Conflict: Past vs Present

So, here I am in waiting no-man’s-land. I am forging ahead with my wip regardless though. Even if they don’t want it, it’s great practise and I have to say, I’m quite enjoying writing it. I even like my heroine for a change! πŸ™‚

Anyway, I wanted to talk about a comment Janet left on my blog about conflict and how it happens in the present. I think I mentioned in the last post but I thought I’d expand a bit here. I never really got this to be honest, I mean, come on, of course conflict happens in the present. And in the past too right?

Well yes. And no. The conflict that we deal with in our stories may have been seeded in the past, but it happens only in the present. For example, the hero of my current wip has been looking after his sister for the past 12 years (this is the seed of his conflict). He’s the protective sort and has been doing this quite happily with no problems. He’s not conflicted about his need to protect at all.
Until he meets my heroine. Why? Because she does NOT want to be protected. So here he is, calmly going about his protective business which, he assumes, the heroine will naturally see eye to eye with since no one else has called him on this behaviour before (apart fom his sister but that’s different ’cause she’s his sister right?). But lo and behold, the heroine says ‘I don’t need protecting buddy so back off.’ So instantly we have conflict. And it’s happening in the present. Yes, the basis for it is the fact that he’s been looking after his sister for years, but it’s never been a problem for him until now.
Same with my heroine. She’s escaping over-protective parents and wants to do things for herself. Not a problem, no conflict – until she meets my protective hero. And then it’s conflict all the way baby!

Now, you could compare this to an earlier incarnation of this story where I (overdosing on internal conflict!) gave my hero a dead fiance. This was fine but when he met the heroine, there wasn’t anything other than a dead fiance to hold him back from a relationship with her. There was nothing about the heroine in particular that made him feel conflicted – other than the fact that she was a woman and he was wary of loving again! πŸ™‚ Thus, when they met, there wasn’t much in the way of conflict happening – all his conflict was in the past. Does that make sense?

Anyway, that’s my understanding of it and no doubt there’s heaps more still learn about this angle. Anyone got any other thoughts? Might as well think about that rather than thinking about our subs/competition entries huh? ;-

21 thoughts on “Conflict: Past vs Present”

  1. It makes perfect sense, Jackie. And I’m desperately trying to work out if I’ve got it right with my work. I’ve never thought about it that deeply before.

    That’s why I adore your blog so much, always new stuff to learn.


  2. Whoah! I realised getting the conflict right was complicated, but this is another level I hadn’t even thought about!

    Thanks for the illuminating post, Jackie. It makes perfect sense from your example.

  3. Suzanne, I know, I never thought about it deeply either – but maybe that’s why I’ve got the rejections to prove it! πŸ™‚

    Angie – yeah, it is complicated. But for me it really helps when considering the characters and why this particular person is perfect for the other and yet why are they the worst. If you’ve got a spunky heroine then the best way to think of a conflict for the hero is to put him in direct opposition. Anyway, works for me.

    Kerrin – you got it. KISS principle!

  4. Thanks, Jackie. A very interesting post again.

    “There was nothing about the heroine in particular that made him feel conflicted – other than the fact that she was a woman and he was wary of loving again!”

    The thing is, I see this in published books all the time –nothing about the h in particular to make him feel conflicted–just reasons why he’s shying away from a relationship with any woman.

    I wonder if this is something that M&B have changed fairly recently, and what used to be acceptable internal conflict now needs to be much more specific.

  5. Hmmm, interesing comment, Janet. I’m not sure it’s a guidelines thing. I’m more inclined to think it’s in the skill of the writer. Maybe some people manage to pull it off better than others. And of course, the heroine needs to have some kind of conflict too which is why it works in other stories perhaps?
    This musing on conflict and things may not be a exactly how the editors think anyway. I just like learning about it because conflict has always been such a bugbear for me.

  6. You’ve made my day, Jackie.

    I always look forward to your latest input.
    Lately, I’ve been RE-reading Emma Darcy’s How to write a successful romance novel. Every time I read one of her books I wonder at the simplicity of her conflicts. She knows how to use it as a tool to drive the story.

    One of your explanations reflects hers (which goes to show you do know what you’re talking about) – “Conflict in a story occurs when two people diverge from the same path”…”Conflicts can be very simple, such as: ‘I like potato chips.’ ‘I don’t.’ (sigh! I wish) Any divergence of opinion will suffice. I could go on as she has a whole chapter on the subject.

  7. Thanks Veronica! πŸ™‚ Well, nice to know I may be getting something right for a change. Yes, the art of the simple conflict! I’ve gone from having none, to over complicating it so it’s a toughie. At the moment, with my wips, I have been trying to boil down the essential conflict for one character and then giving the other, the opposite. Hence the protect/not want to be protected thing going on in this one. Will let you know if it works!

