As the new cat on the Alley I wanted my first post to be something deep and moving. I was praying about it and God gave me this. He sure has a great sense of humor.
So… we've all been there. You know, wishing you could stretch your hand through the pages of that open book to slap some sense into the heroine. I mean, I am a woman and I can admit that sometimes women can be exhausting! -Fictional and otherwise.
Of course there needs to be conflict in your story. I have yet to see anything worth reading take shape without a hearty helping. Often times, the conflict is the most vital ingredient to your plot. But does there have to be so much . . . drama?
Building conflict in your story is a lot like making a pizza. There is the bland, starchy foundation. We here in
St. Louis go for thin crust in a big way, but
for your story, the base can’t be flimsy so let’s go deep dish. Be careful not
to tip your hand by revealing all the flavors and that one secret ingredient to
come, but toss up something that says right off the bat why the cards are
stacked against your characters. At this point, usually somewhere in the first
15-20 pages you are simply establishing that the conflict is there.
And can I just say, as a side note, I've never understood those people who think the crust is the best part of the pizza. I mean, it’s completely necessary (and delicious) but it's just one layer that begins the creation of the pizza—or the conflict. If the crust is the best part you might as well save yourself the extra calories and order breadsticks. Just sayin’!
Okay, so back to your story. Next, you make things a little saucy—throw in some spice to kick up the flavor and suddenly your conflict is more robust. Something is revealed that ups the ante and awakens the reader’s appetite. Be careful, not too much sauce because it can weaken the crust, but spoon over enough here to entice the reader to invest in how the hero and heroine are going to defy the odds.
Now you make things interesting when you start layering on the toppings. Maybe some danger, competition, doubts, betrayal. Bam! Yes, we get it. Falling in love isn't always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes it’s a tough journey. A lesson in trust, forgiveness, or sacrifice. Or maybe even a throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-risk-it-all angle where a heart is even more exposed and vulnerable.
Things are looking pretty tasty at this point. But sometimes, an author decides to toss on a few anchovies here. This is when your main character becomes what I like to call The Exhausting Heroine. Oy, there are far too many of these!
These are the kind of women who stand in their own way. They deny their happiness, run away, cry, lie, hide from their feelings when we, the reader, know that they will eventually put on their big girl pants and make the right decision. (The resolution is essentially the cheese—the glue that pulls all the pieces of the conflict together.)
And yes, I realize my pizza metaphor is totally out of control at this point, but let’s just go with it.
Drama can’t just be thrown in to lengthen the story, because, quite frankly, it aggravates the reader. It makes us lose sympathy for the heroine, and most often has us rolling our eyes and stifling the urge to yell at our book like a man watching a football game—berating the players who can’t hear him to let them know they are blowing the game (Or their Happily Ever After.)
You want to create a story that can pull off these self-deprecating moments and make them about something more substantial—meatier—than insecurity. We all have insecurities, don’t we? But if that hunky hero is on bended knee, handing over his devotion and his love and the girl runs off spouting “It just couldn’t work out” sob stories . . . well, sister needs a good slappin’!
Make your conflict big! Make me care, sympathize, and maybe even crave another slice of trouble before you wrap it up. Conflict doesn’t always have to be frustrating, it can be fun or suspenseful.
So, as much as I loathe a wimpy, self-sabotaging heroine, I got to thinking about how God might be able to say the same thing about me. Ouch!
You see, He is the ultimate hero. He’s offered up every part of himself, given his love, grace and forgiveness without question or pre-requisite, and yet . . . sometimes I run away. I question if I deserve a Happily Ever After. Sometimes I doubt that his plans are really for my good. Even when, like any great hero, he shows up and saves me time and again, I still have moments when I let my head commandeer a heart that knows better.
How do we get out of our own way and really live in our Happily Ever After?
Put your trust in the Hero that will never let you down. Oh, yeah, and when your prince gets down on one knee, for heaven’s sake, say YES!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...What ingredients make conflict really work for you without trying your patience? And have you ever read, or maybe even felt like, an exhausting heroine?
Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little mischief makers and would challenge anyone to a cutest family contest. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.