Ter! :)

What's my favorite conflict? I love when characters are their own worst enemy. When there's self-fulfilling prophecy. Or when they get what they want and realize that it wasn't what they wanted after all. Or when they think they don't deserve what they want. My stuff always has exterior conflict (a bad guy) but I like the other kind better. Like my hero now whose father told him he'd never measure up finally realizing that he's the one holding the measuring stick now. Good stuff.

TerriOsburn said...

Hellie - Since we have to look south to find our asses as well, then maybe that works too. LOL! I didn't even think of that when I was writing this.

Very smart on the "keep your audience guessing" part. I LOVE when I'm reading and have one of those "I so didn't see that coming" moments. Though even the surprises have to be right for the characters. No penniless heroes suddenly flying the heroine off to Paris for dinner.

Okay, that might work if you set it up that way. I'm not thinking of that movie "How To Marry A Millionaire."

You're reading Hunger Games?? Kiddo is going to be so excited. She breezed through all three books in a week and is dying for the movie. Needless to say she's very put out with me over not letting her attend a midnight showing on a Thursday night. LOL!

TerriOsburn said...

Chance said: Plus, since I write adventure-type stuff, I usually do toss in something bizarre.

This is the understatement of the year. LOL! You are the queen of the crazy coming out of nowhere thing. Totally in a good way. :)

I'm not good with the personal revelations. My characters have them, but since they're typically as stubborn as I am, it takes nearly to the end before the bell goes off.

TerriOsburn said...

Q! Don't get ahead of us now. We'll hit east AND west in the next couple weeks. :)

Serendipity (one of my favorite words) is always fun, but you must be sure it's plausible. Even if only by the slightest margin. One could say my heiress would never have met the charmer had it not been for the kidnapping plot. And they could be completely wrong for each other...on paper.

But serendipity put him on that case and her in his way and fate did the rest. Voila!

TerriOsburn said...

Marn said: Like my hero now whose father told him he'd never measure up finally realizing that he's the one holding the measuring stick now.

Good stuff, indeed! And so well said. My characters having Aha! moments is almost as good as when I have them. No surprise, I usually have to have mine before they get theirs. LOL!

My current MS is probably 75% internal conflict. But it's BIG internal that would have a sweeping effect on many people. That's another important aspect of the conflict. Must have high stakes involved. Not always life and death, but to "feel" like life and death to the characters.

MsHellion said...

I was up until 3:30 or so in the morning reading The Hunger Games. Which is a problem since I do not have the 2nd one to read yet. I haven't finished this one yet, but I will by the end of today, I'm sure.

You won't let her go to the midnight showing? (Actually why are they having midnight showings on a SCHOOL NIGHT anyway? Hello, people.) You going to take her Friday night? It looks like it will be good. And this is a real turnaround for me. *LOL* And I still think it's barbaric what the Capitol does. I hope the other book wrecks those BLEEPS.

TerriOsburn said...

Because I never intend to read them (CANNOT read present tense) she told me the story as she went along. There's something that happens at the end of the series that would have made me throw the book against the wall. And maybe send the author hate mail. LOL! Something I'd NEVER do.

Consider yourself warned. :)

And yes, I told her she can go Friday night. With friends. Though I might sit through it. I'm still deciding.

MsHellion said...

Oh, awesome. *LOL* I love it when horrible bad things happen that cannot be undone. What a witch!

MsHellion said...

I don't mean, of course, that the author is actually a witch--though she could be, that'd be really cool actually--I just mean, it's kinda witchy that she broke a cardinal rule of commercial fiction from what Terri described.

TerriOsburn said...

I'll be curious to see your reaction. Kiddo rolled with it with no problem, but I'd have been PISSED. LOL! Technically, I was and I didn't even read the things.

MsHellion said...

Oh, I'm sure I'll be pissed. But I'm curious if I'll be pissed and eventually go with it, or if I'll do a Janet Evanovitch. Which means, I take all the books and hock them immediately.

TerriOsburn said...

Kiddo borrowed all three books from a girl at school, so she doesn't have them to keep. She wanted me to buy her the third one. In hardback. Which cost the same as a pair of jeans.

MsHellion said...

She wanted the THIRD one. With the horrible stuff? Nice.

TerriOsburn said...

She wanted it BEFORE she read it. Because she borrowed them, when she'd finish on a weekend she'd have to wait until Tuesday to get the next book. She was impatient to get the next one.

MsHellion said...

That's what they said about the 2nd book. Hmmm.