    Janette – why is simplicity so complicated though??

  8. I’m loving your storyline Jackie! Write woman write, then email πŸ˜‰ lol. Do you think if I whine at your editor enough she’ll put me out of my misery?

  9. Ah Janette. Did I put a spanner in the works?? Gah, just shoot me.

    Oh, thanks Lacey! Feel free to whine. Bribing is also acceptable or so I’m told. πŸ˜‰ Oh and ‘my’ editor? If only!

  10. This is so interesting. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could submit our story (conflict) outlines and know before we started the book if what we had would work. It’s so dispiriting to realise from a rejection that your story had flaws that could have been spotted before you wrote it. I wonder if there are any on-line courses that would help with the outlining stage.

  11. Hi again, Jackie–a quick question on your ONS story rejection.

    I’ve been puzzling over this for ages, so hope you don’t mind quickly revisiting it again πŸ™‚

    Was the problem not just that you had to push your h into the ONS but also that you had to push her into the internet date as well?

    I’ve read a few ONS stories lately and all the heroines act completely out of character by having one night stands and have to be strongly motivated to do it (There’s always that overwhelming sexual attation for the H, of course, but as an extra motivator their boyfriend has recently insulted and dumped them or co-workers called them prim and boring…) But in spite of the motivation, we are still left with the impression that these h’s are just not the type to have a ONS

    So I’m guessing with yours it was the fact that she behaved out of character in other parts of the story too that was the problem?

  12. Janet, I assume you’re talking about the revised full I had that was rejected? Or the last sub?

    The revised full, the internet date was external conflict – she had to do it for her job. And the problem wasn’t so much the ONS, it was the fact that she had no internal conflict other than the fact she was a geek. So why was she a geek? I tried to give her some reason for this but it ended up being not very believable.

    For the last sub, I exaggerated the characteristics of my heroine to an unbelievable degree – and that was the problem. i wanted to make her afraid of risk but I was too extreme. And I should have made her want an ONS before the story started rather than have the hero convince her – which has the ‘yuck’ factor if you know what I mean.

    Does that help?

  13. Thank you so much for that reply Jackie. (I think I confused the 2 stories, as it was the sub about her needing to decide on a ONS before the story started that I was wondering about

    “I should have made her want an ONS before the story started rather than have the hero convince her”

    Thank you. This is such a help .
    Would it have been okay to have her decide after she’d met the H, if he hadn’t needed to persuade her? (I’m wondering if having her decide before the story opens is a best for most ONS stories.)

  14. Wise words as usual Jackie. Your blogs are always so insightful. Crystal ball moment here – I can just see myself buying “Jackie Ashenden’s In Depth Guide to Romance Writing”. Sign me up for a copy now! Take care. Caroline x

  15. Janet, I think the the heroine has to start off powerfully for ONS stories. She has to be on the point of changing her life or breaking out in some way. If she needs convincing rather than making her own decision then it’s a bit dodgy (witness my R!). Yes, it could work if she decided on the ONS after meeting the hero but her decision should be related to her conflict in my opinion. Then again, like Kate Walker says, it’s all in the execution.

    Thanks Caroline but I don’t pretend to be an expert! If I was I may have had something accepted by now. But if my journey helps others understand things then that’s all good.

  16. Oh, conflict is such an interesting subject! Great post, Jackie.

    I had to revise the conflict, particularly the conflict in the black moment, from being way too external to being internal. I hadn’t given it any thought before submitting, didn’t know my internals from my externals.

    It started with an ex that caused trouble, told the h a lie about the H, which loosely tied into something in her past and made her leave him. When I did my rewrite I went extreme and took out every secondary character that appeared in the end and tried to bring the focus to the h and H and just exclude everyone else. Because there was internal conflict, but I had minimized it in favor of a plot device, and removing said PD really changed it from external to internal. Blah blah. Of course, I don’t know yet if this worked out for me!

    Rachel, I think a dead wife and child is real and powerful, and could be a SERIOUS source of present conflict. Depends on the HOW.


  17. Good on you with the revision, Maisey. Internal vs external conflict took me a while to get a hold on I have to say. And the fact that internal conflict is the most important thing in Presents/Modern. It’s when you take out those plot devices that really sorts out for you whether you’ve got enough internal conflict eh?

    Oh man, Rach, I forgot to reply to you! I agree with Maisey – I didn’t mean dead wives and children were bad at all. That’s very strong conflict. It’s just that there wasn’t anything about my heroine that tapped into the hero’s dead fiance conflict. Yours on the other hand, is fine!

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