Charting Through Conflict

by Hallee Bridgeman, @halleeb

Happily writing away on my latest WIP, I came across a major road block. I knew what I wanted my conflict to be. I just didn’t know why it should be a conflict for my main character. Or, rather, I didn’t know how to make it a big enough conflict that the reader would understand why it was a big deal to my character.

I’d plotted out the book – a brief outline of what happened in each chapter, and had written about three chapters of the planned ten (this book is a 40K word novella.) However, this outline is just action presented as an answer to the question, “What happens in this chapter?” Most of the time, the characterization and conflicts and goals are already built in a solid form as I’ve built my characters. When writing this one, though, the conflict was just this vague conflict hanging out there that made sense to me in my mind because I knew the “whole” story versus what was being presented on the page — but in writing all of that down, I just found myself up against the wall that lead to the deepening of the conflict. For the first time ever, I was stuck — while writing my 24th book!

So, I took out a white board and a red dry erase marker and wrote the conflict in the center of it and drew a big circle around it. There was my conflict – in red and white.

I asked the question, “Why did it matter to her?” I wrote the answer, circled it, and drew a line to the conflict.

I asked the question, “Why did it matter to him?” I wrote the answer and circled it and drew a line back to the conflict.

Okay, so I had how the conflict affected my two main characters. Next, I asked for both answers, “What will it mean if —,” which produced two or three answers to that question as it pertained to each characters.

Working backward from the center, in an organizational chart format, I answered questions that directly related to conflict, character action and reaction, and motivations. The end result was that I had my conflict built in a way that I could present it on the page and make it matter to my readers — give them a conflict in which they could relate and root for the parties to overcome.

Suddenly, the wall I’d come across dissolved and I was able to go forward with the book. I didn’t even have to refer back to the organizational chart I’d developed. I think what I had to do was problem solve it in a concrete way that allowed me to see it. Which, in turn, further developed my characters in my mind and gave me the freedom to continue with the story as I’d originally plotted it.

Sometimes, it takes stepping away from the way “you’ve always done it before,” and creating a new way for your mind to work through a problem. What kind of creative solutions have you used to work through a plotting/writing problem?


Out of the Blue Bouquet

Five of today’s Best-selling Christian Authors weave five unique connected stories where misdirected floral deliveries lead to changed lives.

Courting Calla, by Hallee Bridgeman.
Ian knows Calla is the woman God has chosen for him, but Calla is hiding something big. Can Calla trust Ian with her secret, or will she let it destroy any possible hope they may have for a future?

Seoul in Love, by Alana Terry.
Love was lost a long time ago. A chance meeting in Seoul might change all that forever.

A Kærasti for Clari, by Carol Moncado.
Joel Christiansen delivered flowers to the palace and found his life turned upside down.
Clari Sørenson’s job as social media manager for Eyjania’s Queen Mother keeps her busy. An unexpected treasure hunt with a cute guy might be the vacation she needs.
Between clues and a snow storm, they’re drawn to each other. Her grandparents, and even the Queen Mother, have been after her to find a boyfriend, but is Joel the Kærasti for Clari?

Premeditated Serendipity, by Chautona Havig.
When Wayne Farrell hears about his niece’s floral fiasco, it sparks a plan to mix up his own orders in an attempt to play matchmaker. Reid has his reasons for not pursuing Kelsey… yet, and Wayne’s interference only makes an already difficult situation even more awkward. Premeditated Serendipity—because romance sometimes needs a little shove.

Out of the Blue Bouquet, by Amanda Tru.
When Brooke is left in charge of Crossroads Floral, she accidentally sends the flower deliveries to the wrong people. Unfortunately, some of those wrong people include all of the ex-girlfriends of the most eligible bachelor in town. Are Brooke’s mistakes a complete disaster, or can there be something beautiful in an out-of-the-blue bouquet?”

With more than half a million book sales, Hallee Bridgeman is a best-selling Christian author who writes action-packed romantic suspense focusing on realistic characters who face real world problems. Her work has been described as everything from refreshing to heart-stopping exciting and edgy.

