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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Friday, April 11, 2008

Q and A Friday

Today is Q and A Friday, your chance to ask the Noodlers all your niggling questions about our topic of the month - CONFLICT

What questions about Conflict do you have so far?

It could be about Michael Hauge's ideas about what makes for good conflict, or using Debra Dixon's Goal Motivation and Conflict.

You might want to try out Pris's fill in the blanks, or use us to figure out whether your hero and heroine have true conflict or are just bickering.

Ask away! One of the Noodlers is bound to help. (Or at least have a strong opinion :-))

Remember, if you ask a question or make a comment this month you will have a chance to win an autographed Jo Beverley book

And don't forget that Noodler MJ Frederick has a new release. Hot Shot

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At 11:56 AM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Can you talk a little bit about the difference between raising the stakes and being melodramatic? How do you know when you're doing one and still avoiding the other?

When I think of books that I enjoy, if it's not the emotion, it's the unexpected plot twists. But I don't want plots that are characterized as over the top or beyond belief.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I do think this is the difficult challenge, Patricia.
I remember reading one of Nora Roberts's Irish books, the one about the woman handy-man/builder/contactor. The stakes were only high for the hero and heroine and the story was really nothing more than them working out their romance. I was amazed at the simplicity of it.

But it sounds like you like a story with more plot.

Hauge would say what the hero and heroine desire should be important.

I think you must make it something that the readers can buy into as important, but not contrived.

Say, your single mom heroine wants this job.
If she wants it because it pays more than her other job and she wants to buy a new car, it may not be important enough for me to care about.

If she wants it because her son needs a major, experimental operation and this is the only way she can pay for it, maybe that's straying into melodrama. (Although that could work if done right)

If she wants it because the bank is about to foreclose on her house and she will lose what she worked for for her and her son, that's topical, important, and realistic.

Who would the hero be in this last scenario?

I think we want to pull on reader's heartstrings, but I think we want to do it in a realistic, not extreme way.

I'd love to hear other noodlers' answers to your question!

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Patricia :-)! One idea I've heard for raising the stakes is to add another level of pressure to the characters' goals--adding or tightening a deadline, for instance.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Diane's point about going with topical versus cliched is well made. Often, if something occurs to you right off the bat, it's running in the well-worn grooves of melodrama. Do the exercise of coming up with 20 things that could happen. Once you push past the obvious, one of them should be fairly fresh. Also, if your characters react in a very realistic way, a way that's individual to them, that should avoid melodrama as well. Good question.

Shameless self-promotion: Oy, everyone, if you haven't watched my video, scroll past the Q&A post for the YouTube screen. Thanks!

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Topical, important, and realistic. I like the example that you provided, Diane. It really helps me to see the difference.

Add another level of pressure. Also good advice, Terry. I never heard anyone say this before. Of course, my visual was the old vise my dad kept in the basement. I use to love to play with it, even though I wasn't supposed to, turning the screws to see how tight I could grasp a particular item. Nothing animate, of course!

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great question Patricia and explanation, Diane!

I do think that over-the-top, melodramatic stories can work if they're handled well. SEP's FIRST LADY was over the top and I loved it.

Then there was Adele Ashworth's book, My Darling Caroline. Basically two people in the same house for the entire book. Talk about simple and little plot and yet the tension was high for me. It's amazing how some story's really don't need much plot at all if you can dig deep into the soul of the characters.

Conflict is a tough subject because there are so many ways to get from point A to Z. So many books, so little time. :)

There are tons of ways to raise the stakes in a story and keep it real. End a chapter with a cliff hanger/question and then introduce a subplot.

Patricia, do you have a specific problem with your work in progress that you want to share? What genre are you writing in?

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Thanks for asking, Theresa. I'm kind of starting a new wip because I was wrestling with the one I had and couldn't get past my block.

In that story, a contemporary romance, my heroine moves to a new city with her daughter. Shortly after, she has an forgettable encounter (from her standpoint) with the hero. But then she loses her job, doesn't have any family or friends yet, and is facing homelessness. The hero offers her a place to stay until she can get back on her feet. She's amazed that he would do this, given that he doesn't know her. For the hero, it's about helping others whenever he can. She accepts because she's literally hours from being on the street with nowhere else to go.

He has a son. H/H begin to bond but problems begin when their children do too. In actuality, children are simply becoming good friends. His son helps her daughter get acclimated to new environs. Hero reads more into it than there is because he was a teen father who assumed responsibility for his child when the mother walked away. She resents his attitude toward her daughter and redoubles her efforts to find a place of her own.

Then stuff happens, between adults, between parents/children, and of course, externally. Don't want to say too much here but I started thinking it was all a bit too much. Whole story began with idea of someone opening their home to someone else that they barely know, no questions asked, because my family was on the receiving end of a gesture like this once. All the rest is made up.

