Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On Conflict

A good friend of mine said to me last night, "sounds like a great conflict."

Another good friend several year's ago reminded me that each character needs an external and an internal conflict.

As writers, we must torture our characters.

I never intended to write a series. I hate series. Typically, stories that run in series read like one great big story with very slow pacing. Or perhaps, more so, pacing that feels the same in all the books. And after several books the rhythm becomes predictable.

The friend who reminded me about internal and external conflict wanted a sequel to my manuscript, the one I'm marketing to agents now. I knew in my head what happened next, and in telling her, she became captivated and asked me to write it. So I did. The third volume came purely as therapy when I lost a job and needed to distract my own brain from my troubles.

At that time I had a two-year-old and I wrote 180,000 words in 31 days (July 2007). Whenever my daughter slept, I was at the keyboard.

This is what my experience with a series taught me:
  • Each book needs to "up the ante." In other words, the bad things that happen to the characters/ their struggles need to increase significantly with each volume. To keep the reader interested, to keep them guessing, and to make sure they can't predict your writing.
  • If the characters change, their internal conflicts must change with them.
  • One character should be struggling with a conflict across the entire series. The end of this conflict should signal the end of the story.
If I look at my first book, the following items happen:
  • One person dies, one person almost dies
  • There is a car accident
  • There is a medical emergency (not related to the person who dies or the person who almost dies)
  • The reader witnesses two murders.
If I look at my favorite character, he experiences the following in the first book:
  • Relationship issues (who doesn't?)
  • He *gains* something he never expected he would
  • He loses a friend
  • He has health issues
In the second book, he:
  • copes with losing his importance in his own company
  • becomes impotent
  • has a bad leg AND a bad heart
  • hangs out with the wrong woman
  • must rescue his wife and newborn son from a bad situation he caused
  • survives a serious house fire
And in the third book, he:
  • corrects #1,2 & 3 on the list above
  • has an affair
  • almost loses his wife
  • ends up tortured (literally)
In the end, his wife is the hero(ine), and there is a "happily ever after" ending, but see what they must endure first? Oh, I am so evil.

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