Friday, May 9, 2008

Getting down to it: Conflict

Happy Friday! Christy here.

I'm happy because this is a Friday that I'm off of work! YEAH!

For everyone who knows me, or comes to the F.A.I.T.H. Blog regularly, you're well aware that I'm always struggling with some thing.

Today, we're talking about my current struggle and that's conflict in our stories.

I had another A-ha! moment this week, while reading Alicia Rasley's The Story Within Guidebook. The moment happened in the Conflict portion of her book where she plainly states, "You have chosen to write about one particular segment- a few weeks or months- of that long life. Why? What's special about this segment? It's because something changed during this time: His attitude, her health, his marital status, her profession. He finally learns to trust during this time, or she gets over the lingering effects of a rootless childhood..."

A-ha! Then it's worthless for me to tell about the 6 month span that occurs between Hero and Heroine? I may only need to tell about one month that occurs when he really discovers who she is and what part she played in his past? That's it?


I'm realizing I don't have to re-write Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell did it so well, no one's going to fill her shoes. And, no one today is going to wait for me to go through the whole Civil War... not for the Need-It-Now contemporary romance readers! I should know this. I'm one of those Need-It-Now readers!

So I need to pin down the plot. I need to keep what's happening in this book in a shorter time period. Backstory is good - and I need to know ALL of it - but the reader doesn't. The backstory of each character is what makes up their every action, every sentence.

Do you remember the movie: Baby Boom with Diane Keaton?

I love that movie. Actually, my 3-year old daughter loves it, too. I've seen it so many times because of Downey that I've memorized much of the dialogue.

At the beginning of the story, when J.C. Wiatt inherits her cousin's baby Elizabeth, J.C. passes Elizabeth back to the social worker, "Well I can't have a baby, because I have a 12:30 lunch meeting." Or something like that...

J.C. struggles with Elizabeth in the store, trying to find the right size diapers, and then taking her home where J.C.'s live in boyfriend isn't keen on kids either. After the spaghetti incident, he says, "I think it would be easier to just move."

What's happening here is a steady story build. The Heroine is met with challenge after challenge. Her dreams of becoming a partner are squelched because she now has the responsibility of the child. J.C. made a choice, and there was something inside of her that greatly influenced her every move. Soon, her boyfriend has left her, she must deal with finding the right Nanny, to find that no one will do as good a job as she will, and finally making the choice to leave her job when a very important account is passed to her protege.

The point is, the writers took this character, this storyline and molded it into a brief period of time when the most important and devastating things happen to the heroine. She moves from the city and in a roundabout way, finds freedom to develop her own business, and find a new love interest, while battling mother nature and "a beautiful 60-acre Vermont estate" that's falling down around her! In the end, the heroine is offered a chance of a lifetime to come back to her old life in New York, but she makes a surprising choice, because she's finally realizing what's important and that no one should have to give up the opportunity and time with family for a job. She's found a way to balance it all, and a vision to take her product to the same place the New York Executives plan to take it.

It's a big story in a two-hour span. It's what most authors today are accomplishing: A big story in 300 words, give a little more or less. This is the stuff of writing. Finding a good conflict and throwing together interesting characters, then mapping it out in a tight plot where your readers can't wait to turn the page.


  1. Great post, Christy. Of course you know I'm not going to have to rent that movie don't you?

    Yes, it's all about that inciting incident. And hers was suddenly being saddled with a child. But it forced her to look at her life and evaluate what was important. Right?

  2. Celina and I love that movie too! Having just returned from a work-related conference, it's so good to be back home where everything is important.

    Great post!

  3. I love the Alicia Rasley book. I'm working it right now. And don't you love it when something just sticks out to you?

  4. I loved that movie, too, Christy! I need to go rent it to watch again. I don't think my kids have seen it.

    Great points on conflict, too! What you talked about also points out the need for book-long external conflict (something my editor has had to work with me on establishing). It's something I always keep in mind now while plotting.