Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wicked Wednesday - emotional conflict

There's no doubt that one of the key aspects of a paranormal romance is emotional conflict. A story can't be built around that alone, but without it, there would be no love story. Emotional conflict arises from something within a person which sometimes seems irrational and utterly insane. Okay, maybe not sometimes, but most of the time!

To create emotional conflict for the protagonist and their love interest, it must arise out of something apart from the plot. It must be something inside of each of them that would create the same conflict no matter where or how they met. Of course, it is intensified by the situation and the only way to resolve it is by working together.

Do not confuse emotional conflict with intellectual conflict. Intellectual conflict always starts in the mind. It's a conflict of ideas. A character might try to reason out their emotional conflict and make it intellectual, but it doesn't make it so. An intellectual conflict can be argued and the character can be persuaded to change their mind. Emotions aren't so reasonable. They simply are. There's no logic to them. Remember in a paranormal romance, the goal is to win the heart of one's love not the mind.

Do not confuse emotional conflict with external conflict. External conflicts arises outside of the character through plot and circumstance. Emotions make up internal conflicts and they arise within the characters themselves. Where emotional conflict make-up the heart of the novel, external conflict drives the plot. You can't have one without the other.

The key to writing a great paranormal romance is to meld the intense emotional conflict with an equally as exciting external one. If either aspect is lacking, the story will flop.

Who are your favorite authors in terms of emotional conflict?

23 comments:

  1. OK, this is probably going to come out totally wrong, but... actually when I read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series I got a little (OK, a lot) obsessed with it. (I'm all better now, though. Rehabilitation worked wonders.) There was something about that series that was really provocative but - for the longest time - I couldn't figure out what it was that had me hooked. And then, one day, it hit me: there is a real, physical reason for why the romance cannot advance physically. So the emotions are pulling the characters together but something external (laws of nature) were keeping them apart (rather than, say, pragmatic, ethical or religious reasons such as one character was currently involved in a relationship... although ethical reasons do enter in later on and I guess one could argue that it would be pragmatic to not get involved with a predator... but then all these reasons are sort of too-easily disregarded, IMO but OK, moving on)! That conflict/tension just made something click in my head and suddenly, I knew what I needed to do for my second novel (which is a paranormal romance, among other things). So I have to bow to Mrs. Meyer because her book taught me something about the sort of conflicts I wanted to introduce into my own work.

    Other excellent emotional conflict authors that spring to mind (at this precise moment) are Diana Wynne Jones and "Howl's Moving Castle" which pits Sophie's stubbornness against Howl's "slither-outer-ness" in a romance that is both epic and endearing in its gentleness. I also really enjoyed C.S. Friedman's "The Madness Season" where both the man and woman are supernatural beings of different types and start out rather ambivalent toward each other but end up developing a deep bond (that you, as the reader, can FEEL) by the end, through the trials and tribulations they go through. So, in that case, the external conflicts played a huge role in the development of an actual relationship (without which there might never have been one).

    Some books where I felt the emotional conflict failed epically were Koji Suzuki's "Ring", "Spiral", and "Loop" (a 3-part series - "The Ring" was made into a horror movies a few years back). There was no magnetism and zero chemistry between the romantically involved couples. So it was a rather awkward read sometimes because I couldn't believe Character A would do X, Y, and Z out of romantic love. Infatuation, maybe. Paternal love, yes. Romantic love? Not at all. Another book I was hugely disappointed with was Neil Gaiman's "Stardust." I actually thought the movie portrayed better (and more explosive) chemistry between the main male and female characters than the book.

    OK, I probably didn't actually address what you were asking about in the first place, but thanks for making me think! I needed this mental exercise like you wouldn't believe. (^__~)

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    1. Exercise away! :) I agree with you about Howl's. So wonderfully done. I'll have to check out The Madness Season too.

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  2. Yay! My work PC let me comment on your blog today! I try every post, but am only sometimes successful.
    This was a really great post that really clarified emotional conflict. I particularly liked the distinction between it and intellectual conflict.

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    1. Blogger comments tend to be wonky! I'm glad it's working for you today, though. :)

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  3. I just finished "The Silent Land," which kind of is paranormal romance although I suspect not quite in that genre. The emotional conflict there is phenomenal: a husband and wife after an avalanche find themselves in an empty ski village and suspect they are dead. The wife is pregnant (even dead!) and doesn't want to tell the husband yet, but also fears that not telling him is driving them apart -- which would leave her alone in the world. Excellent book.


    I also dropped by to let you know about The Stupid Pineapple Blogfest. It's a bit late -- entries due Friday 2/3-- but the entries are simple. All you have to do is in some way mention "This Stupid Pineapple Is..." on your blog Friday and let me know. Details here:

    http://www.thinkingthelions.com/2012/01/announcing-stupid-pineapple-blogfest.html

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    1. Interesting premise for The Silent Land. And thanks for telling me about This Stupid Pineapple IS blogfest. That's hilarious!

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  4. Emotional conflict is definitely one of my favorite things about reading, and writing too. It really pulls the reader towards the characters and feel what they feel. Everything I'm reading lately has a lot of this, but there are too many on the list to share. Great post! :)

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    1. Thanks! I love reading and writing emotional conflict too. My marriage is wonderfully drama-free, but the writer in me loves to get the emotions boiling in stories.

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  5. My brain is too fried at the moment to come up with names, but I agree it is the emotional conflict that pulls a reader into a story and the characters.

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    1. No worries. I understand! Rest that brain of yours. You've a big month coming up. :)

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  6. i struggle writing emotional conflict, prob why my genre choices are not romantics. the closest i get is chick lit =) your advice is appreciated!

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  7. I've been having the same problem as Sarah, but today all is well and I can say hi.

    I suppose Hunger Games struck an emotional conflict chord in me as well as tons of other readers.

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    1. The Hunger Games did it for me too. Can't wait for the film!

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  8. So right... emotional conflict really drives the characterization and keeps the reader hanging in there

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  9. I'm never good at picking an example when someone asks for it (what's with that?), but Hunger Games came to mind as having great emotional conflict. That book/series was conflict-happy!

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 A-to-Z Challenge!

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    1. Oh yes, The Hunger Games was awesome! I'm never great at picking examples either.

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  10. Great post!

    Kristine Cashore is one of them. Her protagonists have a lot of emotional conflict.

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    1. Thanks! I'm going to have to look Cashore up.

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  11. Since I'm definitely feeling 'conflicted' today this is an incredible post for me. I never thought about all the different types and levels of conflict although I write them. Emotional Conflict (oh boy, do I know about that one)certainly does shape our characters. I never thought about how external conflict shapes our story.

    Thanks, something good to get my mind off me and back into my work.

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    1. I'm glad I could help take your mind off things. External conflict is just as potent.

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