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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Let's Plotsorm a Conflict

We might call this Plotstorming (or developing together) Conflict from Character. However, you can use plotstorming to do a lot of things besides developing your character.

Plotstorming is a group technique I developed several years ago that involves several writers getting together and, based on the old Brainstorming techniques, throw around bunches of ideas, whatever pops into their heads about a specific subject to reach a specific goal. In this way of thinking, it's okay to say something weird, inane, off the center subject, what pops into your head. It's not right or wrong, unless you don't have the eventual goal in mind. Often someone else may pick up the crazy idea and say, "it might work if instead, you do ..." So everybody feeds off everyone else's ideas. Of course, the participants are expected to be genuinely helpful.

The person presenting the plot problem directs the flow, and sometimes this is the hard part because the basic problem to be solved may have more to it still stuck in the presentor's head that hasn't been explained. It's keeping the mind open do other people's approach to one's problem that's hard.

I thought Plotstorming could be a very good way to help us all watch a character's personality and traits develop into the story's conflict. We can also help make decisions as to what sort of adversaries he needs as well as his heroine in order for his story to play out.

This is a story I probably won't write. Yet it seems always on my mind. I worry about it being commercially feasible due to the hero's very fervent religious beliefs. Since he is the main adversary in SINS OF THE HEART, however, I can't change that trait about him, and wouldn't want to. But because Davy is such a strong, charismatic character, he makes a good base for developing conflict from character. So for now, we can just have fun with it.

Here's the background:

Davy Polruhan is a Cornishman who has lived in Looe all his life. Cornwall of 1813 is very different and isolated from England, almost like a separate country. Davy is one of those naturally charismatic people who seemed to be loved by everyone from the day he was born. Son of a moderately wealthy boat builder and merchant, and closely related to the local aristocracy, Davy becomes a natural leader of men, and his ready, warm smile wins women's hearts everywhere he goes. As the heroine of SINS says, "Whatever Davy wants, people smile and give it to him." It's almost as if no one ever says no to him.

Davy also grew up as an evangelical Methodist, as did 90% of the people in Cornwall at that time, and his beliefs are strongly rooted in the common good of the people he loves. Their poverty breaks his heart, and so, when the latest war with France began and cut off their livelihood which was based on selling fish to Europe, especially France, he took up smuggling to feed them. He was known as Guinea Jack, and soon became involved in spying for England. He's extremely loyal to his country, his people, and he's not at all fond of aristocrats, who he sees as selfish and greedy. Davy also has extremely rigid ideas about women, who must be pure. He was severely challenged in SINS after learning Jane was not who she said she was, and worse, he knew she had given herself to the hero, and was not the virtuous woman he'd always believed her to be.

He has very fixed standards of right and wrong. He would not thing them rigid because what's right is right and there's no two ways about it. But through all this, his natural charm and inherent happiness with life shine through his craggy, angular features, and people love him for it. He's tall, rugged and energetic, too, by the way.

Davy's life has been an enormous success. He has financial success in a business he loves, building boats and taking them to sea, the leadership of a community he loves, massive respect of others, and causes he truly believes in. He has everything a man could want, except for one thing. He had always believed Jane, heroine of SINS, would eventually come around and agree to marry him. And instead, she fell in love with that damned nob, the Earl of Edenstorm. Rejection is just not in Davy's repertoire. And not only that, he was actually forced to save their lives at just a time and way that dangerously jeopardized his mission to the coast of France. Davy did not take it well. A furious temper Jane had always suspected burst loose, and she was afraid Davy was more criminal in his intents than anyone in Looe knew. And they were at sea, on Davy's boat. Anything could happen. Fortunately the good in him won out, and in the end Davy graciously accepted Jane's choice. But he lost his precious boat, the Nightwind, and several of his men, close friends, died. And deep inside, Davy is angry at God because he doesn't know how to handle not getting what he wants.

Davy rescued a Frenchwoman and her baby, along with the secret that helped end the war. I see her as the heroine, but her personality is not yet developed. So we're free to play with her.

I see two conflict development questions to begin with:
1. What do you see as the challenge Davy must face in his romantic journey? Where does he need to grow before he is really ready for his true love? What are his beliefs that he must re-evaluate and either change or re-affirm? How will his character influence the conflict to come?

2. Who is the heroine? How can she most challenge him?

You can ask questions or propose ideas, or do whatever you want with this. Have at it! I'll be here all day, ready to play!



At 11:32 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

What do you see as the challenge Davy must face in his romantic journey? Where does he need to grow before he is really ready for his true love? What are his beliefs that he must re-evaluate and either change or re-affirm? How will his character influence the conflict to come?

