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Posts tagged with: conflict

Brainstorming Unusual Character

 

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Oops. The Ruby calendar had a few holes, so I thought we’d talk weather today. Not what it’s like in your area (however, you certainly can share), but how weather is used in our novels to trigger change in our characters’ lives. We know the well-worn cliché of the hero and heroine trapped in a cabin during a snow storm, but we don’t want to do cliché. We want to write fresh ideas

Did you see THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE? How about THE GRAPES OF WRATH? Those are two off the top of my head movies/books where weather was the catalyst for change in many lives.

I’m about to begin a new story for my PERFECT LOVE line and I’ve been brainstorming, thinking about my characters and how I can use weather to change their lives, and/or to up the conflict and anxiety. I’m thinking a flash flood wipes away the wedding set-up, thus putting everything on hold. Enter in a contractor who steals the maid of honor’s heart from the groom’s brother.

Here are a few others examples:

A high heat index causes a blackout situation, sending the tenants of an apartment building to the cool basement.

Lightening brings down a tree limb causing a car accident.

A hail storm causes a delay in a flight.

A sunny day on the beach causes a severe sunburn and sends the victim to the ER—step onto the page Doctor do-me- good.

Hot day melts all the icing on the cupcakes, or the wedding cake, the heroine has made.

While camping, a calm night has the heroine hearing every twig snapping, causing her to build big a really big fire which gets out of control.

A sand storm causes a woman to lose her way on the back roads of Arizona.

Okay, this is an interactive blog, so come on, think out of the box, and share your ideas for ways weather can affect your story, or share an example of something you’ve read.Golden Sun

 

 

It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New

I’ve been writing novels for a long time now. I can say that I’ve learned how to write a novel and I’ve learned how to meet a deadline.

But I get stuck. I lose my way even though I have an outline. I have to rewrite. I struggle sometimes with imagery and just plain bad writing. And I sometimes lose confidence. I have accepted that these things are just part of the job.

I’ve also discovered over the years that when I’m feeling doubtful about my writing it helps to go read a book on writing craft, or storytelling, or character development and try out new techniques or new processes. Going back to basics and/or learning something new frees me from self-doubt and the writing doldrums.

So, since we’re in the midst of the Winter Writing Festival, and I figure lots of you are struggling with self-doubt, have lost your way, or are stuck on a scene, it might be helpful to provide a list of great books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

Below you’ll find a list of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Some of these books changed my life. Others are used all the time as I plot or troubleshoot.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler

The book discusses mythic structure and the hero’s journey as first outlined by Joseph Campbell. My take: This was the first book I ever read on story structure and it was an enormous eye-opener. It probably should be on every novelists shelf. But, a word of caution, romance authors will be left scratching their heads. The hero’s journey explains a lot of stories out there, and a lot of popular movies, but it doesn’t work for romance novels.

 

 

The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening by Kim Hudson (with a forward by Christopher Vogler)

This book discusses fairytale structure and can be viewed as a companion book to the Writer’s Journey. My take: I’ve been waiting for this book for years. It was published in 2010 and it discusses stories that don’t fit mythic hero’s journey structure (like romances!) If you’re writing stories about characters learning to live a fulfilled life, then this book will help you understand that structure. I truly think every romance author should own this book and study it.

 

Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham

This book discusses scene and sequel structure. My take: This is a book that will help you improve pacing, regardless of what kind of genre you may be writing. The book focuses on thrillers and suspense novels, but romance authors can get a lot out of it as well.

 

 

 

Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

This is a seminal book that provides hands-on help in crafting three-dimensional characters and understanding what people mean when they talk about conflict in a story. My take: This book changed my life. Seriously. I had no idea what conflict was, and I kept writing stories that got rejected with the words “no conflict” written all over them. If you have been told that your manuscript is lacking in conflict, you should read this book.

 

 

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Written by a well-known literary agent, Donald Mass’ workbook provides advice and exercises to make your novel stand out in a crowd. My take: The exercises in this workbook are so useful, whether you are trying to fix a scene you’ve already written, or plot a novel from start to finish. The exercises are also very useful during brainstorming sessions with other writers. A lot of the questions I ask during the WWF brainstorming sessions on Wednesday mornings come right out of this workbook.

 

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K Le Guin

Beloved author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin provides her take on the craft of writing. My Take: If you’ve ever read one of Le Guin’s books, you know that she writes beautifully. Her book on writing craft (including such issues as comma placement) was utterly liberating for me.

These are my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck. What books on craft or storytelling are on your shelves?

What Scares You?

