Friday, September 09, 2005

Come To the Light

Generally, I consider myself a writer of dark romances. I prefer tortured heroes and, to a smaller degree, heroines, hurt/comfort scenarios, and generally a lot of angst in my stories. I'm great at heaping misery on my characters, both in the form of emotional baggage and current predicaments that involve some measure of suffering.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a fan of stuff that is so dark the romance is almost an afterthought. I don't enjoy stories that involve such things as BDSM. Even if my characters had horrific beginnings, I don't want them so emotionally scarred that they have no capacity for positive love or change.

And for the most part, this set up works okay for me as a writer. I can think of enough ways to make my people suffer without taking them over the brink.

What's harder for me is to keep things light.

I have an idea for a story that involves some fairly innocuous external conflict. The villains aren't mustache-twirlingly bad, more a little over-zealous in their determination to win the game, so to speak. In fact, I think the havoc these guys will wreak is almost more of the accidental "I didn't mean for that to happen!" kind.

And although my hero has lost someone significant in his life that causes him internal struggle, for the most part he's a fairly well-adjusted guy. He's not tortured or dark, just a little bit guilty.

But the problem is my heroine. I just cannot for the life of me think of her in any way other than a perfectly normal person who for the most part is happy with her life. She hasn't suffered horrors in her past. Sure, she'd love to meet a nice guy, but it's not essential to her long term happiness. At least she doesn't think so.

My question is this: can you have a compelling story if there is no major internal conflict? Or can a good story be written that involves a minimal of internal conflict? Perhaps just the normal "If I stick with this guy/girl, I'd have to sublet my apartment" kind of angst rather than the "If I stick with this guy/girl, my entire internal belief system will crumble and I will have to finally at long last release the demons that have been keeping me from ever loving another living soul" kind of angst.

One of my biggest pet peeves in books is forced internal conflict for the sake of...well, conflict. I hate this across genres, but it seems far more obvious in romance novels when keeping the hero and heroine apart for 300 plus pages can prove a challenge. It drives me up the wall when a hero or heroine refuses an obvious attraction simply because inside his/her head he/she is bemoaning "We can't be together because I'm afraid of loving someone/incapable of commitment/not deserving of this person who is so much better than me/fill in the blank with easily-solved conflict."

I guess you could say that I prefer internal conflict to be a mystery to the character. If Susie Gunshy is unwilling to date anybody because Bob Onenightstand dumped her butt fifteen years ago after the big Frat Night Kegger Bash and she knows this, I get kind of annoyed after she's sung the sixteenth chorus of "I can't trust you. All men are scum, as proven by the one and only guy I've dated." If she knows why she is afraid to date nice men - can admit it not only to herself but outloud to other people - then she's already over the conflict hurdle. All we as readers need to do is turn the pages long enough until Stanly Niceguy proves her wrong and they live HEA. Which, unfortunately, tends to be a pretty boring ride.

But if every man in Susie's life has let her down in some way, from her no-good father who left town when she was six to her adored older brother who was killed in The War to her seventh grade science teacher whom she idolized before he was arrested for owning child pornography to the guy who vowed he loved her until after he'd taken her virginity and then left her for the Prom Queen, she'd have legitimate internal conflict about trusting men. Except, she wouldn't think about it in such a pragmatic "All the men in my life have let me down, therefore I don't trust men" way. Her distrust would be so much a part of her very personality that she'd analyze it no more than the rest of us analyze why we prefer dogs over cats or vice versa.

And if Susie's life had followed the course I've stated above, she'd certainly come with emotional baggage. The hurdles Stanly Niceguy would have to scale would be meaningful and real, and his success would be something I'd turn those pages to witness.

So I hate to give my characters trivial internal conflict. Conversely, I don't like the idea of always writing or reading about people who've suffered the worst life has to offer. Sometimes it would be nice to write a light story where the conflicts aren't so dire rather than floundering in the dark.

I very much admire writers who can tell a story about normal people (defined in the loosest sense of the word normal) and keep me hooked while avoiding internal conflict that reeks of contrivance. If a couple can't be together because one of them has a hang-up, make me believe it. Otherwise I just feel like slapping the character and pulling a Cher. Snap out of it!

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

I so know what you mean. I've got three main protags in my unpublished novel that I'm pitching to anyone who'll listen and it took me forever to figure out just what the internal conflict of the main protag was. She was soooo normal. But, when I went back to rewrite the book (the book is on its fourth revision before I send it back out), I did find internal conflict that wasn't apparent before. This fiction writing business is new to me but I guess the more you do it, the better you get. Good luck to you!