I suck at conflict, both in the real world, and trying to foment it in my fictional worlds. What I like is building up a world with all sorts of rules, and finding a character or two to turn loose in it. But the fact of the matter is, if my characters don’t run into conflict pretty darn soon, the whole thing goes ka-flooey. It gets boring for me as a writer.
This coming week, I’m going to be experimenting with some methods to introduce a conflict into my current National Novel Writing Month project, but for now, I’ll explore some more intimate conflicts.
My order from Amazon brought me Young Romance #2, a serial comic from 1947 (you can see the cover of Young Romance #1 over on the right). “Fifty-two pages of real life stories”! And that comes with five comics, one prose story AND the classic Charles Atlas ad about the bully who kicks sand into the face of the skinny weakling, who in seven short frames manages to build his body and become The Hero of the Beach. Let’s take a look at a couple of those conflicts!
“Boy Crazy” pits an orphaned niece against her aunt for the love of an older man. Niece Suzi runs around all over town chasing boys, then decides to steal her aunt’s man because Auntie has a sharp tongue. Suzi falls in love with her conquest, but when Clint has to go out of town to write a novel, Suzi gets bored, goes to the beach with an old boyfriend, fails to save him from drowning and almost drowns herself. Clint rushes from his novel-writing after seeing the story in the papers, and excuses himself from the engagement because he doesn’t feel a drama queen like Suzi can ever settle down with him. Suzi can never love again, but she’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
(-: Unlikeable characters? Oh, yes, here we have tons of them! But they are all OK as long as they do the craziest things on the page.
“My Broken Heart” is about a lady photographer and her reporting partner. She doesn’t want to ruin a professional partnership, and he doesn’t see her as a lover. When he decides to try for a big city reporting job, she accepts the city editor’s marriage proposal. Here, we have the interaction of two kinds of conflict. On one level, there is a good reason for them not to become lovers. Workplace romances go wrong on a spectacular level, and it’s best not to even start them. On the other hand, we have the classic “s/he doesn’t know his/her own mind” gambit, where our hero(ine) needs to teach the other to love. The climax is an assignment to a huge fire, and when a flaming wall almost falls on our girl, both conflicts are resolved. He realizes he can’t live without her, and she knows that professionalism and true love can exist hand-in-hand.
What do you think? I don’t like the family member vs. family member in the game of love trope. I think it represents a deep betrayal of family love. I think it works in Hamilton because the love between the sisters is stronger than the love for Hamilton. When Eliza is betrayed, Angelica feels just as betrayed. They don’t fight over Hamilton at any point because Angelica feels it’s an impossible love – he’s not good enough for her, and she would never stab her sister in the back.
As for the second story, I think the forbidden workplace romance still works as a trope. People who work together often fall in love (or think they are in love) because of proximity. To be fair, they get a chance to see their romantic partners in good times and bad times, and working with someone can give you a better estimate of their character than, say, 25 dates. You get to see them working with others, and it’s hard to hide your true self. So, the love part is there, and also we can all see why it’s a bad idea for two people to break up and continue working in the same place. Absence is often the best cure for a broken heart, while constantly bumping against one’s former lover has got to bruise it even more.
I’m not as crazy about the “s/he doesn’t know what s/he wants” trope. It does feel like a real problem to me – people are often blinded by their own ambitions and goals and former psychological baggage. But I’ve never subscribed to the “one true love” theory – I think there are probably a lot of people out in the world who would make a person a great partner. What makes a great relationship is the work that goes into it. If a person is not seeing a romance because of whatever, then they are not ready for that true love at that time. At least, that’s my theory. However, the “I only knew I loved him when I had lost him” thing has been quite a successful trope. To some extent, it underpins the romance in Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite stories of all time. And now that I think about it, it underpins Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign (my very all-time favorite story). Hmm. I’m going to have to think about that one!
At any rate, if your NaNo is feeling sluggish at this point, you might want to browse other stories, and see if you can find a good conflict to punch things up. It’s a NaNo – it doesn’t have to be the perfect conflict, and it can even be a crazy conflict that doesn’t look like it has a future at all. The NaNo can do wonders with that sort of story line, and push your creativity’s envelope.
I love the Young Romance cover you’ve illustrated! Those illustrated covers from the 1940s and 1950s were so much fun—all that heightened emotion and over-the-top cover lines! And all the exclamation points!!
I sometimes enjoy reading the stories from back then, too. It’s interesting to see how narratives were framed back then. Sometimes the story lines still work in the modern age, but often, not so much. Social conventions have advanced since then, and what might have worked 80 (!) years ago often doesn’t sit well today. I recently reread a book that was written in 1952 and that I read for the first time in the mid-1970s. I enjoyed it then, when it was only 20 years old. But 65 years on, no.
But speaking to these specific stories—right, the family one, where the nutty girl swipes her aunt’s boyfriend, no, no, and again, no. What does it mean to be “boy crazy”? (These days we’d look to childhood sexual abuse, right?) Why is it the woman’s/girl’s fault? Where is the guy in this “theft”? Plus, no HEA. No “H” at all, for anybody, as far as I can tell.
At least with the one about the reporter and photographer, they wind up together after misunderstandings and crises. Even if the details or development would be different today, that’s the format we still work with in 2018.
Good luck with your NaNo, Michaeline!