An Army brat turned Floridian, Hallee finally settled in central Kentucky with her family so that she could enjoy the beautiful changing of the seasons. She enjoys the roller-coaster ride thrills that life with a National Guard husband, a college sophomore daughter, and two elementary aged sons delivers.

A prolific writer, when she’s not penning novels, you will find her in the kitchen, which she considers the ‘heart of the home’. Her passion for cooking spurred her to launch a whole food, real food “Parody” cookbook series. In addition to nutritious, Biblically grounded recipes, readers will find that each cookbook also confronts some controversial aspect of secular pop culture.

Hallee is a member of the Published Author Network (PAN) of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) where she serves as a long time board member in the Faith, Hope, & Love chapter. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the American Christian Writers (ACW) as well as being a member of Novelists, Inc. (NINC).

Hallee loves coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. Above all else, she loves God with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength; has been redeemed by the blood of Christ; and relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide her. She prays her work here on earth is a blessing to you and would love to hear from you. You find Hallee on her blog at halleebridgeman.com.

Act 2 Plotting in 5 Easy Questions

by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren 


I always get the Chapter Seven Blues. I know it’s inevitable, but I seem to forget that it happens, and often I’ll find myself down in the kitchen, moping (and looking for chocolate) and my husband will say… “You’re at Chapter 7, aren’t you?”
I’ll turn, stare at him, and nod. “How did you know that?”“Because the excitement of the story has gotten you through chapter 3, and Act 1, and the momentum carried you into chapters 4-6, but now the steam has died in the middle of Act 2, and you’re down here hunting for inspiration.” (This is usually accompanied by him taking the bag of chocolate chips out of my hand.)
Continue reading “Act 2 Plotting in 5 Easy Questions”

I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

Believe it or not, my column this month is about the Characters in our novels. In short, the idea of making them seem and even feel like real people to our readers. This is a major priority for me. I think with good reason.

Last month, I quoted one of my favorite writing quotes: “The secret to great fiction writing is to create characters readers care about, then do terrible things to them.” That article mainly focused on the second part. Today, I want to focus on the first, creating characters readers care about.

At present, my 18 novels on Amazon have received a total of 5,900 reviews (avg 4.6 Stars). I know this because my wife is doing my marketing now, and she just figured this out. One of the most consistent positive comments I get is: “Your characters are so real.” Or, “I feel like I really know these people.”

A few years ago, I did a survey sent out to 3,000 fiction readers, asking them to name the 3 most important things they look for in a novel (out of a list of 7 items). Know what the #1 answer was (it got the most #1 votes and was in everyone’s Top 3)? Characters you really care about.

I don’t have time here to give a lengthy set of instructions, so I’ll share one thing I do that, to me, may be the most important. That is, I let my characters react to what’s happening in the story the way they would if they were real people. Even if what they say or do changes or rearranges the plot. When I’m writing, much of the time I feel more like an invisible scribe, spying on my characters and jotting down the things they say and do.

It’s fair to say, as much as half the things that go on in my novels were not in my mind when I first created the synopsis for the story. One of the things I hate most when watching a TV show or movie, or reading a novel, is when a main character says or does something that seems totally forced, not at all in keeping with their personality (as revealed in the story so far).

I think what some writers do is start with the plot, then create 2D characters to populate their story. As the plot unfolds, they force their characters to say and do what’s needed for the scene to keep the plot intact and moving forward according to plan. I do have a main plot in my story and several key plot points in mind, but my goal is different. I want to create 3D characters then let them dictate all the details. And, if necessary, I will let them even change what I had in mind for the plot.

Because to me, once a main character becomes real (usually happens for me within the first 50-60 pages), I have to let them be who they are. Let them do and say exactly what they would if they were real people. Once they do become real to me, I go back and make any needed changes in those first 50-60 pages, so they seem like the same person throughout the book.

