Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your First Five Pages--Pt. 2

In the first part of this little series of posts, I indicated one of the most useful tactics in selling that first novel to a traditional publisher (or simply e-publishing online), of baiting your reader--hook, line & sinker--is to start with a fabulous opening.  Grant you, I have yet to "sell" myself (well, not really myself, but one of my books) to a big to-do publishing company, I really found these few tips worthwhile.

The next tip I have--and, by the by, these were laid out in detailed form by best-selling fantasy author Faith Hunter via her short workshop last Saturday--but this is another very important part of writing that novel which will (hopefully) grab hearts, move mountains, and award you, dear author, readers for a lifetime.

CONFLICT.  I've heard so many published authors tell their personal stories of how they landed a book deal. I'll bet you have, too. One common feat, it seems, they all had to overcome with their respective agents and/or editors was the issue of conflict.  These are great characters, but where's the conflict?  Beautiful, flowing prose, but... Well. You get the picture.

So, what is conflict? It's struggle. Uncertainty. Pressure and tension. An imbalance, if you will, in what the protagonist (and possibly the antagonist, too) wants more than anything in the world, but, for one reason or another, it's always out of reach. Or maybe just out of reach. We, the author, build events in the story that make the conflict stronger and stronger.

Think of it this way:  It's the "but" in your GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) sentence. Katniss Everdeen wants to win the Hunger Games (G), because she knows winning will provide a lifetime of food and money for her and her family (M), but she is weaker than most of the other tributes in the arena and therefore must use wit over brawn to survive. (C)

Rather rough, I know, but you get the idea. Within the first 5-10 pages of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins paints a relatively well-defined picture of what the core of the conflict will be. Doesn't take long to figure out these people live in a sort of prison-like dystopia, where free-will is virtually non-existent. And of course there is that initial seed planted at the very beginning: This is the day of the reaping.

Novelist Caro Clark states that "a convincing story has many conflicts built into it, layered and connected."  The main character (and oftentimes the secondaries, but the mains are most important) will have internal and external conflict. Internal and external strengths. Internal and external weaknesses. These may change throughout the course of the novel, yes, but they exist nonetheless.

Draco Malfoy is but one of Harry's many external conflicts.

What about Harry Potter? Because you know I just love using him. :) ~ One of his main internal conflicts is the niggling idea that he will ultimately fail; that he'll never keep up with the other young witches and wizards who have, perhaps, been raised with magic their entire lives. So, how does Jo Rowling get him through it? By testing his abilities, letting him win and fail, putting him through external conflicts which will ultimately aid him with the internal. By defeating the basilisk in The Chamber of Secrets, Harry overcomes his insecurity of being able to speak parseltongue (snake language). He understands it is not evil, precisely, as everyone seemed to believe throughout the book, but a gift. One of the few perks of Lord Voldemort's curse.

Naturally, this is only one of the internal conflicts conquered by an external happening.

Remember always to respect your reader, especially when adding and building conflict. We want to reel in, not confuse. Personally, the author who makes me go back over and over, because I have to stop, scratch my head, and say, "Whaaaa?" too many times is the one I'm not apt to pick up again for a good while, if ever. But, of course, that is just me and what I expect out of myself in my own writing.

How do you lay out the conflict when writing your own novel? Do you plot it out? Pants your way through? Can you think of a story where you thought the conflict especially delicious? If so, please share!

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,



Bonnie Rae said...

I always plot. I if I don't the book starts to become something completely different and too off topic. It also helps with plot holes.

Lynda R Young said...

yep, I pour in as much conflict on my poor characters as I can. I usually work it out in an outline first, though I used to pants it.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I pants the conflict. It usually goes something like this: "Hmmm, I think it's been too long since I had conflict. What could go wrong here that might throw a wrench in their plans?" Then I start writing. Always appreciate the GMC!

Andrew Leon said...

But that would be telling :P

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