2. Who is the heroine? How can she most challenge him?

Wow, Delle, this is great. You have made the hero a complicated man, at least for me, because I dislike him almost as much as I like him. I don't like that he is so rigid and comes across in the blurb as NOT open-minded. Two traits I would not want in my man. I LIKE that he cares about the people and not just himself. I like that he is easy to smile and charming.

IMO, he needs to learn how to deal with disappointment when it comes to not always getting what he wants.

He also needs to learn to not judge others (as he judged Jane for not being virtuous or whatever)

He needs to loosen up and chill. :)

The heroine could challenge him by NOT being sure about her relationship with God and NOT being a virgin and NOT being rigid. she can be even MORE loving and caring than him and not have a judgmental bone in her body.

There, that's my two cents. :)

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Sounds like an interesting story in the making. I think your hero needs to have an arc from where he is now to a point where everything isn't so black and white. He has to recognize that some things in life fall into the gray area.

As for the heroine, if she has a child, then you can play with the idea that she isn't "pure" by either having her have made a decision (perhaps to protect someone or to simply survive) that had her having sex with someone not her husband. Perhaps it was a member of the aristocracy (her employer?), which adds fuel to the hero's dislike of the aristocracy.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

My whole last comment just vanished because "blogger took too long to respond"! The very second before I posted it, too! This is going to be a bad day!

I'll try posting it in pieces, then. I'll outsmart the nasty blogger clocks yet.

This is great! You have definitely picked up on what I wanted to get across in SINS. There's so much that's good and lovable in Davy, but there's something he never had to face before. And he's never been challenged about the rigidity that seems to him to be the way things are supposed to be.

He was devastated by Jane's duplicity, when he discovered she wasn't even the person she claimed to be, and was instead an aristocrat with a scandalous mistake in her past. Jane knew if he knew the truth about her, she would even lose him as a friend. Yet in the book even when he is critical, it's with a teasing, sunny air that almost makes it seem like a joke.

Davy is sort of like the very aristocrats he disdains, being almost the prince who can do no wrong in his little community. Isn't it true that so often when we dislike something in other people, it's really a part of our own dark secrets?

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Davy shows his goodness in SINS when his anger forces him to look hard at himself and face the new blackness in his heart, jealousy. He's a good thirty years old and has never faced jealousy before. He was always the top dog.

I forgot to tell you, Davy suffers two serious wounds in the rescue of the Frenchwoman from France, and Edenstorm has to save him. At the end, Davy seems to be doing all right, all looks well as they find refuge on the Isle of Jersey. And he supports Jane in her choice of "the damned high and mighty nob".

But you know how dangerous any wound was at the time. What if Davy's wounds turn bad? He's lost everything else. What if his life is now endangered, and the Frenchwoman is trying to nurse a pretty ornery, angry guy?

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Here's what we know from SINS about the Frenchwoman.

She is presented to Davy by an enigmatic French rebel as the wife of one of Napoleon's chief bureaucrats. She has stolen Napoleon's code and escaped with her baby.

Davy is not fond of Frenchmen in any form. Religious view which has not been expressed so far, but could come up, is that any French citizen must be either a Papist (bad news to any Protestant Englishman at the time) or an Athiest (even worse news). At the least it would be an undercurrent, because it was to most Englishmen.

So were political beliefs. Davy might have sided with the French Revolution, but not with Napoleon, who he would have seen as really just one more aristocratic despot. So either way, French citizens were not well liked in England.

But even eliding over that, what if this woman isn't anything she claims to be? He faced that with Jane, but didn't really work through it. He simply accepted it because he did love Jane, and did want what was going to make her happy. And he really didn't have a choice about it.

So maybe the same issue comes at him again because he didn't work it out, but only made an exception to the rule?

Granted, he didn't have time if he immediately became very ill, but the issue is still there, learning not to be so judgmental.

Do you get the idea that DAvy throws his whole heart into everything? I hadn't thought of that before, but I think he does.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Thinking about that last statement, I realize I desperately don't want him to lose that beautiful quality. But I think then, it must be in serious jeopardy if his true story is to be told.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Repeat after me, Delle: Today is going to be a GREAT day! LOL

The frenchwoman heroine sounds like the perfect OPPOSITE of Davy...a lot of conflict there...her views on religion, being french, having a child, having been married or not married to a nobel man...all sorts of good stuff.

And yes, that makes sense that he ends up having to deal with the same problem over again...most people find themselves dealing with issues again and again until they finally "get a clue." :)

So, yes, I like your idea of having her not be what he thinks and this time he has to get over himself. He takes himself and everything around him much too seriously.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Delle, your plotstorming sounds a lot like my friend Denise McInerney's Improv workshop, which will be given at RWA in San Francisco. I encourage everyone to go to it. Denise teaches us to say "yes, AND..." instead of "yes, BUT.." when brainstorming.

