A Minor Epiphany

After a week of banging my head against a brick wall with this new synopsis I have finally – with the help of the perspicacious Dr Jax and the wonderful Michelle Styles – figured out my problem. I simply could NOT get my characters to act without exaggerating my conflicts. And I had to exaggerate the conflicts in order to give them motivation to act. I was STILL getting them to act in the way I wanted them to.

The reason is that they were still passive. They were not taking action. And the reason for that is I have been thinking about my stories in terms of scenes. I think, okay, need a love scene, put one in here. What about a ‘save the cat’ moment here. And black moment here. And when I think about the scenes I want, I try and move my characters towards the scenes, which is NOT letting them act.

It’s like a play. The play opens with the characters on stage. They do the scene, the scene ends, the stage goes dark. Then the next scene opens. How have the characters got there? Where are they going? The scene ends, the stage goes dark. What happens next? We don’t know and neither do I!

I have been treating my stories like this play, opening with a scene, then jumping to the next scene etc, etc. Episodic in other words. Great for a play, not so great for a story.

So I’ve cut it right back. Concentrating on the most essential conflict – my hero wants to control and so has to learn to let people go, my heroine needs freedom but has to learn it’s okay to lean on someone. So what happens when a guy like this meets a woman like this? Forget flirtation scenes, think about action. The external conflict puts him in the situation of having to look after her so what does he do? He’s all about control so says she has to come with him. Her reaction? She’s all about freedom so get lost buster. What is the consequence? Does he force her to go? And if so, what action does she take in response? And right there is where the conflict is driving the story through the actions of the characters. No need for exaggeration because their reactions are based on their essential conflict. Who knows when they’ll need a love scene – I’m not sure – but it will be because one of them makes a decision and the consequence of that is making love.

Dunno if this makes sense to everyone or if everyone is goin ‘well, duh, I already knew that!’. But this is certainly why I have been having so many problems with conflict. I have already got a plan for the new story based entirely on action, reaction and consequence. Hopefully it’ll make a good synopsis but if not, it’s certainly been a HUGE learning curve to take!

19 thoughts on “A Minor Epiphany”

  1. UGHHHH! That large groan is not a reflection on your (excellent) full-of-advice -blog Jackie! It’s a groan of despair from me. I wish I had read this *before* I sent off my HM&B Comp entry. *Sigh*. Never mind. It’s gone. We’ll just have to wait and see how I get on. Double *sigh*. Take care. Caroline x

  2. That’s a great bit of insight, Jackie and something I’m definitely going to be mindful of as I work on my WIP.

    Isn’t it laughable that people think writing category is easy? Yes, there’s a formula, but we have to make it original, organic and keep our characters active while following said formula. (exhausted yet?)

    Thanks so much for sharing this!


  3. Thanks is totally due to Michelle Styles I’m afraid. She has been telling me this for months but it’s only when I sat down with Dr Jax last night that I finally got it. And now my story is TOTALLY WORKING in a way it hasn’t before! Yayayayayay!

    Don’t worry Caroline. I got runner up without having realised this. They’ll see your potential.

    No worries, Suzanne.

    Maisey – oh yes, we just dash off these stories in a couple of hours in between gin breaks don’t we? Romance writing ain’t for sissies. 🙂

    Glad to share, Veronica. Hope it makes sense to you – certainly did for me!

  4. Very interesting again, Jackie. Thanks for sharing.

    I wonder if we should write our stories (based on character action and reaction) THEN look for the main turning points (instead of planning these before the story is written –as I always do)

    (deleted my previous comment to get rid of typos)

  5. Janet, that’s exactly it. And that’s where I have been going wrong. I’ve been fiddling around with planning complicated scenes designed to show him growing or her realising something without thinking how they got to that point in the first place. If you plot it out based on their action and reaction, the turning points should then become apparent as you go.

  6. Oh yes, Jackie. It’s just a simple thing really. Something easy before we write our REAL novels *snerk* Although, virgins in my novel, virgin gin you know (drinking for two after all) *snicker, virgin gin?*

    Bleck. I can’t even leave that joke without a disclaimer. I hate it when people say stuff like that! So insulting.

    They ought to see how easy it is…

  7. Jackie, great post. Wonderful clarity. It’s a great way to think about it! Thanks so much for sharing.

    For me, I work on my characterization for a few weeks up front before I even start writing a story. I have what I call a ‘character map’ (anyone who knows me knows I have a spreadsheet for everything) and I try to flesh out everything about them, even details I’ll never use or will ever come up in a story. Actually at this point I don’t know what the story will be. It’s really useful to have the extensive background because if I put the character in a scene, any scene (if they are established strongly enough in my head) how they react should be obvious.I say SHOULD because sometimes they do stuff I don’t expect. It seems to work for me, at least so far!!

  8. this is so good Jackie, and i’m glad you are feeling good about your writing again! well done. yes action and reaction definately feels like the best way to go!

  9. Maisey – lol! People now, after I’ve bitten their heads off, ask ‘will you write anything else’. And I cheerfully reply, ‘no, not at the moment’.

    Kaily – good plan re the character stuff. My problem is sheer laziness, not to mention being impatient. I always start first and write my way into my characters – which is probably why I haven’t had anything accepted yet!

    Kerrin – thanks! I think it’s definitely the way I’m going.

  10. I echo everyone’s comments (well that’s what happens when you jump in late) and def got me thinking aobut my wip… gotta take a peak and see who its sitting (guessing not pretty) sigh…

  11. Ugh. People say that to me too. or something like “Well, it’s a good way to get your foot in the door…”

    And I’m like it’s Harle*Freakin’*quin! You’re IN THE DOOR ALL THE WAY. It’s Romance Everest!!


  12. Aren’t those epiphanies just fabulous! The light suddenly goes on and as you say is “Oh, derrr, how did I not know all this all along?”

    My big one was similar- I realised that though I thought I was spending a lot of time getting to know them, I was still treating my characters as puppets, pulling them this way and that to suit my plot, rather than letting them be active decision makers, in charge of their own fates. Okay, I’m still God in their little world, but they have to have that volition, that internal consistency. Who they are has to be the driver, not where I wante the plot to go.

    Hopefully this is the one that cracks it for you (and mine for me!)

    And anyone who says this is not “real” writing has clearly never tried it.

  13. They are fabulous, Jane. I can now go and fix all my other mss.

    Yes, you do wonder how you missed it, but these things take time and you kind of have to have other pieces of the puzzle in place first before finding that last remaining piece.

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