What scares you? Halloween2011

At this time of year there are obvious answers: evil witches, zombies, giant spiders. As a child these “scary” things might seem heart stopping, but as we age and experience loss and betrayal, other less obvious things become the source of nightmares. Mother-in-laws who can’t let go of their sons. Corporate take overs which spur massive lay-offs in the name of efficiency. A satin pair of panties in your husband’s briefcase. Beige walls with framed medical degrees as an oncologist shakes his head. Our adult worlds have opened up to fears far beyond the Halloween props.

Why do I bring up all this unpleasantness? Who wants to deal with all the nasty, stomach churning pain of real-life fears? As humans we will unfortunately have to deal with frightful things. As authors, we can use those nightmares to make our work rich with painfully realistic motivation and conflict.

Every heroine and hero needs baggage, secrets or pain they would rather forget. Otherwise what would they have to overcome? Why would the reader care about them? We need characters who are as flawed and hobbled by their pasts as we are.

Good books have external obstacles. Great books have external obstacles with characters mired down by their own internal

Free this week on Amazon!

Free this week on Amazon!

obstacles. In my latest release, SURRENDER, my heroine must rescue her adopted father from kidnappers in Victorian era Egypt. There are many external obstacles including demons, asps, collapsing crypts, and a rakish American treasure hunter who has secrets. But it is the internal obstacles that truly push and pull at the hero and heroine, throwing them together one moment but then tearing them apart the next. Issues like abandonment, distrust, guilt and rejection pepper their pasts like savory herbs adding to the richness of a gourmet meal.

As authors we have, perhaps, more imagination than the “normal” population. We can create drama in our minds from our comfortable seats in our comfortable houses. We can build traumatic childhood pasts when our worlds were rather bland at ten years old. We can visit the crypts of ancient Egypt with a flooded Nile pounding down the walls around us. But…if we have lived with fear, lived with real betrayal, and we allow those tamped down feelings of guilt or resentment, that we’ve buried, arise – we can use them.

For those who do not know me, I am an ovarian cancer survivor. In 2011, just after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed and started a 15-month chemo regimen that was painful, debilitating and terrifying. I walked through the fire and have come out the other side with insight, appreciation, and oodles of details on surviving and dealing with fear.

As a writer, I was unable to write fiction during my treatment. It was too exhausting to create new worlds and people. But I wrote non-fiction constantly, bleeding my pain and fear out onto the pages of blog posts which I will one day use in some cancer survival self-help books. Writing about my experiences was a way I could heal emotionally, remaining positive and able to fight the good fight for my life.bluescarfbeads

Now that I’ve returned to my fiction, I can use all those details in my writing. No, not all of my future heroines will have cancer (although I’m considering one), but I can tap into all those feelings I had during those two years. My anxiety of death, the feelings of being out of control, how it feels to be poisoned or looked at with pity. I know how desperate someone can become not to leave their children as I prayed constantly not to be taken from mine. I can now understand why some people, knowing how bad treatment can feel, will decide not to fight.

All of that detail can now be used in my books, breathing real life into my characters, giving them truly rich motivation. You can do the same. Put your past fears and pain to good use. It can be very cathartic for you. Bleed it out and into your characters. Let them suffer instead of you.

Okay – I know it’s not that easy to deal with real, life-altering pain or no writer would ever need to talk with a therapist (I love mine and whole heartedly recommend getting one of your own : ). But if you have baggage (and we all do), we can help ourselves by using that pain instead of hiding it away to pop out at inopportune moments in the form of panic attacks and/or banshee eruptions.

What scares you? Think about it. Pull it out of your psyche and examine it. Then use it. Fill your characters with real life motivation and conflict. It will enhance your writing and it just might make you feel better.

I won’t ask you to bare all on the blog (unless you want to), but what gives you the shivers, especially at this time of year? I’d have to say, having been bitten by the nasty creatures in the past, spiders would have to be my number one chill inducer.

 

Listen Up, Grasshopper

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Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

 

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

 

I like to think about life in four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with a foot and hand in each color.)

 

How does this translate into my writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they try to restore balance through action, or, in the case of the villain, often through unconventional or illegal means. The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or decide they’d rather have oranges.

 

As a reader, and as someone who strives for balance, I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life plan…better them than me, I say.

 

For instance, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life. In Deadly Bonds, everything’s going smoothly for my heroine, a director of a school, when a parent promises to make trouble for her because she won’t get with his program. In fact, my whole Mindhunters series was the result of an imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

 

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

 

What are some of the imbalances your characters face, or in the books you’re currently reading? What areas of your life are you working to balance, and how?

 

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

(*This post originally ran on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog on June 12, 2012.)

