Erica Taylor, one of our ROSA members who attended #ROSACon16 and a session by Joss Wood on Conflict, has kindly shared her thoughts on the talk and what she learned.
What struck me most about Joss’ lecture on conflict was how much it made sense. It is probably something that we all do subconsciously without even realizing it, or having a literary definition attached to it, but having it defined made me more aware that it was another tool I had in my storytelling arsenal. Joss tells us the way to tell a good story is make your characters go through crap—people don’t want smooth sailing and enduring love from the get-go. Readers want to be tortured with the characters, to hang on to the belief that love will conquer all, and to ride the happily-ever-after high into the tediousness of real life.
Using excerpts from one of her own novels, The Honeymoon Arrangement, Joss toured the lecture through the process of setting up conflict and using it as a tool to move the story along.
Characters should have a “misguided external goal based on an internal goal,” or what the character thinks they want (point A) versus what that actually need (point B. Throughout the story, your characters will work through the conflicts you put in their path, getting them from point A to point B.
Characters start off as silly little things thinking they know everything in their perfect little worlds and they have everything figured out. Ha! Little did they know the author of their story is about to shake up their world and they will be better for it, and their author will torture them until they come to realize, the author was right all along.
Joss explained there are two types of conflict: External conflict is the stuff happening around your characters. Internal conflict is the stuff happening inside the characters mind, their thoughts and worries and whatnot. And each character is different—whatever he/she wants must be specific to him or her.
“If your hero is a firefighter, your heroine better be an arsonist.” - Joss Wood
Three types of External Conflict:
- Character vs. character (When opposite personalities attract—and clash)
- Character vs. nature (When a hero faces an earthquake)
- Character vs. Society (When a Lord falls in love with a maid)
Ways to up the conflict:
- Use the characters fears again them.
- Concoct the worst thing that could happen to them, then torture them with it.
- Dig deep. Look back to their childhood—an author is part storyteller, part psychiatrist.
- Find that thing that sends them off the deep end, and use it!
An example from Joss’ novel The Honeymoon Arrangement:
Internal: What are their deepest wounds and what scares them the most?
The heroine has deep rooted issues with her estranged mother.
External: Make that thing happen>>>>Mom calls her on the phone and sends the heroine spiraling into self-destruct mode.
What was most interesting about what Joss’ lecture, was how natural it seemed. Even in our everyday lives things pop-up that question our internal resolve. Challenges arise, things happen and the external conflicts we deal with each day have shaped who we are and dictate our internal conflicts. Readers read romance as a means of escape, searching for a trace of hope that no matter what happens in our lives, there is someone who will love us for who we are. As writers, we achieve the same escapism when we create this insurmountable problems for our characters and find a way to achieve their happily-ever-afters.
We need to believe in the power of love just as much as the reader. We need to believe that no matter what life throws at us, everything will be okay. Writing conflict into your story not only moves the narrative along in a tangible, believable way, it adds a sense of realism to the story. Readers will relate to a flawed character, one who harbors secrets and refrains from letting their crazy hang out for the world to see, and when there is someone who can overlook their flaws, we want to hang on to that person even tighter. We root for someone to overcome the mundane conflicts in their life, because we all need to believe we can do it too.