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Monday, March 12, 2012
12:00 AM | Posted by Terri Osburn | | Edit Post
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.
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?