Monday, 18 May 2009

Aargh

Does anyone else feel like me about this writing lark - that you just think you've cracked an area you were struggling with when something else pops up that you'd never even thought about?

A message from the M&B editorial staff on the How to Write a Modern Romance thread of the Mills and Boon Community (link on my list for those of you who've not found your way there yet) has given me a bit of an 'aargh' moment:
"conflicts can become cliches if they are used to create a character. For this reason it helps to start by seeing the characters clearly in your mind as they exist in the present - not by seeing their conflicts first. Once they are real to you, you are free to wonder (in the way we often do with new people) - how did they become the person that they are? In fiction, as in real life, the answer to that question is never simple!"

I'd been feeling quite pleased with myself that I'd finally started thinking about my internal conflicts before my external setup but I can see how easily I could end up making my characters about their conflict and nothing else.

Hmm, so much to think about. Wish I could accelerate the learning curve and get there more quickly, need a turbo-charged literary skateboard. Failing that I'll have to stick to trawling blogs, forums and writing sites and learn the hard way...


14 comments:

Joanne Cleary said...

That's how I feel today. I've just finished the re-write of my first chapter and although I've hopefully cured what was wrong in the first place, now I'm worried about the things I haven't thought of that might be wrong now.

Huge arrrrrghs!

Janet said...

"conflicts can become cliches if they are used to create a character. For this reason it helps to start by seeing the characters clearly in your mind as they exist in the present - not by seeing their conflicts first."

I wish they'd elaborate on this, maybe with examples :)
This is something I'd love to get to grips with

Lorraine said...

Jo - Hopefully we'll be able to see things for each other and help each other further along the curve :-)

Hi Janet - Yes, I'm hoping they'll expand on this too. I thought if I nailed the conflict I wouldn't have to worry but I can see how focussing too much on it could mean your characters aren't fully rounded individuals.
I'm wondering if it ties in to what Joanne Carr/now Grant reported last year: "the Editorial team as a whole had recently assessed and replied to just over 300 submissions in a short space of time, and we found that similar problems were coming up time and time again: cliched plots."
Hopefully it's a topic that will be explored further :-)

Lorraine said...

BTW apologies for the messy fonts in this post. Have tried to sort them out but to no avail!

Sri Pammi said...

Me too.

Just when I feel like conquered the concept of something, out comes another new one to learn and apply.

Have to check the new M&B community. Thanks for pointing out. Lorraine.

Lacey Devlin said...

Where do I sign up for this turbo-charged literary skateboard? There's so much to think of when you're writing, and then of course there are the things you don't know that you need to be thinking of. Seriously needing that skateboard now :) .

Jackie Ashenden said...

I think what they mean by this is seeing your characters for real people and not just walking conflicts. I mean, take my ms that's with them at the moment - my heroine started off as a walking geek cliche. And that was the entirety of her conflict - there wasn't anything 'real' behind her. Okay, so the conflict I eventually gave her was probably on the broad-brushed side (but in category, you can't be too nuanced) but it made her a well rounded person, not just a geek.

Oh, and Kate from my Feel the Heat entry. She was the hippy cliche played against Alex, the developer cliche. Again, no 'real' conflicts behind them. Nothing about why they were like that as people. Does that make sense? At least, that's my take on it.

Lorraine said...

Sri - I know, tough isn't it. Much harder to get right than most people seem to think :-)

Lacey - If I fond one I promise to share ;-)

Jackie - That's helpful, thank you. I think it's getting the balance right between making the emotional conflicts the focus and making sure my characters are well rounded that worries me. Who knows, perhaps it's not something I need to worry about and I should focus on the stuff I've been told I need to work on!
I can see how it all ties into being believable for the reader, anyway.

Janet said...

"She was the hippy cliche played against Alex, the developer cliche. Again, no 'real' conflicts behind them. Nothing about why they were like that as people."

Ah, that makes sense. Stereotypes engaged in mainly external conflict gives cliched situations. Thank you, Jackie.

But I can't see what's wrong with nailing the internal conflicts first then developing the characters from that.

Unless... I've misunderstood what the editors are actually saying. Maybe the editors are actually talking about external conflict here

["conflicts can become cliches if they are used to create a character"]

and saying they want internal stuff to motivate the external stuff?

Lorraine said...

Hmm, I don't know. I think it also has to do with seeing the characters as multi faceted, fully developed individuals. No one single event has made them who they are...
There are so many cliches to avoid - cliched plots, cliched characters, cliched conflicts... Perhaps it is just as simple as Jenny says in her later post - that as long as you're using your own unique voice to tell as story then you can avoid the cliche trap (my paraphrase!)

Then again I could be completely and utterly wrong :-)

Jackie Ashenden said...

Janet, I think what Lorraine's saying is right. There's nothing wrong with nailing the internal conflict first - I'm starting to do that myself - but there will be more to them than just, say, being wary of commitment or not liking to lose control. Does that make sense?

Suzanne said...

I think writing is a whole can of worms. When you think you've got one thing sorted there's always something else to worry about.

And all I want to do is tell stories (actually, that's not true - I also want to be published which is why I keep putting myself through all this).

x

Lucy King said...

Or how about 'sexual attraction cliches' which is what I'm guilty of in my current WIP...

Lorraine said...

Suzanne - at least we're all opening the same can of worms and can hopefully help each other out :-)

Lucy - Sexual attraction cliches? Hadn't even thought about those. There are only so many ways to describe the nuts and bolts of being attracted, I'd have thought. Difficult to keep sounding fresh. Maybe when you've come out the other side and you've got more time you can expand on this a little more?