Harlequin Presents: A Master Class in Internal Conflict

Billionaire heroes so domineering, hard-headed, and Alpha that they dismiss all women as silly, dangerous distractions that must be avoided. Ugly duckling heroines so sweet, shy, and virginal that they are actually virgins.

You guessed it: I’m talking about Harlequin Presents novels.

Love at First Sight is Lame

Yep, I said it.  Love at first sight is lame.  It’s, dare I say, boring.  Every time I read a contest entry starting off with Boy A seeing Girl B and thinking “Omigod, my soul burns with love for you!” and Girl B thinking, “Lo, I have found in Boy A the only man who hath ever made my heart go k-thud k-thud!” and I can’t already see an ax waiting to fall on their romance, I mentally check out of the story.  Why?  Cuz there’s no conflict in love at first sight.

Life Sucks Then Some One Dies

There is so much to learn about crafting a great book, including having sufficient conflict to carry your plot for the number of necessary pages.  If you didn’t know, I’m here to tell you conflict is a necessary element in commercial fiction. No book will get published without it.Fortunately, there are numerous industry professionals willing to help you. Each use their own terms and methods. It’s easy to get confused which is the best.   Well, there is no best. What works for you is what is best.

Thinking of ‘Life sucks’ moments is the way I come up with conflict for my characters.  The main conflict should always be made clear and remain the core dilemma throughout the story, but adding minor struggles (especially those that are universal which a majority if not all readers can identify with) adds to the drama and drama drives the plot forward.   Caution; too many mundane issues can confuse or bore the reader.

 

In the beginning of my new release, ‘In The Presence Of Evil’, Gina, my heroine, has a bad day and it only gets worse as the story evolves. Within the first act, I have the following six examples of conflict, some which pin Gina against other characters, including the hero. Some are minute and common, but they do add to Gina’s angst and the story’s tension.

1)      Gina has an argument with her boss and puts her job on the line.

2)      The day gets worse when, Cole, the man who she loved and who left her behind returns to town.

3)      Now her holidays, which she planned to spend with her new boyfriend, are ruined by his presence.

4)      Then Gina finds her boss dead.

5)      When she becomes the main suspect in the murder investigation, her reputation is in the toilet.

6)      Finally someone threatens Gina’s life.

 

Since I write romantic suspense, there are two main conflicts in ‘In The Presence Of Evil’.  A murderer threatening Gina is my suspense conflict which is external.  Resolving the issues between Gina and Cole is the romance conflict and referred to as internal.

 

In my world, every character’s life sucks.  Here is a list of Cole’s problems. Some which pin him against Gina, or the story’s villain, or causes torment for himself.

 

1)      Cole is an injured solider, returning home. His injury becomes an issue when protecting Gina.

2)      He has to face Gina the woman who betrayed him and then feels her rejection.

3)      Cole finds out Gina has a boyfriend and he forms a low opinion of the guy.

4)      Cole is a protector. When Gina becomes a murder suspect he steps up as her alibi, and comes to her rescue when her life is threatened, putting himself in the line of fire.

 

Yes, villain’s life’s suck too.

 

1)      The bank president’s death (Gina’s boss) jeopardizes his money laundering scheme.

2)      A special ops soldier- injured or not- presents another problem.

3)      Gina’s life endangered means an enemy within his organization is close at hand.

 

Conflicts should play off each another.  Example:  In the opening scenes, Gina is having a really bad day at work and in walks the man who abandoned her. She loved Cole with all her heart.  Put yourself in her position.  Would you be in any mood to play nice? I think not.  Neither does Gina, thus feeding Cole’s feeling of lost and rejection.

 

Another example;  Someone wants Gina dead and Cole sees her boyfriend as a joke. Cole puts his feelings for Gina aside and becomes her body guard because that is what a good soldier does.  However, Gina doesn’t want his help.  Conflict!

 

Making a list of how life can suck for my characters helps me in plotting out my stories.

 

Does anyone else have any other suggestions for coming up with conflict for their characters?

Milking Misunderstanding Conflict

Misunderstandings are practically de rigeur in romance novels.  We, as the readers, know the hero and heroine are perfect for one another.  So what’s keeping them apart?  If only she hadn’t mistaken him for a pauper when really he’s a prince!  If only he knew that she wasn’t really engaged to his arch enemy!  If only they would get over their issues, talk out their problems and live happily ever after.

There can be a real power in the misunderstanding conflict.  The reader really wants the hero and heroine to get together and the misunderstanding conflict dangles that possibility tantalizingly close.  If only she knew!  If only he realized!

But the misunderstanding conflict can backfire on you.  Stretch it too long or botch the set-up and your reader will stop wanting your heroic couple to get together and start shouting at them to get their collective heads out of their collective

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