Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting to grips with internal conflict

For me, as all the minxes are painfully aware at this point, internal conflict is the most difficult element of creating a story. Maybe because I'm a private person, who tries to avoid looking at her own internal conflicts, maybe because it takes a lot out of me, or maybe because I know that its the heart of any romance, and I'm fearful of not getting it right.

I'm not very keen on therapy. My characters on the whole, tend not to be either. But I need to analyse them, empathise with them, and feel their inner pain in order to infuse my story with it. Its a struggle. But when I get it right nothing tops that feeling of achievement. Then a story has fulfilled its potential, and truly come to life.

So - in my eternal search to crack this most difficult of story elements, I read and constantly re-read the work of writers who HAVE got a handle on it. And one of the books I go back to again and again, is Hooked by Les Edgerton. I've blogged about this book before, and lauded Les's excellent writing blog. He somehow manages to elicit 'aha' moments from me every single pass that I take of Hooked. And his take on the 'story worthy problem' is both clear and concise. And a guaranteed aha.

On my most recent read, this is the kernel of truth that resonated. The difference between melodrama and drama. Now, I'm pretty good on melodrama. Mostly because I like plotting, and I like writing big, dramatic scenes. But the big dramatic scene can often be melodrama. The emotions it involkes are the true drama.
Take for example, the movie, Terminator.
The protagonist in Terminator is young Sarah Connor. She's 19, in college and working in a burger place in the evenings. She shares a flat with a girl called Ginger, and at the beginning we see her going out on a date with a guy she doesn't like very much. She's young, innocent, and we get the impression that not much has happened in her life, thus far.

As everyone knows, the two other main characters in Terminator are Terminator (played by Arnie) and Kyle Reese, sent from the future to save Sarah Connor, no matter what, because of the important role she will play in her future.

When her life is under threat, she can't believe her eyes as the Terminator relentlessly tracks her. Kyle explains that the Terminator is a Cyborg. Here's the section from James Cameron's treatment:

"I don't believe any of this," Sarah says. Frantic. She seems about to scream.
"Yeah, well that's OK. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening. You've got to accept and understand what this thing is. It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with, it doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear...and it absolutely will not stop, ever, once it has been targeted. Unless it's destroyed."

Sarah is relentlessly pursued through the movie. She learns more about her future, and the importance of her as yet unconceived son, John Connor. She falls for Kyle. But she still doesn't fully comprehend the awful persistence of the Terminator.  Until the where the relentless cyborg is caught in the flames of an exploding oil tanker. I could certainly write that with bells on. All licking flame and twisted metal. But the truth behind the scene isn't the explosion, but rather the response of the protagonist, Sarah Connor.

Here's James's treatment again:

An unbelievable fireball erupts skyward. The dumpster is enveloped by flames and is hurled, rolling on its casters, down the alley. Sarah falls before the blast as the forward trailer explodes and an ocean of fire rolls forward, almost reaching her. The dumpster tips over and Kyle rolls out.
In the center of the inferno Terminator struggles violently. His flesh fries and sizzles. He tears loose from the twisted wreckage and collapses to the ground. He sinks into a charred mass and stops moving.

Sarah crawls away from the intense heat and lies watching the motionless figure in the blaze. She staggers to her feet and circles around the building to find Kyle. She finds him lying near the dumpster, sheltered from the heat by its mass, and drags him away.
His head lolls. He opens his eyes. "Sarah."
"We got it, Kyle."
They embrace, silhouetted by the fire.

At this point Sarah feels a whole bunch of emotions, and they reflect in her eyes. Joy, that the man she loves is alive. Relief, that the terminator is finally dead. Elation, in triumphing against all odds. Fatigue, at the end (she thinks) of this horrible nightmare. The audience knows this, feels it with her. The struggles have changed Sarah, given her depth.
And the Terminator staggers out of the blaze behind them.

Sarah's emotions morph into terror.
In the struggle that follows, the Terminator and Kyle are both destroyed forever.

Sarah closes her eyes, letting the cool water bathe her, washing away blood and the fear.
Now that it's finally over, she can't believe it. The destruction of the cyborg and the loss of Kyle
neutralize each other, leaving a vacuum.

