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Workshop: Theme/Conflict Integration


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- [ From: Jacqueline Lichtenberg * EMC.Ver #3.0 ] --

Workshoppers:  (1999 comment: I lost the paragraphing that showed who said what, so I re-attributed the comments by their sense.)

=============== THEME/CONFLICT INTEGRATION --  (1999 comment - I'm sorry I don't have the full titles/publisher data on the books discussed here -- undoubtedly they were identified in a previous post in this thread!  -- apparently this is about a novel called DARK RAPTURE by _______Hauf -- contrasted with another well crafted novel from Jane Toombs whose work I really like and recommend.) 

The following is from Margaret Carter with my (JL's) extensive comments interpolated: I'm delighted some of you are taking my writing assignments seriously enough to do them! This is going to improve all of your skills! JL

CARTER:  I recently finished reading Hauf's novel (haven't been able to get to the store  to pick up Toombs' romance yet), and I agree that the way the POV hops around   like a grasshopper drives me nuts. But lots of romances do that (and it always   irritates me, but I try to ignore it).

(JL)It irritates you because it is BADLY DONE - the lack of serious study of the craft of writing on the part of many selling Romance writers is the problem. Then there are the writers like Toombs - who have the craft down to a fine tuned, glorious engine that purrs along and carries their ART on parade before your eyes.

(CARTER)What really turned me off about DARK  RAPTURE is that I get no sense of the 2 protags being "fated" for each other or  even 'belonging" together.

(JL) I've been working off-List with Cheryl Wolverton who is brewing up a project you'll all hear about soon - and getting that "fated" element into the book at the correct level has been hard. She's been fighting it subconsciously because she's been trained hard in the Romance field which doesn't put such a high premium on craftsmanship as I do. So I've had her working up a sweat rewriting in outline form. We've done about 3 years worth of work on this in a mere couple of weeks.

In essence, that "fated for each other" effect that's missing in RAPTURE has to go in on the level that is the TOPIC of this Workshop lately. No, not FLASHBACK though that's a related topic. THEME/CONFLICT integration. We discussed theme and how it unifies the entire book. We discussed conflict and how it's the essence of PLOT. And we've begun to discuss DUAL POINT OF VIEW.

For a SINGLE NOVEL to tell TWO STORIES both embedded in the SAME SITUATION from TWO POINTS OF VIEW - the two stories must have the same THEME. And that THEME has to be used to generate two conflicts that REFLECT EACH OTHER. When the two protags suffer internal conflicts that are MIRROR IMAGES OF EACH OTHER - the reader subliminally gets the impression that they DESERVE EACH OTHER - i.e. they are fated.

Now that works if it's a Romance or if it's an Intrigue or a Morality Play which states a position (such as murders deserve to die for their crimes) or anything at all.

When you take the protag you know best, and use their internal conflict to generate the internal conflict of the other POV character, so that you end up with two OPPOSITE BUT IDENTICAL conflicts internally, then each of them will act to create that same conflict that is within them in their external environment - so the EXTERNAL CONFLICTS will be mirror images - and eventually solve each other somehow in the RESOLUTION.

Once all that is in place in your outline stage of development, you never ever have to SAY IN WORDS in the novel why the two deserve each other or are fated. You have SHOWN it and it will be all the more powerful for the reader if you never TELL IT.

(CARTER)As much as I'm biased toward sexy male vampires, I  didn't find the hero appealing at all. Another vampire rock singer, yawn.

Plus, he treats the heroine so callously in some of the early scenes that I  find their eventual love hard to believe. As for the heroine, she has zero  personality, nothing to justify her becoming the great love of this immortal  creature's life.

(JL) I agree, except that I wouldn't put it this way at all. I think this HAPPENED TO THE WRITER not on purpose, but by accident because the understructure of the reflected conflicts that has to be there to support the POVs isn't there - and so the writing just wanders around at random. I don't think she did this on purpose - and my reasons have to do with the way the text "feels" - reading that book is like riding in the passenger seat of the car driven by a driver who is behind the wheel for the first time (and you don't have teacher's dual-controls!)

So I wouldn't say that "characters are not appealing" or that "he treats the heroine" - I'd say the author can't frame and set a scene and structure it from narrative hook to cliffhanger. She gets lost in the middle, and not knowing what to do just frantically grabs at the first thing she can think of that seems "dramatic" - the characters aren't consistent in that callousness because the outline-level pre-structuring wasn't there for the author to REFER TO WHILE WRITING - in order to know what to put in and most important WHAT TO LEAVE OUT. The touchstone of selectivity is that original OUTLINE that tells you what THEME you are illustrating with every choice of every detail and word of dialogue and bit of business.

She doesn't have the character's subconscious conflicts mapped out - so she doesn't know what their respective resolutions must be - so her scenes wander aimlessly. Then on "rewrite" she just made changes that had nothing to do with the original concepts. The result is a mishmosh. And we haven't even discussed the PLOT PROBLEMS yet.

