Updated: Oct 12, 2020
The peak of contest season is here and this post is based on needs I see in contest entries that I judge. For more help, see my post "How To Be Successful in Romance Writing Contests."
These topics are also part of the challenge I face each time I sit down to plot a new story. Let's review together.
Your story is a journey.
"Your story concept must have a clearly defined endpoint for your story to reach." -Michael Hauge. The Hero's Two Journeys.
- That journey occurs on the internal level and on the external level.
The reason your hero wants to reach his goal is called motivation. THE BIG WHY!
Conflict is what keeps your hero from reaching that goal.
Consider this in its most simplistic form by reviewing your favorite movies.
What is the external goal of the movie?
What is the reason the hero wants to reach that goal?
What is keeping the hero from reaching that goal?
If you can identify these three things in your favorite movies you are ahead of the game.
Remember that conflict is the angst, the torture & very bad day.
It says to the reader: if that wasn't bad enough, THEN THIS HAPPENED.
YOU MUST GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS ANGST, TORTURE & A VERY BAD DAY!
It keeps them turning the page.
What is external conflict anyhow?
"If you can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it...that's external." -Debra Dixon. Goal, Motivation and Conflict:The Building Blocks of Good Fiction.
What is internal conflict?
".. internal conflict is the struggle occurring within a character's mind."-Wikipedia.
Peter Ruby and Gary Provost in How to Tell a Story, call it "Man Against Himself."
If you only take one thing away from today's post let it be this: Your writer life will be a heck of a lot easier if you figure out your external conflict first. Nail that external goal-what Hauge calls the visible goal-BEFORE you start writing your story.
And a word about internal conflict.
Internal conflict is that internal journey. This is your character arc. What stands between the hero achieving his internal goal is his greatest fear.
Hauge says this on the topic:
Every story about character arc is the story of life and death and rebirth. The real life and death is the necessary death of one's identity in order to be fulfilled and achieve one's destiny. That's what the internal journey is.
Why do we want conflict in our story? Conflict elicits EMOTION. When you make your reader FEEL EMOTION, then you have engaged them and you have done your job.
A long time ago, author Shelly Thacker said something that has stayed with me for years.
Emotion on every page.
Check your manuscript. Do you have emotion on every page? Can your reader FEEL something on every page?
In fact, our own Vincey Mooney has created what he calls Response Per Page. RPP. The more responses per page (by the reader), the more reader enjoyment.
Mooney says this:
"Ordinarily fans do not read romances to learn how the story will turn out. They know how a romance will turn out, in fact, they are guaranteed a HEA. Fans read romances to satisfy emotional needs..."
Let's add one more very important factor to our external conflict or external journey. Urgency. Without urgency, your story meanders to the finish line. In fact, it doesn't matter when you arrive. When that is the case, your reader doesn't care. Urgency makes the reader care. It makes the reader worry. It makes the reader turn the page. Urgency is what increases the stakes.
"Urgency always pushes the plot and the pace." -Debra Dixon.
If you can figure out these simple things before you begin to write your story, you'll thank me later.