Conflict, Conflict, Conflict by Jo BeverleyLet's give a big Noodler welcome to guest blogger, Jo Beverley, member of RWA's Hall of Fame and winner of five--count 'em FIVE--RITA awards. And there's more! Read on.
You'll have to forgive me if I seem a bit ditzy, but to use a good old English term, I'm discomnockerated -- but in the best possible way -- to report that A Lady's Secret will be on the print NYT for a third week. And it'll be up! 10.
You know the old saying -- you have to be crazy to work here? That sums up the writing biz. We get pushed down and boosted up, and sometimes there's no logical reason for one or the other. Sure, A Lady's Secret is a great book. I know that's boastful, but sometimes things come together, and we know it.
I liken it to making bread (and if you've never done that, you should.) As we work the dough we know if it's good or not, because we can feel beneath our hands whether it's alive or not. Good dough reacts to the warmth of our hands.If we dimple it, it rises back up like a chuckling baby. It's a lovely thing, and it's what we want when we're writing a book.
In my opinion, there's no such thing as a bread recipe, and no rules or structures for a good book, but there's two that come close.
1. Cut the boring bits.
2. Conflict, conflict, conflict.
Back about 25 years ago (yikes!) one of the first writing talks I went to was about conflict and how it was key to a good romance. Took me years to accept it properly and a lot longer to really understand it. If I do.
I'm half way through a new book and I've just gone back a few scenes and given my plot a dislocating twist which will probably mean that about 20,000 of my precious words after that are heading for the misty never-never land. But the tone and pace of my book had become too tranquil. Something had to happen. Why did it take me so long to realize the dough was dying?
You're probably stuffed to the eyebrows with wisdom about conflict, but so was I. I still didn't get it until I began to grasp that it's not really the plot, it's the spark that fires the plot engine. It's what makes things happen. When things aren't happening - boring bits, saggy middles - it's because that spark isn't there or is weak.
So put it in! And in a nutshell, that means make the characters' lives difficult -- very difficult. Another excellent word for conflict is "barrier."
What stands between the characters and what they want? Does it truly challenge them? Low barriers, or barriers that can be sidled around don't provide a spark, and we can't fool the reader on that one. We can try to say that Cinders can't go to the ball because she doesn't have the right shoes, but unless you've set it up right the reader can see a dozen ways around that. When Cinders finally decides to steal her sister's, paint shoes or her feet, or go barefoot the reader is saying, "Well, duh!"
The key here is the conflict hinges on the character not being very smart or ingenious, and that's hard to pull off for a hero or heroine.
On the other hand, powerful barriers can rise from human nature. For one character, walking into a party of strangers is no big deal; for another it's Mount Everest. As can be finally revealing a shameful secret, or calling a family member on an old wrong. Done right, readers will empathize with that completely because they know they would fight not to have to do that, or because they know people like that. That can even be a key plot driver for a long time - an inability to face a particular situation or reveal a buried secret.
Let's talk about conflict/barriers/uncomfortably and stressed characters.
Remember, at the end of the month we're giving away a signed Jo Beverley book to one lucky commenter. And that book will be......A Lady's Secret! So comment away.