Does it sound too melodramtic? Maybe I should drop the whole kids/teen pregnancy subplot and go in another direction? Maybe I should make the children younger with a different issue altogether?

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Patricia, nothing you've described sounds melodramatic to me. I am confused as to what you mean when you refer to the teen-pregnancy subplot? Do you mean one of the current teenagers, or the Hero's past? If the latter, it's hard to say. If the hero is interpreting actions between the kids that 95% of your readers would not interpret as sexual, then you might have a problem. But kids are flaky, and if his son has gotten into some mild trouble before, then I think it could fly just fine. From my standpoint, I'd believe it more if he suspected his own kid, but the heroine got all hinky because even though he distrusted his son, it implicated her daughter. It could all be very chilly. Chilly behavior doesn't usually equal melodrama, and is just as effective in pushing the H & H apart.

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I like this plot a lot, Patricia! If it were MY story...:)...I would keep the H/H just the way they are but yes, have the kids different ages. Have the daughter with a teen pregnancy issue would be great and would add lots of tension and it's a real life problem. His son though, could have different problems. Maybe he's younger so that they don't have to worry about the daughter and son getting together, but the son has his own problems...either with friends who do drugs or bullies or something...then conflict could arise when Hero gives heroine's daughter advice she doesn't like and/or visa versa. This does not sound melodramatic at all. I think you could make this work.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I concur, Patricia. That is a really dynamite plot! Great tips everyone. Add another level of pressure. I like that - layers of conflict. So, here's the question. Which is more compelling - internal conflict or external conflict? Which should occupy more space in the book? And is internal conflict that which the hero or heroine must let go of or sacrifice in order to achieve the HEA? In other words is it something they have wrapped their life around or believe they must be or do? Then the hero or heroine comes along and they have to let that go? Am I making any sense. Been sick the last three days and I am stoned on Bengadryl and Nyquil so I can drag my half-dead corpse to work!

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Your plot sounds very similar to the "good" one I came up with, buy yours has a better twist.

I don't think it sounds melodramatic.
You could keep a teen pregnancy issue if you found the right way to deal with it.
Try to twist it - use it in an unexpected way.
Like... The father thinks his son and daughter are hooking up, but in reality it is his son who fears he got another girl pregnant and the daughter is trying to help them.

Or a better twist...

In my critique groups it seems that we always get really interested in a story if we find that unexpected twist.

Here's a twist - switch the hero and heroine roles. The hero is almost homeless and the heroine invites him to stay.

Or work on the internal conflict. Why does the hero need to help people?
What qualities in the heroine would be in direct conflict with his need to help?
How can the children make this worse? (O Doggie One was saying this too)

I love it that you thought to make the children LIKE each other instead of hate each other. That's a nice twist.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Lorelle said...

In order to escalate the conflict, each obstacle needs to cut closer to the character's emotional limit as you move toward the climax of the story.

Sometimes the character will try a solution that seems to bring relief—then pow!—they are hit with a reversal and they are in an even trickier situation.

I have a heroine who discovers she is the kidnapped daughter of a late financier and has inherited a huge fortune she doesn't want. Early in the story, she learns she can dump it on the hero in six months if she's really unhappy. She feels relieved. Her world can go back to normal eventually.

But just as relief settles in, her uncle hands her a checkbook—her christening money—a little over a million dollars. It's hers and she can't give it back.

When she tries to use it to help people in the town, many of her good deeds go unappreciated or backfire on her. She ends up being even more frustrated with the money. The prospect of her upcoming inheritance looms even larger as she realizes giving money away can create even more problems for the recepients.

I agree with Esri that the reactions of the character should ring true to who they are. Don't force your authorial interpretations on the story. Let the characters guide you.

But as Theresa said, sometimes melodrama can work. I'm thinking of Victoria Holt's Gothics. I loved those stories. I think it's always better to go for the gusto in the first draft, then scale it down, if need be, in the second go-round.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Doglady: Yeah, that's a fine way to describe internal versus external conflict. Another way to put it is that the external conflict is whatever outside influence is keeping the H/H apart, and the internal is whatever emotional barriers are keeping them apart.

As for which should occupy more space, I'd say whichever one you feel you write best. You'll find readers who enjoy both. It's probably true that traditionally, the romance genre uses internal, but romantic-suspense and cross-genre books (paranormal in particular) have opened that up so much that I don't think it's much of an issue anymore.

At 9:28 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Gives me food for thought. Like the idea of switching the hero and heroine's roles. I'm going to print all of this out and mull over it.

Maybe I'm not starting a new story just yet...


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