22 February 2009

Onions

Yesterday I offered to wade through Chapter 1 of ‘A Bid for Love’ to see if I could spot the conflicts. Both the chapter and synopsis are already in the public domain, so I didn’t think I’d be giving anything away by taking a little analytical look. I also didn’t expect it to be as hard (or as useful) as it’s turned out to be. When I wrote the first draft of the first chapter, I didn’t consciously think ‘Ah, good. Inner conflict. Tick.’ I didn’t use flowcharts, diagrams or post-it notes and I didn’t have much of a structure. I had to go and rework it hundreds of times at various stages to add foreshadowing and to strengthen motivation of subsequent action and behaviour. Analysing it is kind of tricky, but here goes.

Chapter 1 is entirely from the heroine's point of view so I’ll stick with her for the moment. The main external conflict point in this chapter is that Emily is going to a wedding that she really doesn’t want to go to with a complete stranger. So that’s the external conflict sorted (I think). Now how about the internal variety?

Well, the short answer is there isn’t any. At least not the gut-twisting, heart-wrenching, deeply introspective type. Intense emotional conflict prevents the characters from being together when they want to be. At the beginning of my story, Emily and Luke are strangers. Like many people, neither is the sort to jump into bed with someone they’ve only just met and then declare their undying love, so as I see it, they don’t need intense emotional conflict to keep them apart. And as they don’t really know each other, neither of them has much to lose if they walk away and never clap eyes on each other again, so the emotional stakes are not particularly high.

Emily’s inner conflicts then, the ones that affect her behaviour and reactions in this chapter, are not intense. They’re more about revealing her character and moving the story forward than causing deep emotional angst. She doesn’t want to go to the wedding of her ex-fiance to another woman (franky, who would?) and so she's cross with her bossy older sister for interfering. However she's also battling this guilty feeling that she really owes it to her sister to go. Additionally she thinks that she’s over her old relationship, but then reflects that maybe she isn’t. Internal conflict, yes, a bit. Angst, yes, but minimal.

But then there’s also the hint of conflicts to come, like Emily’s attitude towards motherhood and her reaction to her sister’s revelation that the money raised in the auction is to go to a charity that prevents maternal mortality. Things which are far more likely to cause major anguish if they’re challenged (and of course they will be) further down the line.

Luke, without his own point of view, is more shadowy. What’s going through his head only comes out through his actions, reactions and words. He’s attracted to Emily but probably doesn’t want to be. He’s also reluctant to reveal the real reason why he bid for her, which means it must be a big deal to him and very personal. If it wasn’t he’d just come out and say it. But he doesn’t. Just as Emily doesn’t tell him the real reason why she doesn’t want to go to the wedding. What’s more, they each suspect the other is holding back on this. (Could this be construed as conflict? I’m not sure.)

Which brings me on to another point: how do you know what to reveal when? Now this is only my very inexperienced opinion, but I reckon that backstory should be woven into the action/dialogue/introspection if and when it’s needed to explain a character’s motivations. (I think I may have broken a rule or two with my flashback though, so don’t take my word for it.) And it's a similar thing with foreshadowing. Which is why I have to constantly dart back and forth through my ms as I write filling in bits to make sense of what I've just written.

I think it's Kate Walker in her 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance who likened emotional conflict to an onion. Lots of layers. By peeling off and dealing with each layer, you reveal another and another until you get to the heart of the matter. In the case of Mills & Boon romance, each layer also tends to be worse than the previous one.

To continue with the onion analogy, I reckon that each layer should be peeled off at the point where it’ll have most impact. At the beginning of my story, if Luke said to Emily as they’re getting off the plane, ‘Enjoy the wedding. Oh, and by the way I’ve sworn off love because my wife died and I never want to go through that again’, she’d probably think she’d had a lucky escape. If, on the other hand, he tells her that just after she’s realised she’s in love with him, well, that’s going to have a dramatic effect.

Does any of this make any sense whatsoever? Obviously my waffling above is only my opinion and refers to my story and my characters. The intensity, nature and focus of emotional conflict will be different in each story and there are many other more experienced writers out there who are far better at dissecting this sort of thing than me. Anyway, I've gone on for quite long enough, but I’d be fascinated to hear other opinions and if anyone has any questions, do ask.

9 comments:

Janet said...

Thank you so much for posting this Lucy. So chapter 1 is all about hinting at the potential internal conflict? (and the editors could see from your synopsis that you had plenty to come)

Suzanne said...

This is so helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this - especially when you already had a wordcount target for your current wip this weekend.

Now you've shown how it should be done, I'm going to try a similar summary of the conflict in my poor neglected ms (the same one I've been faffing around with for four years).

Lucy King said...

Janet, all I can say is that my chapter 1 seems to be about establishing the heroine's character, introducing some of her inner conflict and hinting at the more major conflicts to come. I wouldn't say that all chapter 1s should be like that!

And Suzanne, yikes, I certainly wouldn't say that this is how it should be done - it's just what I think I've done :)

Jackie Ashenden said...

Lucy, that's a great explanation. I think the level of conflict you reveal is largely dependent on your setup. For strangers, you're right, you don't need to reveal their internal conflict too quickly. For people who know each other though, you would probably have to get to the internal conflict pretty quickly otherwise people are going to be wondering why there's a story about them getting together in the first place.

Yes, I like what you're saying about backstory too. And using it to explain motivations is a biggie. In my revisions, it was pointed out that there are a couple of things my hero does that aren't fully explained. I didn't explain them because I didn't think they needed to be - but I was wrong! So I'm going to have to use his conflict and backstory, in the form of some introspection and dialogue, to explain why he leaves off calling the heroine for days and days. And I need to explain this because otherwise he comes across as cruel - not what I intended obviously!

Lucy King said...

Haha, I know what you mean, Jackie. In one of my efforts, the opening scene had my hero drowning his sorrow in drink. Even though he had good reasons to want to do this, he came across as deeply unsympathetic as I hadn't at that point explained those reasons.

Rachael Johns said...

Thank you for this analysis. Really interesting to read how you view your chap, since I read it totally for enjoyment. Of course... now I think back I can see all these things you put in!

You are a master-writer!

JAckie good point about h/H's background making a difference to how much you reveal. I LOVE stories about old loves/past friends/enemies and probably because they (when done well) can immediately have soooooooooo much conflict!

Kate Walker said...

Yes that onion thing was me! Though I'm not honestly sure that I could analyse my conflicts as you've done. Don't worry about any 'rules' with flashbacks - there aren't any!

Kate

Lucy King said...

I'm not sure I'd do it again - it was incredibly hard!

(Probably because I didn't write it agonising over the conflict, and I would never read with it in mind!)

Lorraine said...

I tried to post this comment this morning but couldn't get internet to work so here it is again - I see that Rachael has made a similar point to the one I planned to make:

'Thanks Lucy,

This does make perfect sense, actually - to reveal as much backstory as you need so that whatever is happening at that point in the book makes sense. So if it's a couple who've got a history together then there may be more backstory than if you have two strangers. (think this is what Jackie was saying too).

I like the word foreshadowing, I shall bear it in mind.
I did read the onion chapter a long time ago and then just before Christmas. the second time I wondered why I hadn't absorbed the points about conflict - it would have saved so much wasted time!'