Nancy: Goals and Conflict, aka Everything Old Is New Again

This might or might not be an accurate depiction of me upon realizing I’ve done it again.


I like to say that I can be taught. That I can learn from my mistakes. That writing, like life, is a process, and part of that process is continuous improvement. Yes, I like to say I’m getting better, but then I do things that make a liar out of me.

Case in point: I’ve been working on the next book in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Three Husbands and a Lover, for those of you keeping track at home. This is Percy’s story (Captain Lord Granville), who is the group cut-up, thrill-seeker, and all around flirtatious cad. But I knew, from the inception of the series, that all his light frivolity was hiding a dark inner life. This is crunchy stuff, the kind a writer likes to sink her teeth into. But it took a few bites for me to get there.

In the pre-discovery phase of the book, which is when characters with some vague motivations, snippets of conversations, and partial scenes float around in brain, untethered from each other and any kind of story logic, this was a very different story from what it is today. And that’s fine. That’s why I do discovery work – to excavate and sift and reveal a few tiny gold nuggets per metric ton of crap.

Turns out our heroine, Finola, had a goal in the initial story iteration. It was a good, strong, “close-your-eyes-and-you-can-see-it” goal. But it didn’t have anything to do with Percy, who didn’t yet have a raison d’être of his own beyond “get Finola in bed.” Continue reading

Michaeline: Stakes

An artificial hand with gears inside

Stakes can be deceptive: the biggest things turn out to be little, and the little things become the most important. (Wellcome Images Via Wikimedia Commons)

(Pant, pant) Sorry, I’m late. I was up very late last night, and early this morning, too, with a trilogy of first-person mysteries. I’m going to talk about some general spoilers, so I won’t name the series, but if you’ve read it, you may recognize the main character.

But first, stakes. In fantasy and space opera, the stakes are often of the highest category: the whole world is in danger, and only one person can save it. Or possibly the fate of the universe.

But these super-huge stakes can feel impersonal. We should care, yes, of course, there’s no arguing with that. But let’s face it, we don’t KNOW those other people in the world, and our caring can have a vague, fuzzy quality of, “yes, yes, on the whole, it would be nice if we could all get along and people weren’t dying over there – but there’s nothing *I* can do about it. And I’m glad Superhero X is saving the day, but maybe I’ll just close the book for now and google ‘what’s for dinner.’”

More powerful stakes have faces and the sort of eternal connection to the hero that most of us can relate to – a sibling, a spouse, a pet.

Perhaps the most powerful stakes of all are about ourselves. Continue reading

Jilly: Creating Conflict

I may be a newbie writer, but I’ve spent many years’ worth of lunch breaks lurking around author websites like Jenny Crusie’s Argh Ink, hoovering up discussions about writing craft. You can’t do that without reading a lot about conflict, so when I sat down to write a story of my own, I knew conflict was important. I thought I had it covered, because for some crazy reason I had the impression that conflict was something a writer mixed into her story to make it interesting and tasty, like nuts and chunks of chocolate in a brownie. Continue reading