You might think this process must play havoc with the novel’s plot. But it doesn’t. I see these plot-changes-made-by-the-character as temporary setbacks. A tradeoff, so to speak to get the kind of characters readers really care about. I know where I need the story to go, and we’ll get there eventually. But not with 2D characters who say and do forced things real people would never say or do.

Well, that’s the idea. I’d love to hear how some of you handle the challenge of “Creating Characters Readers Really Care About.”

TWEETABLES

I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said by @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2x9KIku

Let your characters react to what’s happening in the story the way real people would.~ @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2x9KIku

I’m like an invisible scribe, spying on my characters, jotting down what they say and do.~ @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2x9KIku

____________________

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

How do you overcome a Sagging Middle in your novel? Throw Grampa Down the Stairs

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

What in the world am I talking about here? Throw Grampa down the stairs? Let me assure you right off, although both my grandfathers passed away years ago (my wife’s grandfathers as well), I would have never done anything to hurt them.

That is, in real life. But in my books? I actually did this very thing (with my wife’s full approval).

My post today, believe it or not, is actually about plotting, albeit a very specific aspect of plotting. Most fiction experts agree (I’m not one, but I’ve read their books), conflict and tension are at the core of great fiction writing. The best stories include lots of both.

One of my favorite writing quotes is (though I don’t know who to credit): “The secret to great fiction writing is to create characters readers care about, then do terrible things to them.” Speaking of terrible things, this sounds like a terrible thing to do as a writer. But it’s not. It’s essential to create a great story and, if you think about it, most of the great movies you’ve watched and books you’ve read have followed this advice.

It came to my rescue as I wrote my 2nd novel back in 2009, and it came to my rescue again this week, as I’m writing Novel #19.

One of the common problems fiction writers face is the “danger of the sagging middle.” That’s where you have a great beginning all worked out and maybe even a great climactic ending. But as you get well into the story, it dawns on you that the middle hundred pages are kinda flat. You didn’t plan on it, didn’t see it coming but, now that you’re here, you realize the story is starting to sag.

I’ve stopped reading several novels that began with great promise because of this sagging middle, so I’m very sensitive to this issue as a writer. I don’t want my readers to do the same thing with my books.

As I said, I faced this dilemma while writing my second novel, The Homecoming. I was at the 1/3 point, could see the finish line off in the distance. But the chapters in that middle-third were starting to sound and feel like “blah-blah-blah.” Even to me (definitely to my wife). The story involved a young boy who’d lost his mother, an aging grandfather who just met his grandson a few months ago, and the boy’s father, a war hero. The father and grandfather had just reconciled after years apart at the end of Book 1.

When I realized the middle chapters were getting stale, I talked to my wife and asked for her help. The two of us began to brainstorm some plot possibilities. Aided by the above advice (and since I’d already created characters readers cared about), I knew it was time to do some “terrible things to them.” The idea popped into my head, and I said it out loud. “I know, we could throw Grampa down the stairs.”

My wife’s answer? “That’s perfect. That’ll do it.”

So, that’s what I did. I arranged for Grampa to fall down the stairs. It wasn’t a fatal fall (though he did need to be hospitalized). And this event became the first domino to a host of other significant (and tense) plot developments that safely took me all the way through the previously sagging middle-third.

As I said, I’m writing my 19th novel now, called Saving Parker (Parker is a dog). And I’m just about at the same point. The beginning’s been going great. And I’ve already worked out a great ending. But I’m looking at the chapters up ahead, and all I see are the makings of a seriously sagging middle.

So, we had another what we now affectionately call a “Throw Grampa Down the Stairs” conversation and came up with a similar perfect solution to the problem. I won’t tell you what it is, because the book isn’t out yet (release date is Nov 1st). But I’m all energized again about writing the book again, and I believe it will have the same punch as the first 2 books in the series (Rescuing Finley and Finding Riley).

So…have you ever faced this dilemma? How have you overcome your sagging middle (I’m talking about your novel, not your abdomen)? Tell us your story.

TWEETABLES

Throw Grampa Down the Stairs by Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

How do you overcome a Sagging Middle in your novel?~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Create characters readers care about and then do terrible things to them.~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.