Can this love affair be saved?Terry McLaughlin wants to know.
I understand conflict, especially the internal kind. It's that ache in my gut that makes me reach for the antacids when I have to throw problems at my characters.
Here's my dilemma: if both my hero and my heroine have conflicts so huge, so overwhelming, so physically and emotionally threatening that they'll extinguish all life on the planet by jumping into bed together, then why would they make that leap? I'm not writing about out-of-control, stupid, selfish, crazy people. I want my characters to be sympathetic.
Forget about motivation--there's no villain aiming a missile at a Kindergarten class, insisting the hero and heroine slide between the sheets and do what they want to do in spite of all the monumentally important reasons not to slide.
If editors want conflict that's bigger than life, how do realistic, relatable characters deal with it? If there's too much at stake, too much at risk, too many reasons keeping this couple apart, then why would they have anything to do with each other? The external conflicts may provide a reason for physical proximity, but another layer of internal conflicts will be lying in wait, ready to shred their story.
If the hero and heroine hate each other at first sight, if their grandparents or companies or tribes or genetic molecules hate each other, how would they get past that hate long enough to start liking each other? Why would two intelligent, sensible people plow through all that baggage just to test an attraction? Wouldn't it be safer, and smarter, and more sensible to say adiós--especially if the fate of their worlds hung in the balance?
We've all heard the warning about false conflicts that could be resolved if the characters sat down and talked with each other. What happens if they sit down to talk things over, and they both realize they shouldn't get involved with each other in the first place? If the obstacles are too strong--and if those obstacles continue to intensify--why wouldn't the characters give up and find someone else to love?
Jenny Crusie has made the point that if the hero and heroine are completely conflicted, then one must destroy the other in order to resolve the plot--or one character must decide his or her goal wasn't really that important to begin with, which is a cop-out.
Yes, I know there's this annoying problem of filling pages with the answers to these questions, not to mention that pesky thing called a book deadline. (Deadlines have solved many of my writing conflicts.)
But I'm wondering what readers and writers think about these issues. Have you ever read a book that made you wonder why these two people bothered with each other? Have you ever suspected a happily-ever-after relationship wouldn't last past the morning after? How do you make the impossible seem not only possible, but longed for?