Friday, October 26, 2007

Internal vs. External Conflict

Apologies to Alice. She told (ordered???) me to blog before she had to leave for Emerald City today. I know I missed her deadline. So, since I know she took her computer with her (as she can't live without the thing) I have a feeling she'll find some way to log on and see this. My only excuse for not posting before you left, Alice, is that my hubby decided to take the day off from work, and we all know how hubbies have a way of messing with our schedules. 'nuff said.

So I've been doing a lot of reading lately. In my genre, out of my genre, across the river and off to Grandma's house. And here's something interesting I'm noticing. Within the romantic suspense genre, external conflict rules and internal conflict is a fleeting thing. I'm not sure why this is, maybe because RS is going more mainstream and trying to draw more male readers in. (Think Lisa Jackson, Tami Hoag, Allison Brennan...) It's not so much the romance taking a backseat to the suspense as it is that romance missing the "what's keeping them apart" element I've always read RS for.

The last one, two, three....heck, five RS books I've read have progressed like this: Hero and heroine meet. Someone dies. Hero and heroine are at odds, they end up working together, fighting an attraction, convinced the other one is completely wrong for them. Sure, they dodge bullets and often someone gets hurt, but they still don't like each other for (usually) pretty good reasons. Then about halfway through the book they have sex and suddenly, all the reasons they couldn't be together anymore fizzle. What happened to the big secret? What happened to the lies? What happened to all those trust issues????? Zip, zing, gone.

I know why this happens. In an RS there's so much external conflict going on it's hard to keep the internal conflict alive, and as we writers know, it's especially hard to do that after the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, and especially when there's so much life-or-death action that has to be squeezed into a measly word count. But in an effort to raise the physical stakes, I think a lot of RS authors are losing the emotional pull on their readers. In most of the RS books I've read recently (new releases) I can't remember what the emotional pull was between the two characters, what kept them apart, and how they got over it. And ultimately, those books - even if the plots were fantabulous - won't go on to my keeper shelves. I read (and write) RS for a reason. I love the thrills and chills of the suspense, but at the heart of every one is a phenomenal love story. And I'm here to tell you, if the only thing keeping those characters apart is a quick roll in the sheets, it's not going to be enough to hold my interest.

Anyone noticing this in any other genres? Paranormal tends to deal with a lot of external conflict. Is it happening there or is it only in RS? And how do you guys (girls) feel about this concept of external conflict vs. internal conflict? Are you okay with a couple knowing they're destined to be together halfway through the book or do you need more internal angst?

12 comments:

Karen Duvall said...

Great blog topic, Eli. I read RS, too, but not as much as paranormal. And I admittedly don't read a lot of romance. However, I love romantic stories, I'm just not a big fan of the romance being the main plot. So the external conflict is an important factor for me.

However, the internal conflict is equally important, just not the relationship issue. I like a strong internal conflict that deals with the individual character's growth as a person, his or her journey toward self-discovery. I actually prefer there be less emphasis on the relationship aspect between the characters as a couple. As individuals? Absolutely. But that's my personal preference.

Balance is key, IMO.

Genene said...

Geez! My snotty/snooty computer just blipped and my comment went away. Guess that means it's time to get back to work.

But the gist of my comment was I like a three-way balance between the internal conflict, the external conflict and the development of the romance. Don't scrimp on any of those elements.

A good reminder for me as I finish the final edits of my manuscript--which I'm going to do now. Then I'll do Danita's Web site changes and Piper can listen in!

Good topic, Eli! I'll watch for this as I also catch up on my reading in the next couple months.

Danita Cahill said...

Mmmmm...I've also been reading more than I normally get a chance to -- because I've been writing less than I normally do, until yesterday when that all changed. But I digress. Recently I've read a lot of Ann Rule, a JC Vance (I hope that's the right initials...the book's in the bedroom and DH is sleeping in there....) a Lisa Gardner, an Allison Brennen. I agree with you, there is less romance in RS than there used to be. In fact I wouldn't even call some of the RS I've read lately Romantic Suspense, I'd call them women's fiction suspense, or simpy suspense. But that's okay by me. I don't need romance as the focal in a story, I just want a love interest in there somewhere because love is an integral, important, big part of life and I don't want it completely left out the way some male authors do. Boring.

As far as internal conflict, yep, I want it need it gotta have it to really connect with the characters. I too have not added any keepers to my shelves as of late, but then it has to be a really amazing story to land on my keeper shelf because of space confines, so that is no insult to the authors I've been reading.