Something else to keep in mind, about your hero, Davy, is that the heroine should have an equal conflict with him. My thought is she should be an aristocrat pretending to be someone else (like your Jane) and that she should have an equal reason to despise him...because he's a smuggler or a British spy, some reason.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Oh, I like that, Diane. "She should have an EQUAL reason to dislike him." That's a great idea...

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Terry Stone said...


Since Davy has such religious views, and hatred of the aristocracy, what if the Frenchwoman were a mistress and the baby belonged to her lover and his wife, and she has taken the baby for whatever reason (to keep it safe? to demand money?)and it really isn't hers at all.

Then Davy would have to come to terms with her being another man's mistress AND her having a child for perhaps some nefarious reason.

And going with the wounding-he could take a turn for the worse, and the Frenchwoman, wanting to unburden herself, confesses all to him-thinking that he is dying. But he, of course, recovers and remembers all. He then must come to terms with the woman who has nursed him and the baby, against who he knows she really is and the fact that she won't confess all after he is well.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

I like that, Diane. But what if her conflict is not just an external one such as being an aristocrat, but maybe also a really deep, internal one?

Now that I think of it, Davy's strong belief in trust and honesty has been challenged, but it's still integral to his personality and he values it highly. But the Frenchwoman (going to have to give her a real name along here somewhere since the name she's using is probably also stolen if we continue this line of thought)--

Anyway, the Frenchwoman has probably lived her life in fear. They didn't call the French Revolution period The Terror for nothing. Davy values trust, but she can trust nobody.

Another thought-- she's just ruined the life and career of the guy she stole the code from. What if she knows he's going to hunt her down? Is her fear for herself, the baby, or both? Why does she have the baby if it's not hers?

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Terry, I like that the baby might not be hers. Not sure if I mentioned this thought, but what if she was a friend or the maid of the real mother, who gave her the baby and the code to escape France in the mother's place? Why would she do this? Can she not escape herself for some reason?

Imagine what a worthless aristocrat this heroine would look like to someone like Davy if she had no idea how to take care of a baby, which he believes is hers.

I don't know if she would actually hate Davy, but she wouldn't trust him. And he did save her, almost at the cost of his own life. Maybe she develops a temporary crush for her savior, only to be rebuffed because he believes she is a married woman. Villainous husband or not, marriage is inviolable.

So I don't think she'd go so far as confess to him. But then why can't she tell him the truth since they are supposedly safely out of France
now? Is it just distrust of everyone?

She doesn't know English laws, doesn't know what to expect of Englishmen. And maybe she knows she has to get a lot farther away to be safe.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! A scene! Okay a snip of a scene, but it's a start.

Davy in delirium, says "I always loved ye, Jane." "Kiss me, Jane. Ye haven't married his high-and-mighty-ship yet."

And Frenchwoman, whose heart is always compassionate, fears he might die without his kiss, and knows he's not really coherent, leans forward to kiss him.

Davy, naturally, takes this moment to regain his senses and discovers he's kissing the wrong woman.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Heather Hiestand said...

What about having Davy falter from his lofty perch? Women have to be pure, is there anything he has to be, anyway he can fail and hit bottom so he can learn about human frailty that way?

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Heather, I like that idea. He falls, and feels like crap about himself, and then he meets a woman who is perfect in all his black/white ways, but she's able to get past his imperfections, and that helps him learn tolerance.

I'm curious as to what made Davy this way. Someone who has standards like that is looking for ways to make people fail. I know a guy who felt very betrayed by his mother. Now he picks one woman after another who you can just tell is going to crap on him, because he wants to reaffirm that women are no good. That' more important to him than a relationship. So with Davy, something would have to make the relationship more important than reaffirming his beliefs about women. Not sure what that would be.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Religion is good at making people deal with paradox. Maybe something to do with his beliefs could force him into a relationship.

Like, he believes at one point that he has to marry some woman for spying or patriotic purposes, and he believes she's not a nice person because someone tells him that and he wants to believe it, and then it turns out she's an innocent and he lied and took advantage of her and they're not really even married. She doesn't fit his idea of pure, but he's the cause of her fall, so what does that make him?

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Okay, good. Davy's already on his way down but of course doesn't recognize it. It might be interesting to think about what kind of sex life he might have had up to this time. I don't see him as a complete innocent, but I think maybe he'd be a bit hard on himself for any sins he committed. So far he's done a pretty good job of re-thinking his sins, such as smuggling, which even the beloved founder of Methodism John Wesley deplored. At one point, JW told the Cornish folk if they didn't give up smuggling he would leave them and never come back to Cornwall to preach. En mass, they fell to their knees and promised to quit. Some of them actually did. But John Wesley is dead by this time, and Methodism is beginning to pass from the joyful evangelistic freedom and belief in eternal life to the hard, almost ugly and judgmental thing it became in the later Victorian times, when the joy faded away.

