Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Emotional Punch or Putting Conflict in Every Scene: Molly O'Keefe's Workshop

Molly O'Keefe's workshop at our RWNZ conference was brilliant.
She gave us her take on creating conflict in every scene.  Something that is particularly relevant to romance writers. 

I'm sure every writer has had one of those form rejections .... this submission lacks emotional punch....  And like every writer I've scratched my head... what is this elusive thing called emotional punch. 

To put it bluntly... your writing doesn't have sufficient conflict to create tension which in turn makes your writing lack emotional punch.  

Molly gave us her take on this tricky aspect of writing.  Here's her definition of conflict.
Conflict needs to come from a hole within a character caused by something that happened in their past (back story) and through which story events mirrors in the present.

Each scene must do three things: 

  • reveal character
  • advance the plot
  • reveal back story or foreshadow the future 
To create tension every scene needs to have these three things of at the very minimum two.   The more tension in every scene, the more conflict. 
And  the more conflict the more readers will want to keep turning every page desperate  to see what happens next.

A writer needs to create conflict going in to a story...from the first page.
To do this make a list of three character traits that describe each character.
For maximum impact make them opposites for each character.

The example she showed us 
Heroine's characteristics  Free spirited:  A Liar:    Compassionate       
Hero's characteristics:   Control freak:  Everything is black and white:  mourning the loss of his lifestyle

Using these characteristics create that elusive item writer's call A Character Arc.                                                                                                                  By the end of the story each character must have grown sufficiently to be able to display the opposite characteristic they went into the story with.

Hence the Control Freak will become more flexible; the liar will become truthful; the compassionate person a little more selfish.
  
To attach emotion to each scene she uses this sentence   
.....(character) will do anything for .... (character)..... except ......
And sentence needs to change as the story progresses and the characters change.
Every character introduced in a book must have at least 3 scenes.
  • establish the problem 
  • up the stakes in the conflict
  • resolution
She used the example:  A mother dating a man the daughter hates and can't forgive.
  • don't date that man ....establish the problem
  • I said don't date that man ...up the stakes of the conflict
  • Fine. Date that man... resolution 
And she added Bob Mayer's mantra to her workshop. 
The character arc should be such that if you dumped your characters as they were at the beginning of your story into the end scene and they would fail.

Now all I need to do is translate all this wisdom into practical application.
Thank you Molly.
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