Sarah has survived. And her internal wounds now define her. She will live, because she is the mother of John Connor. The final image we have of her is of a woman, no longer a girl. The melodrama that she's been through give way to the drama that is uniquely hers. She now battles with a new confict, whether or not to reveal to her son that Kyle is his father:

"I'll always wonder," she continues, "Whether you should know about your father... whether that will change your decision to send him. Did you already know when you sent Kyle that you were his son... that you were sending him to his death? What an awful burden that was, or rather will be. Kyle was right... you can go crazy thinking about this stuff. Well, I'll do more later. I'm a bit tired... think I'll take a nap."

Sarah shuts off the cassette recorder and crosses her hands peacefully on her belly. Over her loose dress she wears a leather shoulder holster. The butt of a .38 revolver presses against her breast.

She is strong. Determined. We see this in the final image of her:

A serious, dark-complected woman brings her some tea. On the beach below a boy runs by and yells something to the woman in Spanish.
"What did he say, Maria?"
"There's a storm coming in."
Sarah gazes at the thunderheads way out there, rolling in. Heat lightning pulses in their depths. She sips her tea.
"Yes, I guess there is."

So despite the huge budget, impressive animatronics, and great special effects, the core of the story is Sarah Connor's internal transformation from innocent student to battle-weary veteran. She's known love, known death, and these experiences and her response to them are the truths that the audience takes with them. Things will be different for her in the future, because of the emotional scars that she'll bear from her past. These are the seeds of her deeply felt internal conflicts.

So what does this mean to me, writing romance?
That whatever has happened to my character in their past has formed a scar within their inner being. One they don't want to pick at. One they've most likely suppressed, and one they keep hidden. At the story beginning, they're managing fine without navel gazing on their inner scar, but when the story bursts into life, they find their scar start to itch. They're challenged to look closer at themselves, confront their inner demons, and battle with them. They can't avoid it, any more than they can ignore the Terminator. Not if they want to reach their happy ever after. They have to climb the ladder of change, and its going to be damn painful. What they want is within reach, if they can only realise that they have to face their fears and cut away the scar tissue. Internal conflict is the heart of romance. It's hard. For everyone. But here's hoping its worth it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Snowed in!

Well, very close to it. We had 8 inches of snowfall yesterday, and its still snowing....
These are pictures taken by my daughter yesterday - before today's snowfall. We're almost a mile from the road, so are relying on our 4x4 to get out. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blog post bling winner!

Well the Wild Rose Blog Tour is now over, and I'd like to thank my guest bloggers for getting me into the Christmas mood with their festive posts.

As promised, one lucky commenter has won a prize. The winner is.....(drumroll) rbooth43!

Please leave me a message using my contact link, and let me know which colour necklace and earring set you'd like, red or green, and I'll put it in the post pronto!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Roses Blog Tour - My final guest - Nana Malone

So it's the last post of the Roses Blog Tour, and I'd like to thank Nana Malone for joining me today to share her Christmas tradition, while I'm off visiting Rachel Brimble's site. For the last chance to claim my prize, make sure you are following me, then leave a comment on Rachel's site under my blog post.

Caroling, Christmas Eve presents and Deep Frying Turkeys

Every family has their holiday traditions. My family always let us open one present on Christmas Eve. In Ghana before any talk of presents comes in, we do the tour of grandparents and uncles and aunties. And we eat ourselves into a stupor. Presents come after that. And of course there’s the partying and dancing. Ghanaians love a good party

One of my favorite traditions is actually an inherited one from my husband’s family. For every present, a note is written to accompany it. And you have to guess what the present is before you can open it. As you can imagine, this makes for a long present opening ceremony. You also have to start with the smallest present first. It’s nerve wracking, but actually a lot of fun.

It was a hard one to get used to, but it makes sure everyone puts thought into every present. I stepped up the tradition a couple of years ago and started folding my notes into Origami shapes. You should see my husband and I trying to outdo each other now.

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Now here's some info on Nana's book, Game, Set, Match.

Off the court, tennis star Jason Cartwright’s playboy image is taking a public beating. On the court, he’s down forty-love. A knee injury is shutting down his game, and the paparazzi are splashing his love life on every magazine. A comeback is in order, but the makeover he needs to save his faltering career is in the hands of the woman he loved and left fifteen years ago.