Davy wouldn't be unlike other men of the time if he saw himself as only slightly soiled if he dealt with a prostitute, but he could not allow himself to despoil an innocent woman. I don't like that but that's how most men of power felt.

Our Frenchwoman lived in a time and place where sexual favors were often freely exchanged, with little thought or recrimination for bastard children. Officially the French had thrown off the yoke of the Church, and much of their mores were reactionary to the Catholic doctrine of sin. She might very well feel no guilt about making love to a man who appeared to need her at the time.

Depending on the situation and set-up, DAvy could fall a long way from Grace in his own eyes if he follows his instincts.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

And Esri, what if he "slipped", being already very angry with God, yet still retaining the beliefs he grew up with. What if he made love to her rather than marrying her out of some sense of duty? Then if he discovers she was much more innocent than he thought, he'd still feel very deceived, but he'd be obligated to marry the very woman he resents or despises n other ways. Uhm, let's knock out despises. Too strong, I think.

But to her it's not wrong, and she doesn't see what his big problem is.

What I'd not like to do, actually, is to make this a story about religious foibles, and I think that's one reason why I've avoided this story. It goes down that road so easily. But I think if he has to re-examine his beliefs as well as his own conscience, that's good.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Tricky subject, but it makes for good story-telling. I sometimes wonder if part of the popularity of books like "The Other Boleyn Girl" is the ability to deal with religious stuff. "Well, it's history," you can say. "I'm not just making stuff up around my own beliefs." Kind of lets you off the hook.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

How awesome it is to "see" an actual plotstorming take place....learning by doing is always best.

What if your heroine has some religious ties or issues herself? I think that's one of the biggest reasons I find some inspirationals so compelling, besides their deft use of sexual attraction; when you've got a conflict that involves your faith/beliefs, then you've got one powerful conflict.

But I don't know enough about the French and religion to offer any specifics.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

This is fun, isn't it?

I've always thought religion was such a powerful force in Western Europe that it's strange it's so bypassed in historical romances. And religion plays such a huge effect on morality and beliefs, sometimes positively but often very detrimentally. It's a very delicate subject to explore in a romance when so many people have so many different beliefs.

In researching the original story, SINS OF THE HEART (which some of you may remember in contests as LADY SCANDALOUS) I discovered some of my own family roots in English Methodism. And that's probably why I became so fascinated with the way John Wesley virtually conquered Cornwall by giving its downtrodden people something they could believe in.

I know from experience how deeply religious beliefs can be embedded, and how guilty deeply religious people feel when they question their beliefs. It seems like that's been forgotten, and it is as true to history as the murder by sovereign right of Anne Boleyn.

Very interesting, Gillian, about her having contrary religious beliefs. Definitely worth exploring. Also I should explore the opposite: what if she DOESN'T have any particular beliefs, and she is as challenged by what Davy believes as he is by what she doesn't believe-- or from his point of view, what she doesn't know to believe?

At 10:14 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...


This has been great fun, and really invigorating. I might just have to write this story after all. It might just be one of those "write it anyway" stories, with no thought given to anything except that a story must be written.

You've given me some great ideas and I confess some of them went in directions I had considered before. But I was thinking of taking it more in the direction of a suspenseful adventure story, in the same vein as the first book.

It's very interesting to me that although I made a few attempts to steer you all away from the religion issue, we kept coming back to it. That could be telling me it is the most compelling driving force here. Or did I somehow unconsciously lead you in that direction?

I've heard several people say that plotstorming, even though it is a group activity, still finds its form in the author's mind because of the unconscious way it is led. It will be good to go back over all of this and see whether or not this might be true.

Thanks to all of you for your contributions. Maybe Davy's story will become a published book, and if so, I'll give credit to our little plotstorming party. I came across its name today too- one I'd thought of before but hadn't connected to this story: STRANGER IN THE NIGHT.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

I'm reading this the day after, but the basics of the story sound like The Scarlet Letter. While not technically a romance, it's definitely one of the best books of all time.
I think you should stick with the romance issues and see what bigger book you end up with, but you definitely have a story worth reading and writing!

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I like that, Delle...STRANGER IN THE NIGHT. This was fun. I hope you do write this story so I can read it!

For me the religion aspect stood out because you mentioned how important it was too him, but also because religion is sort of an automatic easy "conflict" to add to the story if one character has strong beliefs


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