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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, April 03, 2008


And that, of course, stands for What Would Jane Do?

After you have read Pride & Prejudice 101, A Study in Conflict, answered a pop quiz and turned in your papers, you will be able to see a picture of the famed wet shirt.

I'm one of those writers who doesn't do conflict particularly well and whose conflict diagrams always have huge holes; I find it particularly difficult in historicals, too, where women--and men for that matter--might have conflicts, or feel conflicted, but have very few practical choices to lead to action. However, what I did discover via Jane Austen, was this foolproof conflict jump start:

At the beginning of your book, if character A falls in love with character B it will ruin his (or her) life.

Naturally they do fall in love, and here's what happens--the most famous and brilliantly written proposal rejection scene of all time, Lizzie and Darcy in Pride & Prejudice.

Darcy begins, In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

His declaration of love is under duress, an admission from a man who is used to being in charge and now feels overwhelmed and out of control. Austen doesn't give us his exact words--she describes Lizzie's sensations as she listens. Lizzie goes for the jugular; all her initial suspicions and instincts about Darcy are confirmed: chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?

And Darcy digs himself in deeper, playing on Lizzie's hidden fears about her own family, and thus pushing all her buttons:

Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?

The first layer of conflict between them at this point is that Lizzie knows Darcy has destroyed her sister Jane's chance at happiness by persuading his best friend Bingley not to propose to her. But the real conflict between them is that they fight their mutual recognition and what could be, and will be, profound intimacy is now terror at what they see in each other and in themselves through the other's eyes.

Darcy takes off his clothes--whoops, no he doesn't. He writes Lizzie a letter, telling her the lurid details of his family secret--Wickham's attempted seduction of Darcy's sister. When there is another, very serious episode of Bennetts Behaving Badly (Wickham elopes with Lydia), Darcy is the first person Lizzie confides in, even though she believes that now she will never see him again. In other words, they grown, they develop trust, and they let go of the prejudices that have kept them apart.

What would Jane do? It works for me.

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At 8:50 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

At the beginning of your book, if character A falls in love with character B it will ruin his (or her) life.

Oh, Janet! What a simple way to figure out conflict! Sometimes "simple" just makes everything seem clear and achievable.

We can add in the details by asking, "Why?"

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

We were watching this JUST LAST NIGHT, and I do like that wet shirt.

Okay, I like the "ruin the life" bit, but in the case of P&P, it's more a case of *thinking* that it will ruin his life, yes? I mean, her family gets even worse, reputation wise, but he goes ahead and marries her anyway. So is this a case of him growing into a new perception of the situation or just deciding she's worth some life-ruining?

All that said, I might still need a shirt that says WWJD? with a pic of Jane Austen on it. Yes, that would send me straight to hell, but I'd be wearing a cool shirt.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Ah, and there it is.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Oh, LOVE that shirt!

My conflicts revolve around the characters. Keeping it "simple" is quite complicated enough for me. :)

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great Janet! This post really does simplify conflict and make it look so easy.

Love the shirt, Esri!

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Santa said...

Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Frankly, I've never heard conflict put so succinctly and it works for me!


At 10:50 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Sign me up for the t-shirt, a very wet Darcy in it IS an option, right? This is absolutely brilliant! It gives you that step back and see the big picture idea. Once you do that THEN you can go in and paint the details. THIS I think I can do!

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Great thinking, Janet! Nobody understood conflict as well as Jane Austen.


At 9:22 AM, Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Sorry I haven't responded before, I was out at my chapter meeting last night (small bits of ice fell from the sky--not sleet, not quite hail either; nasty).
Anyway, I'm convinced that sometimes the simple, obvious solution is best in writing. For some it's making a diagram or chart or flowsheet; for others it's the back of an envelope and an "oh duh" moment.
Esri, I agree that Darcy's perception is skewed; it's his journey through the book that make him able to travel beyond his prejudices and become the hero who puts the Bennetts to rights (as much as anyone can do). Of course he also picks the least-flakey sister, and that must be a great comfort to him.
I want one of those shirts too! Thanks for the link.
And hi to Diane, Gillian, Theresa, Santa, Doglady, and Delle; thanks for dropping by.


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