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Friday, October 21, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Second Chances

I believe in second chances. We all deserve them, and so do our books. This year I've been blessed to see my first-ever novel, BENEATH SIERRA SKIES, get a second chance with the reading public.

Robin Hill was my firstborn fictional heroine. Her hero, Dr. Brandon Demarse, was the firstborn hero of my writing career. Back then, the publishing line for which this book was produced, Silhouette Romance, allowed only one point of view (the heroine's) in any book, so Brandon's thoughts were represented only by what he said and did.

I loved him. I had created him, after all, and I knew what was going on in his thoughts. Even when he said or did seemingly incongruous or unkind things, I knew his heart. Unfortunately, that didn't always come through clearly in the writing.

I didn't realize that until 20 years later, when I was editing the digital version for any errors that may have crept in. Reading through the manuscript again after two decades' time, I realized that Brandon comes through rather less appealingly than I had intended.

Still I can't help but love him, and I'm glad he is getting a second chance. He deserves it. He may not be perfect, but he's perfect for Robin, and I can't help thinking he's pretty great.

Did you "meet" Brandon yet? What did you think?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

All Kinds of Conflict

This week we've been looking at various kinds of conflict, both external and internal. In my first-ever published novel, BENEATH SIERRA SKIES, I involved my characters in several levels of conflict of both kinds. This scene depicts one of the ongoing conflicts:

He was back in no time, shivering violently. “I hope you’re prepared to do first aid for hypothermia,” he said.

She folded back the comforter on his side. “Climb in. I’ll see what I can do.” He crawled in next to her, settling himself carefully, and she draped herself over him as fully as possible, rubbing his chest softly. He caught her hand in his and cupped the back of her neck, drawing her mouth to his lips. It was a full, thorough kiss and Robin let herself enjoy it, giving back as completely as he gave to her.

“That was delicious,” he said when she finally broke away. “You know, you’re a very sexy woman.”

Robin pulled farther away, more moved than she wanted to admit. “You know the first-aid books say you’re supposed to treat hypothermia skin-to-skin, no clothes.” Brandon grinned wolfishly.

“No chance.”

“Then come here and kiss me again,” he said, his voice husky.

Robin hesitated, then sighed and drew closer, allowing herself to feel and enjoy. Brandon was enjoying, too. He deepened the kiss, and she responded in kind, running the tip of her tongue along the roof of his mouth.

He moaned deeply and pulled her to him, his body suddenly very warm beneath her touch.

When I stranded them in the snow and ice of the Sierras, I knew they'd have troubles, but this was one conflict I thought they might enjoy working through.

What favorite conflicts fuel your stories? Share?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Internal vs. External Conflict

Rather than reinventing the writer's wheel by describing the differences between internal and external conflict and how we use them in a story, let me refer you to an excellent web resource that has already done that work for me. Glen C. Strathy's "How to Write a Book Now" site may not equip you to take the literary world by storm, but he does have an excellent discussion on conflict.

As he points out, we're all familiar with the external conflicts in common plots. We know them as:

* Man vs. Man (Or to be politically correct Person vs. Person)

* Person vs. Nature

* Person vs. Society

* Person vs. Machine

* Person vs. some supernatural agency such as gods, demons, fate, etc.

We can probably rattle off a half-dozen book or movie titles to accompany each of the conflicts listed here. Often the more important conflicts, both in fiction and in our lives, are the ones that happen between our ears.

My first book, BENEATH SIERRA SKIES, pitted Robin and Brandon against the forces of nature. If survival had been their only concern, they'd have had plenty to deal with, but I also gave them the push-pull of powerful attraction vs. fear of commitment, adventure and romance both.

Think of the best novels you've ever read and you'll probably find that the conflicts are both external and internal. Enjoy this great blog on the subject.

What are the conflicts in your favorite books? Share?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conflict's Role in my Life

I'm a peace-loving person. Conflict is low on my list of favorite things. Yet somehow I've managed to live through a fair amount of it.

A marriage, if it lasts longer than Brittany Spears' or Kim Kardashian's, is an ideal classroom for studying conflict resolution. Since the dh and I have been wed for more than four decades, we've had plenty of study and loads of homework. That doesn't mean we're experts, but when you add in the practical lab application gained by raising seven competitive children, we're at least experienced.

Then too, during three of those decades, I taught at California State University, in the English Department. I well remember attending a cross-disciplinary workshop and introducing myself to a colleague. "Hi, I'm Mark," he said. "I'm from Math."

"Hi," I answered. "I'm Susan, from English."

Mark solemnly shook his head. With an expression of deepest sympathy, he said, "I'm so sorry."

Yep. English Departments are like that.

So what have I learned from all this conflict in my life? For one thing, I've learned not to rush into a situation talking. I try to stop, listen, get the lay of the land and understand more fully what's going on before walking head-on into a buzzsaw. (I seldom spoke in department meetings, either.)

I've learned to know who my true friends are and not be taken in by false friends. I've learned to be a true friend to those who are true to me and to honor those who have my back. I've learned to value trust.

Conflict may be the beginning of the story for our characters. In real life, it's sometimes the ending for us, but when conflict ends a story that hasn't really begun yet, there was never a story in the first place, was there?

What has real-life conflict taught you?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Conflict in Plotting and Life

Let's talk about conflict. No, not the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the kind of conflict we writers must create if we're to have a story.

Helen Keller once commented that "We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world." She was right. It is the conflict in our lives that becomes our best teacher. Writers know that without it, there's no story.

Typically a book begins when something changes in our main character's life, throwing her into a growth situation whether she likes it or not. Sometimes she (or he) deliberately chooses a new adventure; sometimes the "adventure" is thrust upon her and she moves only reluctantly into whatever her future holds.

A typical story arc follows her through the "rising action" (as the problems complicate and intensify) to a moment of climax when the conflict reaches its highest peak, to (we hope) a satisfying resolution.

Does that necessarily entail bad guys, good vs. evil, foul intention? I don't think so, and that's the argument I want to make in this blog over the coming days.

A woman who must choose between two men who both love her is faced with a difficult dilemma only when both are appealing candidates for marriage -- not when one is Prince Charming and the other the Prince of Darkness.

Stay tuned as we look at conflict, both with and without the bad guys.