October is racing to an end, which means there is only 1 week left before the start of this year’s NaNoWriMo. Michille had a good post the other day about preparing to write and the NaNo website is full all sorts of good information, like the NaNo Prep Webcast.
Part of my prep-work has included finishing up a host of non-writing projects so they aren’t hanging overhead when I’m trying to write. I’m also wrapping up a big multi-year project at the Day Job, which should free up some much needed brain-cells. I will definitely need those to hit my daily writing goals. All that is left, other than those pesky story details, is to decide when to write and to stock up on motivational “reward-for-hitting-today’s-goal” treats. I have found that cupcakes are excellent in that role.
As I’ve mentioned that last few weeks, my writing specific preparation has included drafting a rough outline for my new story, figuring out the setting(s), and getting to know my characters.
That’s all I need to craft a great story, right?
Oh wait, those characters probably need some goals and motivations so they actually have something to do.
Guess that means this is a good time to focus on: Conflict
This is an area I still have challenges with, despite theoretically knowing how it should all work. My first step will be to re-read Jenny Crusie’s great set of posts all about conflict on her Writing/Romance blog, so the concepts are fresh in my mind. For an extra boost, I’ll pull out my McDaniel class notes and go through the conflict presentations, paying special attention to the sections on the conflict box. If you are unfamiliar with the conflict box or need a refresher, check out Jeanne’s post here.
“Conflict is a specific struggle between two people, the escalating action of which moves the story forward.” ~ Jenny Crusie
Both the protagonist and the antagonist in a story have goals. The actions the protagonist takes in pursuit of his/her goals block the antagonist from achieving his/her goals, and vice versa. When you’ve got a strong conflict lock in place, only one of these characters will be able to reach their goal. If they both can reach their goals, then there is no lock and it’s back to the drawing board.
So, let’s look at my (developing) story as an example:
A Change of Heart is primarily a love story, or at least a relationship story. The main character Bella is definitely looking for a relationship. She has her eyes set on Jack, her best friend’s brother, who she has had a crush on forever. She’s sure that Jack invited her on this 6-month-work-and-sail-around-the-world adventure because he is interested in her as well. If she was the dreamy romantic type, she’d be doodling hearts with their initials intertwined all over the place (spoiler alert – she isn’t that type).
Jack’s goal is different. As his sister would be the first to tell you, Jack is a meddler. He has a knack for getting couples together and this 12-person adventure is his attempt at that. So, while Bella’s actions are focused on getting together with Jack, Jack’s actions are going to be focused on seeing her happily paired up with one of the other adventurers who he thinks will be perfect for her.
That seems kind of conflict-y, right? Only one of them can be successful. Well, it’s a start.
As I (vaguely) remember from a Michael Hauge workshop at RWA Nationals:
“Chemistry alone is not enough; the hero and heroine must be forced together by something other than the love story; they must either work together or be in competition with each other.”
So, something else needs to be going on in the story. That’s where the sub-plots come in. They provide a way to put the protag/antag under pressure and force them to make tough choices, which will ultimately help drive their character arcs.
Since I have an abundance of characters (so far) in this story, I have a lot of opportunity for sub-plots. There are definitely some great opportunities for various characters to work together or, in some cases, to be in competition, in the various places they stop at along the journey. I may have national disasters on the brain after all of the weather and fire related things that have been going on recently, but I’m thinking my characters may encounter something like that at some point in their journey. There is nothing like putting characters under pressure to see what they are really made of.
Anyway, that’s what I’ll be working on this week.
So, what does the conflict look like in your own current work-in-progress? Did you know what your conflict was before you started to write or did it evolve over time?