While single-mom, Izzy Connors, sees people for who they really are through the lens of her camera, even without it, she knows Jason isn’t the star he appears to be. Although his charm and good looks haven’t dimmed since he broke her heart, all she sees is his wasted talent and playboy lifestyle.

Can Izzy put the past behind her and help Jason get his game, and his image, back on track? Or will the click of her camera shatter his world as well as his heart?

Game, Set, Match is available from The Wild Rose Press

From Amazon.com here

Nana's prize is TWRP gift vouchers so you can stock up on our books for the holiday season!

And you can read more about Nana and what she's got going on at her Blog:

Thanks so much for joining me here today, Nana, and have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Belated Talli Roland blogsplash (secondary ripple) & a pic of bling prize!

I missed Talli Roland's blogsplash on Wednesday, as I was hosting Caroline Clemmons and her wonderful chilli recipe, but here's the skinny...
Talli took on Amazon - and got to number 25 on Amazon.co.uk! Well done, Talli!
Her novel, The Hating Game can be found on Amazon.co.uk:

and Amazon.com:
When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £200,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?
I'm still on blog tour for the next couple of Wednesdays, and am offering a prize to a lucky commenter who also follows my blog - and here's a picture of my prize Swarovski crystal necklace with silver plated clasp, and matching earrings ... you pick, red or green!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wild Rose Blog Tour - Today's Guest - Caroline Clemmons!

It's the second day of the Wild Rose Blog Tour, and today the writers taking part are sharing their favourite Christmas Recipes. I'm sharing my seasonal recipe for Spiced Beef over on Amy Corwin's blog, so to claim my prize of swarovski necklace and matching earrings in red or green, please join my blog and leave me a comment on my blogpost on Amy's site.

I'm delighted to welcome Caroline Clemmons to Love and Chocolate, to share her Christmas Eve recipe!

Do leave Caroline a comment, as she's offering a prize of a $15 gift certificate for the Wild Rose Press. Take it away, Caroline!

My favorite time of year is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Anticipation builds, preparations become hectic, the air cools, and I’m in the grip of nostalgia. Believe me, I am the world’s greatest sucker for decorations everywhere and tons of presents under the tree! Receiving cards and letters also thrill me, even the annoying bragging letters stuck in with a card. As you can tell by my, ahem, well-rounded figure, special foods are also a big part of tradition at our house. On Christmas Eve, we dine on TexMex foods—tamales, guacamole, tostitos, queso and chili con carne prior to my husband reading the Christmas story from the Book of Luke before we open our presents.
Perhaps anglos eating TexMex food on Christmas Eve sounds odd to anyone who doesn’t live in the Southwest, but this menu is a nice contrast to the sweets and dishes served on Christmas Day. Shhhh! If you promise to keep it to yourself, I’ll share my secret recipe for chili con carne with you. The hero of my latest release, THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, prepares this chili for the fandango he hosts for family, friends and neighbors. Isn’t it funny that his recipe is the same as mine?

Dallas McClintock’s Fandango Chili con Carne

By Caroline Clemmons

5 lbs. Chili meat or ground beef, or a combination of 4lbs. Beef or Venison and 1 lb. Pork sausage (I use all beef)
1 15 0z. Tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) can Stewed tomatoes
3 Tspn Chili powder [adjust to taste]
1 tspn. Ground comino [cumin]
1 tspn. Cayenne
1 tspn. Salt
1 tspn. Pepper
1 tspn. Paprika
I medium Onion, chopped
3-5 Garlic cloves, minced [or garlic salt].
¼ cup Brown sugar (my secret ingredient)