Janga said...

I'm really bad with external conflict. I think Chance and I are polar opposites as writers. My books are quiet. The struggles are largely internal, and any external conflict that creeps in is mostly tied closely to the internal conflict.

If I list my top 25 favorite books, probably 15-18 of them are going to be books with heavy internal conflict and not a lot happening in terms of action and adventure.

MsHellion said...

Janga, my list is going to look like yours, I think. Heavy on the internal, but lighter on the external. I prefer to be in character's heads than on the run where they can't afford to think at all.

The exception to this rule is Hamlet, of course, who is proof something should be done instead of thinking the ENTIRE time.

TerriOsburn said...

Janga - I know you start one book with a plane crash and in another the hero suffers a serious injury in a car accident. Those are external conflicts that contribute to the internal. Your characters are not sitting around talking or thinking about their feelings in every scene.

I've finally come to realize "action" doesn't have to mean the stuff Chance throws at her characters. It can be, and she makes it work beautifully, but action comes in many different forms. I have complete faith that your books have enough action to keep them moving and keep the reader engaged.

Not that your characters and beautiful words need any help. :)

Scapegoat said...

Sorry I'm late!

My WIP is currently heavier on the external conflict and I think this is where I feel I'm missing the boat with it. I'm more of an internal conflict reader and writer so trying to write all this outside stuff is like swimming in syrup.

It is a romantic suspense so this external stuff is needed, but I think in revisions there is going to be a big change in the focus on the conflict.

TerriOsburn said...

I don't envy anyone who takes on Romantic Suspense. You have to have a mystery and danger and action as well as motivations for the main characters and the villain and the villain's minions. Then you usually need a doppelganger to throw a kink into everything and take the reader by surprise.

THEN you still have to build a romance. Dude. More power to you. LOL!

(Sorry, I was probably supposed to make you feel better and did the opposite. So, uhm, YOU CAN DO IT!)

TerriOsburn said...

Also, I think it'll be easier to find the emotion when you already have all this action on the page. I find the external MUCH harder to come up with. So in all honestly, you're in a good place IMO.

Scapegoat said...

LOL - thanks. You have no idea how many times I've stopped writing and spent a few days thinking of how I could re-work this book to NOT be romantic suspense! :)

TerriOsburn said...

IF I were going to try another genre, RS might be it. My first reading love was mysteries (Encyclopedia Brown anyone?) and I'd like to try my hand at the heightened action. It would be hard, but I don't think it would ever get boring.

haleigh said...

Great blog, Ter! I love love love internal conflict. Which is funny because the stuff I write is chock full of external conflict. For me, the two need to be in balance - the deeper and darker the internal conflict, the more bad guys and bullets and stab wounds I need :) haha.

But if I'm reading, I'm much more focused on the internal than the external conflict. Which is probably why I tend to read very tame Regencies, instead of the spy thrillers I write.

haleigh said...

Encyclopedia Brown!!! I LOVED him when I was a kid! In fact, I can still remember one mystery that he figured out because a woman came to the door in a robe, saying she'd just gotten out of the bath, but then pulled a nail file out of her pocket and started filing her nails. Encyclopedia Brown busted her!

TerriOsburn said...

Oddly enough, stab wounds NEVER occur in my books. Though never say never and all that. Heh.

Encyclopedia was the best. Smart kid that one. I never read Nancy Drew, but I loved Encyclopedia. Reminds me of Legally Blond when she nabbed the woman on taking a shower immediately after getting a perm. LOL!

Maureen said...

I love love love internal conflict. Which is funny because the stuff I write is chock full of external conflict. For me, the two need to be in balance - the deeper and darker the internal conflict, the more bad guys and bullets and stab wounds I need :) haha.

Yup, what Halleigh said. I'm like that, too. I love it when the internal conflict has to be set aside for external developements. Like alien abductions or the diabolical circus coming to town.

My heroines are determined to 'not now' everything!

Oddly enough, my reading choices are mysteries. Never read Encyclopedia Brown. I was a Sherlock Holmes, Trixie Beldon, Agatha Christie girl.

MsHellion said...

How did EB bust the woman for taking a bath and filing her nails? You can't file your nails after a bath???

TerriOsburn said...

Of course not. Your nails would be too soft.

MsHellion said...

My hands aren't soaking in the bath. I read in the bath. My nails would not be soft.

TerriOsburn said...

This was a pampered lady lounging in the bath. Or claiming to.

