Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Conflict, the heartbeat of story

White waiting for the first round of edits on "Boundaries," I've been attempting to start a sequel.

I say "starting" because I haven't gotten past the first five chapters. I wrote them because I had to have five chapters to participate in a master workshop three weeks ago. Then I rewrote them using the information I learned there.

The next week I went to another workshop and learned even more. And rewrote again, looking for passages that had passive rather than active voice. It's an easy trap to fall into.

Yesterday I started chapter six, feeling I had a handle on the plot, but still knew deep inside something was missing. Then I read a post by a fellow writer that led me to an eye-opening article. Yes, I'd heard the same advice at both workshops, but it hadn't sunk in. Now it did.

The advice was this: if your character doesn't have an internal conflict that she has to solve by the end of the story, you haven't got a story.

Caroline and Nathan have to solve a political puzzle, and encounter danger along the way.  But combating physical dangers from both nature and man doesn't tell us much about the characters unless it shows us why their internal conflicts influence how they solve the outer conflicts (such as "am I going to live through this?")

Now Nathan has an internal conflict. He has to choose between loyalty to his sovereign or his wife. So I can see how his decisions would be based on whether or not he can tell Caroline what he is  up to. (Not that she doesn't guess anyway!)

To get to Caroline's conflict, I had to go back to "Boundaries." She has led a sheltered life and naively thinks she can find her missing father by asking assistance from the only person she knows who lives in Washington, her local member of parliament. But surprise follows surprise, and Caroline soon learns the world is not as safe or dull as she thought it was. When faced with returning to her former existence, she uses the confidence she has gained and grabs at a chance for a different future.

So I thought: what if Caroline sees that the life of adventure she shares with Nathan, traveling to foreign lands and discovering new customs, may be cut short by circumstances she both welcomes and dreads. She doesn't want to go back to her former life of dutiful daughter (now dutiful wife) and stay home while her husband has all the adventures she has come to crave. So she is torn between what she wants and what she knows she must do.

Now I just have to figure out the answer.


  1. Sounds like great conflict! Congrats!

    1. I kept hearing about internal and external conflict, but never really tried to pin it down before now. Sometimes we have to hear something several times before it sinks in!