Sear meat in a large skillet, pouring off the excess grease as the meat cooks. As meat nears browning, add onions and garlic to let them brown also. Mix the remainder of the ingredients except brown sugar with the meat in a large heavy kettle or dutch oven. Bring to a boil and then quickly reduce the heat to simmer. Stir frequently. As the chili simmers slowly, more fat will reduce out and float to the surface. Skim off this fat each time before you stir the chili. Discard the fat. About fifteen or twenty minutes before serving, add brown sugar. This chili can be cooked in an hour, but the flavor is best if simmered very slowly for two or three hours.
Serve with cornbread or tortillas and pinto beans. Texans do not add beans to the chili con carne while it’s cooking. Chili is a favorite for entertaining at our house, and a special Christmas Eve dish accompanied by tortilla chips, grated cheese, minced spring onions, pinto beans, tamales, cornbread muffins, butter, and honey as well as sometimes serving potato salad and other chilled salads. Chili is one of the first dishes I learned to cook on my own, but this is a much better recipe than my original effort.
In my opinion, Chili Con Carne [usually shortened to Chili] is a traditional Southwest food that has gained popularity throughout the United States. Oh, my, now I am so hungry for a big bowl of chili!

And here's more about Caroline...
As long as I can remember, I've made up adventures. Okay, I admit the early creative stories featured me riding the range with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and saving the West. What a disappointment to learn that Roy was exclusively committed to Dale! Eventually, my best friend from across the street and I decided to become better detectives than Nancy Drew. We drove our parents and neighbors crazy sticking our pert little noses where they didn't belong. About that time I started writing down my adventures, but mostly I was a reader. Not until I read Nora Roberts' early novels did I decide to create my own romance manuscripts. My road to publishing was a lot slower than Nora's was. No surprise there! I still read Nora's books—as well as those of countless other authors—but now I write full time. Unless life interferes, that is.

My Hero and I live on a small acreage in the ranching and horse country of North Central Texas. Hero and our two grown daughters are supportive of my writing. Living with Hero and me now are Webster, our sweet black Shih Tzu, and our two shorthaired cats: Sebastian, a large black and white tuxedo who thinks he's our watchcat; and Bailey Erin, a shy apricot tabby. When I'm not writing, I love spending time with family, reading, traveling with Hero, browsing antique malls, and digging into family history and genealogy. Writing about strong heroes and heroines who overcome amazing obstacles to forge a meaningful life together is my passion.

Readers may check my website at http://www.carolineclemmons.com/ for additional recipes, reviews, and excerpts of my books. Please check my blog at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com/ and sign up on the sidebar for my Mostly Monthly Newsletter that includes an exclusive free read each month, recipes, and news. I love hearing from readers and other writers at caroline@carolineclemmons.com.

THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, a western historical romance set in 1885:

Cenora Rose O’Neill knows her father somehow arranged the trap for Dallas McClintock, but she agrees to wed handsome stranger. She’d do anything to protect her family, and she wants to save herself from the bully Tom Williams. A fine settled man like Dallas will rid himself of her soon enough, but at least she and her family will be safely away from Tom Williams.
Texas rancher Dallas McClintock has no plans to wed for several years. Right now, he’s trying to establish himself as a successful horse breeder. Severely wounded rescuing Cenora from kidnappers, Dallas is taken to her family’s wagon to be tended. He is trapped into marrying Cenora, but he is not a man who goes back on his word. His wife has a silly superstition for everything, but passion-filled nights with her make up for everything. Ah, but what is he to do with a wife and her wild Irish family?

Excerpt: G rated from THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE:

Dallas raised his gaze where Aoife directed. Four girls danced, but only one drew his attention. Shoulders straight and feet flying, Cenora met his glance, then broke away from the other dancers to perform only a few yards from him.
Catcalls sounded nearby. She ignored them but gave a toss of her head. Her hair had come unbound, and her act sent her fiery hair awhirl. Light from the blazing campfire cast an aura-like radiance around her. Lantern glow overhead reflected her eyes sparked with merriment, challenge, and something mysterious he couldn’t name.
No longer the delicate china doll, her wild beauty called to him, mesmerized him. He visualized her brilliant tresses spread across a pillow, her milky skin bared only for him. His body responded, and savage desire shot through him. Surprised at the depth of his reaction, he wondered if her performance in bed would parallel the unbridled nature of her dance.
Good Lord, could this glorious woman truly be his wife? And if so, heaven help him, what on earth was he to do with her?

The Texan's Irish Bride is available now from The Wild Rose Press Click on the link to purchase.

Sounds like a great book, Caroline, and what a lovely cover! Thank you very much for being my guest today, Caroline, Dying to try your recipe!