Mo - I love the "Not now!" idea. LOL! My heroines are more likely the type to want to deal with things NOW and the heroes are more like "Let's deal with that never."

Maureen said...

Well, when you're running from the bad guys on the back of a motorcycle...the good guys being the's difficult to find the time to talk things thru... When you're not on the motorcycle, you're trying to evade the surveillance cameras that are EVERYWHERE and trying to contact the underground, while searching for two adolescent aliens that are more than likely dead and in pieces on a lab table...

It's hard to find time to talk!

Of course you can't file your nails after a soaking bath. A reading bath? Sure!

Maureen said...

The thing about they always include a red herring. The out of nowhere thing that was really there all along - if the author is good about it - that you didn't see until the protagonist sees it.

I imagine RomSus can be trickier. The rom is first, before the suspense or mystery. The thing with most of the RS I've read is that scenes are written from the villain's POV so there isn't so much of a mystery... The suspense is 'how can they get out of what he has planned?'

Or she has planned.

I think that is where you can totally use the idea of the southern compass point.

TerriOsburn said...

Good point! And likely why I prefer RS to straight up mysteries. I can't enjoy the story as much if I'm constantly on alert trying not to miss anything.

I do like scenes from the villain's POV. Though only in the suspense, not the thriller stuff where the dude's (or dudette's) POV will give me nightmares.

P. Kirby said...

Sayeth Chance: "Well, when you're running from the bad guys on the back of a motorcycle...the good guys being the's difficult to find the time to talk things thru..."

*Giggle* I've got one of your books on my Kindle. Can't wait to get to it.

As a reader and a writer, I like the internal and external conflicts to be linked, as they are in Hunger Games. Katniss is trying to stay alive, which in part, involves playing at being in love with Peeta, but there's all the accompanying guilt and confusion. (I'm in the minority, in that I really liked the third book.)

OTOH, I can get bored with the internal stuff, especially with SF or fantasy. My eyes start to gloss over if the couple starts bickering or getting angsty when they should be saving the world.

I also dislike it when the internal stuff feels like it's tacked on as a concession to genre requirements. For example, I just finished reading a novel that I really liked. But there's a point at the end where the heroine decides she can't be with the hero because ... well, essentially because people will ridicule her, her family and the hero (because of who she is). This made no feckin' sense because she's been dealing with this crap all her life, even building a successful career despite it. Anyway, that gets solved and then she's all, "But I can't be with him because he's doesn't love me." Which I also found annoying because this is an otherwise strong heroine. I get that talking about The Lurve can be difficult, but I just didn't think the author set it up very well, so as a result, it felt contrived. Like her editor said, "This needs more emotion, more internal conflict."

In the story's defense, it made for a nice, schmaltzy romantic ending, but I would have liked the story just as much (more actually) if the heroine had said, "Look, buddy. Am I just your f*ck toy, or is there more to this?"

TerriOsburn said...

I seriously want to see that line of dialogue in a Regency. LOL!

Nothing bugs me more than to have the character be one person through most of the book and then suddenly do something totally out of character. Drives. Me. Nuts.

Now, if they've grown and changed and it makes sense. I'm with ya. But if it's crazy BOOM out of nowhere "who is this person?" stuff. I'm annoyed.

Which is why the conflict is so important, but also HOW the character reacts to the conflict. Though, that's a whole other blog. :)

Maureen said...

I just finished a book...wonderful cover...interesting premise... A newspapter in the 1820's...heroine part of the news business. All through the set up I was convinced this was a strong woman, able to make up her mind. A marverick. Then...


Didn't really enjoy the 2nd half of the book. Turned into a 'real' historical. Had to do what Daddy wanted her to do...way too much stuff about prayer...

Didn't start like an inspirational. Ended like it. I felt fooled.

Still like the cover...

Pat, I'll be sure to see you get a copy of the motorcycle/good aliens book when I find a home for it... Right now, about 50% written. There is lurve story, and the internal stuff is really important...but I like to think I balance with enough action/adventure!

MsHellion said...

I wouldn't have read a book where the woman works for a news business in that era. *LOL* The daddy complex and the religious stuff would have been the stuff I would have identified with. *LOL* Or thought was remotely historical. :)

No waste on this ship. Whoever likes history that's not particularly historical has its fans and those who like to put the HISTORY in historical can find their kind too. :)

Maureen said...

Yeah, you'd probably find this an interesting book. Lots of historical stuff, which I do like... It was the bait and switch stuff tha bugged me!