February 12, 2010

Characters, Conflict and Plot! (Oh, my!)

Seems like a simple thing, you make up a story, you write it down. (Those of you who have been doing this for any length of time are laughing already…)

There’s a lot more to it than that though!! And even though I know a lot of the tricks and rules, I still find myself falling into old mistakes, particularly in letting the plot maneuver my characters around like pieces on a chessboard. My editor pointed that out to me in my revisions for Presents #2. She said, as I’ve mentioned, that my plot must be character driven. Meaning that we don’t want to see the plot steering the characters around.

The specific instance in book #2 was when my hero took the heroine onto his private plane (as every good billionaire has!) and she went with him. Then, before she knew it she’d been effectively Shanghai’d to his country. Entertaining, yes, at least I thought so, but why did my heroine, a smart, independent, 28 year old, lawyer, get on a plane with a man she didn’t know or trust in the first place??

The only answer I had to that was…um…cuz I needid hur to git to his kuntree??? (this does not fly as an answer regarding character motivation, BTW)

But when I really went back and assessed the character of Alison, I knew she wouldn’t really do that. If she would, she might as well slap TSTL on her forehead and don some good, ankle breaking stilletoes  because she’s going to need a lotta rescuing from her own dumb self. And that is NOT what I, or imagine any other author, wants in a heroine.

That was why I just rewrote it. And with every scene I had to stop and ask myself not, where do I want them to go next in terms of the plot I’m trying to construct, but what are they going to do in this situation. How would Alison really handle all the general craziness that’s just landed in her lap (and the sexy Prince that came with it!). It certainly wouldn’t be by passively going along with his whims, nuh huh.

And then there was that other bit of gold: It’s about the characters. You’re telling their story. Their journey, their romance, is the heart of the MS, not all the other amazing plot twists and secondary characters and beautiful scenery and…you get the idea.

And then we move onto conflict…ah, internal external conflicting freaking conflict.

One of my darling CP’s told me that external conflict brings your characters together, while internal conflict drives them apart.

Using book #2 as an example the EC would be a mix up at a lab and an unintended pregnancy, while the internal conflict would be Max’s unwillingness to love again, and his feelings of inadequacy as a husband, coupled with Alison’s deep trust issues.

The mix up and the baby bring them together, but all that stuff that’s inside of them, stuff that screws up real life relationships, are the main things that should cause conflict between them and trigger the black moment.

A half heard conversation that causes the heroine to think the hero was using her and makes her run away, that’s external. It would be cleared up with a few words. The heroine leaving because she’s dealing with deep trust issues is internal. It’s not so easily solved, but when it is, their HEA will be all that happier and more believable.

Even though I can’t claim to have all of these totally nailed down, I’ve managed to work them in when I do revisions, and I’ve seen my two submitted MSs improve dramatically as a result.

Happy, successful, character driven, writing!



12 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Maisey, I really liked the bit about telling their story, not all the other bits and pieces. Puts the emphasis firmly on them and the decisions and actions they take, rather than on how the author wants the plot to move along. And ensures that they’re fully rounded characters, not just ciphers without pasts. Gold!

  2. Excellent post, Maisey! That one line from your CP boils everything down to the basics. Great stuff. Thank you! 🙂

  3. Thanks, Cari! And thanks for stopping by. :-)Bringing it down to basics helps me a lot. If it can be embroidered on a pillow I’m more likely to remember it. 😀

    Good word, Jackie!

  4. Darn it. Now all I want to know is how did she get to his country…

  5. Well, rest assures, Sally. She does get there. But I won’t tell you how…*evil grin* *rubbing hands together* *dramatic self-satisfied laughter*

    Ahem, I mean, that makes me feel really good!

  6. A magic flying carpet?

    Okay, no, that was … erm … more Disneyland, not Harlequin, lol.

  7. LOL. It’s not a Sheikh book, Jane. 😀 Be realistic!

  8. Yikes! Whoever said writing was easy! Great blog Maisey. Very thought provoking! Thanks Caroline x

  9. I love this post. A timely reminder when I’m struggling with my characters acting too nice to each other. You don’t know the story, but the hero particularly should totally hate the heroine. And he’s going all nicey nicey hiding engagement rings in bread baskets. Dratted fool man!

  10. Caroline, someone who either has never written or writes junk might think it’s easy! If it’s too easy, I think the potential depth of the story is being missed. 🙂

    Joanne, so glad you liked it. *sigh* misbehaving heroes. All you can do is take him firmly in hand and um…well, you should know what to do from there!

  11. Maisey, I struggle with this on every book I write. I have a great plot idea, love my characters but they will just NOT do what the plot demands.

    • Yeah, that’s what we have to try NOT to do, is force them around. Which can also be tricky because I just hit a point with my WIP when I realized I was letting my characters drive and they were idling…must find a large stick to poke them with…

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