Good post, Eli. Gives me more to think about as I read through the next several RS stories.

Paty Jager said...

Interesting topic!

And you have me scratching my head. The last book I read was Alice's "Royal Heir" and I started Patricia Rice's "California Girl" in the way home but haven't finished. Duh! I get home and writing and editing call me. so not sure when it will get finished. Anyway, It seemed to be the magnetic chemistry between the couples that slide them under the sheets and either complicated their relationships or brought them closer together. And in Alice's the bond the two had for the child and seeing that in each other seemed to bring them together more than the external conflict. And it is rather similar in the other book. Slowly recognizing the other's quirks and how they came to be that way seems to be the crux of the California Girl story, only it isn't an RS but a contemp.

My westerns (well the Petticoat ones) are action packed, yet, I try to make sure that the reader sees the growth in the characters and that their coming together is not just chemistry, but a realization that the other person is what they need, either at that moment or possibly a lifetime.

So I would say, if the trend is for stories to be more external than internal, I think the publishers may find their sales going down hill.

Sorry it took so long to read this after harassing you! I didn't realize there were that many cobwebs hanging from the antelope horns!

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli -- You know me so well! I did take my laptop, but they wanted $10. a night for internet and you know how cheap I am, right? So, no internet.

I agree with you that the internal-external conflict is important and that the internal conflict should ideally stay in place to the end of the book. I don't think I did that in Royal heir where the couple were working together from day one and there was really nothing but death and mayhem keeping them apart. The next book has a greater internal conflict that stays in place through the whole book; the book would fall apart ithout it and the internal and external merge (I hope). The current book has more of an internal long term conflict thing going on as well that I won't resolve until late in the book. So, I am guilty of and also accomplished in doing it both ways.

You're right. That internal conflict that keeps characters apart despite the fact they adore each other is wonderful. And thinking back to that workshop we both loved this summer and the speakers use of Shrek and also of Titanic, I'm thinking in Shrek the internal conflict keeps the characters apart until practically the last moment while in Titanic, the characters overcome their differences (which were mainly her problem) early on and emotionally commit to one another way at the start and not just because of sex.

Did any of that make sense? It's a coincidence if it did as I am so tried I can hardly see straight. Later. Good blog. Btw, I didn't speak to your agent personally but I listened to her on a panel and thought she was great.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Interesting, Karen. But ultimately, the internal conflict that keeps two characters from developing the romance in a romance stems from the indiviual character's growth as a person. And maybe that's what a lot of these books I've been reading are missing - the characters aren't growing enough to cause any kind of internal conflict that keeps them from developing that relationship.

Michael Hauge described it as going from your identity (the mask you hide behind) to your essence (your true self). That when you're in your identity, you're not able to open yourself to another person because of your fears. Makes a lot of sense to me in a romance.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Congrats on finishing the final edits, Genene! I bet that feels great.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I'm with you, Danita. I think a lot of them are being cross-shelved in the thriller section for the fact there's very little romantic conflict. I'm sad to see it go that way, but I know there will always be RS authors who stay true to the romance element. (Luckily)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Glad you're back, Paty.

I've also been reading some straight contemporaries, so maybe that's why I've noticed this element lacking in RS. Contemporaries do a great job of focusing on the internal conflicts that keep the relationship from developing.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Alice! I want a full report on Emerald City.

I loved Royal Heir. That's one of those books where I think the lack of extreme internal conflict worked - because there was so much external conflict going on in such a limited word count, but it was still very much a romance. (And I loved the whole royal angle, too, LOL)

Of course from your description, now I can't wait to read the next one. ;)

Karen Duvall said...

And maybe that's what a lot of these books I've been reading are missing - the characters aren't growing enough to cause any kind of internal conflict that keeps them from developing that relationship.

Makes sense, Eli. I just read a book review in the Bend Bulletin about Stuart Woods' Shoot Him if You See Him. The reviewer accused Woods of creating one-dimensional characters, saying he used action and suspense to make up the difference. So it's not just RS that's effected by the whole external/internal debate.

Alice Sharpe said...

I have to add, though I can't imagine anyone really cares, that I reread my comment with a certain amount of horro, esp. the part where I said, " So, I am guilty of and also accomplished in doing it both ways."

I meant that I had done it both ways. I would never claim to be accomplished in much of anything except putting my foot in my mouth, but that's another story. Or maybe not...

Hm...