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.