(CARTER)  At first it gave me the impression of yet another 'every vampire romance novel  cliche ever written" novel.


(JL)Aha, so you got to the plot problems! Yes, it's "EVERYTHING AND THE KITCHEN SINK PLOTTING" and a perfect example of it. There's enough dynamite material here to support an eight novel series! It's all great material - but it just SITS THERE in a tangled mess.

Yet it does have some neat twists as it goes  along, notably the time travel paradox in which the heroine, transformed into a  vampire by the hero, becomes the vampire who originally transformed him. Also,  the vampire heritage in her brother's friend's family has the potential to be  interesting.

Yep, everything and the kitchen sink plotting. All potential, no realization. Why? Lack of an OUTLINE - which is why I started this entire workshop way back in August of 96 by kicking off a study of how to OUTLINE. That was before we were on this handy listserve so there's no archive to download of all that. Does anyone have a compilation of that? Or has someone out there learned it and can write up a lecture on OUTLINE for the newcomers? SEE ONE DO ONE TEACH ONE - come on someone, teach OUTLINING and give the classic assignments for learning to do it.

(CARTER)  Still, I got bored and didn't really "finish" it. I skimmed.

I'll be honest - I haven't finished it yet. I don't think I'm going to.  

(carter?)"Zebra will buy anything" -- yes, I often think so. In addition to their  money-saving device of paying 1970-level advances, they also cut costs by   (apparently) not employing any copyeditors. Yet they turned down my vampire   novel on the grounds of "not enough suspense." (The big disappointment was  that they'd held it for about a year, after expressing strong interest. The   interested editor was replaced by a new one, who apparently dawdled for months   before rejecting my book with a 2- or 3-sentence rejection letter.)  True, maybe I do lack suspense, but I suspect lack of the gore that Zebra  seems to love was also a factor. A lesson reinforcing MZB's dictum that no  editor will buy a story because it's "well written." I know I write better than  90% of Zebra's authors. I'm here with JL to learn to PLOT well enough to  become a steady-selling midlist novelist.

(JL)The above parag is written with a hidden assumption which could use examining. The assumption I see oozing out from between the words describing the process of "editorial consideration" is that editors are hired to do the job of considering manuscripts.

(JL)In my experience, that's not true. Editors are hired to be the person handy to blame when profits aren't high enough. Books aren't chosen to be published because they're well written or because they're "good" or because they "ought to get published" - they are chosen TO MAKE MONEY. And the prevailing wisdom in publishing is that choosing manuscripts to publish is just like picking stocks to buy. A monkey throwing darts at a list can do as good a job (or better) as most "experts". Therefore editors aren't hired on their ability to pick manuscripts - they're hired to be handy to blame.

  (CARTER)Since I've heard that romances now have the lion's share of the market, I'm  trying to edit a couple of my novel drafts into romances (as well as working on   new ones). This is not a "sell-out" for me, because the relationships have  always been the most interesting parts of my stories, to me, and I do enjoy   reading romances if they're clever.

(jl)Actually, that's last year's news. The current scuttlebutt out of Manhattan in January (after the computers crunched the '96 numbers) is that fiction is dead across the board. Not selling. The only thing going in books on paper publishing right now is NONFICTION. I think fiction is in the process of moving to the Web. SF has been here for years - Romance is REALLY BIG on the Web. The rest is coming if AOL's getting swamped when they offered a reasonable price is any indication.

The thing is that a very, very, very small slice of the general public has always been responsible for ALL the book buying (except school textbooks). That slice is generally the better educated - or smart but undereducated which is the Romance readership in general - or smart, well educated and underemployed which is the rest of the Romance readership, westerns, Action, Best Sellers, etc. That small slice is the slice that has led the way online. Publishers haven't caught up with us yet.

That gives us a few more months grace period to INVENT webfic the way we want it before Manhattan arrives and ruins our party.

(CARTER)  I just hope I can interest some editor before the vampire romance fad dies out.  At last, the market has caught up with what I've been fascinated with all   along!

(JL)I'm sorry to tell you it's pretty much dead right now (though I expect surges - they've hardly scratched the surface). There's almost nothing on the shelves, and they're not buying much in the way of the Fantasy Romance right now. The place to be in that field is at the cutting edge - you have to offer something that's a serious INNOVATION over what they've published before. If that book goes over big, it'll start a new craze and copycats will come after you. But this is the part of the cycle for LEADERS not "midlist" also-rans.

By the way, "midlist" is still showing no signs of life. I used to have 6 to 8 novels a month to review for my column. Now - I don't know what I'm going to write about next month! I can't discuss RAPTURE - it's ghastly awful and of interest only to students. I do have Fred Saberhagen's new hc vampire novel, but it's not as good as some of his others and I'd pass on it if there was anything else in my hopper. 

Live Long and Prosper, Jacqueline Lichtenberg


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