Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Depiction Part 3: Internal Conflict by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Depiction Part 3
Internal Conflict
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

That saying is a nutshell statement of what we're discussing in this DEPICTION Series.  Listen to the arguments in the world around you, especially politics, to see if you can determine whether they are arguing about WHO is right, or about WHAT is right.  Which argument makes a better Romance Novel?

Part 1 of this series:


Part 2: Conflict and Resolution

Many romance writers resort to "internal dialogue" (usually done in italics, first person instead of quotes, but it's still dialogue) to try to depict what is going on inside of a character.

This is not an incorrect approach and it is very popular with Romance Readers.

However, the repeated use of a single tool to illustrate a single point soon begins to impart a monotonous undertone to the Author's Voice.

By varying the tools used, the writer can create the illusion of a real character.

The 4 main tools a writer has were mentioned in Part 2 of this series, Dialogue, Description, Narrative, and Exposition, are the tools that can be varied to depict internal conflict, and thus give your character depth and his/her point of view a sense of reality.

Prior posts linked in Part 2 lead into the detailed discussion of these 4 basic tools, which most new writers have a fair grasp on.  The one most often abused is Exposition, leading to the dreaded Expository Lump. 

An "expository lump" is a long passage, a whole paragraph or sometimes several pages in a row, of the author telling about the environment of the story, the character's situation, ancestry, attitudes and preferences. 

A good writer will grab the other 3 tools in quick succession, most often within a single sentence, to convey this information to the reader.

Beta Readers will complain the story is "slow" or "boring" or "incomprehensible" -- Amazon comments will bitterly point out that it wasn't worth what they paid, even if it was free.  And all of them are actually reacting not to the information being conveyed in the expository lump, not to the exposition itself, but to the LUMP. 

The issue that readers who aren't writers react to without knowing its source is the LUMP not the exposition.

One way to break up a LUMP is to use the other three tools - Dialogue, Description, and Narrative.

The best way to approach a long, intricate and abstract "lump" of information to be dumped on a reader is with Narrative.  TELL THE STORY.  That's what narrative is -- the narrative are the words that convey the story. 

Narrative says, he went here, met her, they went there, found a dead body, called the police, -- narrative fleshes out the Plot Events into scenes.

Here is a post about scene structure with link to previous part:


And here is part 8 on Dialogue with links to previous posts:


So one way to break up that deadly-dull introductory expository lump which we discussed in Depiction Part 2 is to vary the tool you are using.

Take all that information that the reader must know before the actual story starts and cast it as scenes.

But the rule still applies that page 1 must depict the conflict, so you can't just make up more scenes to go before the story starts.  You have to find a way to integrate that opening scene stuck on page 25 into your newly made up scene with all the expository information in it.

This process reformulates your outline, changes the plot, may change the antagonist's identity, and well, change everything.  But while you do this process, you will suddenly find yourself feeling like a working professional writer -- you will know this will sell because it fits the paradigm of well known books that have been published. 

So you take your laboriously created expository lump, and cast that information in scenes.

In that new scene, there have to be characters, and the characters have to be in conflict -- not necessarily with each other.

Everything might seem calm on the surface, while the conflict the reader sees brewing seethes beneath the apparently offhand dialogue.

Ah, yes, you have written pages of block paragraphs of exposition, and now you must cut that information, cast it into scenes, and now you pick up the dialogue tool you worked so hard to master.

You can start your scene with a line of dialogue, without even the tag of "he said" -- just a statement or question can do it. 

"Where did you get that old spaceship!"

Wouldn't that line open a grand romantic battle-of-the-sexes novel complete with aliens aforethought?

With a line of dialogue like that, you are depicting the internal conflict of the person being addressed -- not the person speaking! 

You have used SHOW DON'T TELL to convey information about a character who hasn't even appeared yet.

Now pick up another of the 4 tools, Narrative.

He kicked at the metal side of the cylinder sitting in his garage, but his eyes were on his erstwhile wife of three days.  Before his boot made contact with the metal, she grinned in anticipation.  Then his foot went right through the corroded metal plate and sparks flew.

That's NARRATIVE.  It's what happened.  But it contains single words of description (metal, cyclinder, garage, corroded, sparks) -- "erstwhile" is depiction which indicates there's some irregularity involved here so the reader is invited to "fill in the blanks."

She laughed at him.  "I found it when we moved in.  It was under that heap of bags of Stardust."

"She laughed at him" is narrative, but since it's a slightly inappropriate response to his "accusation" implied by using an ! instead of a ? in his question -- it shows rather than tells there's buried conflict.  I might have written, "She recoiled from his accusation" but that would have weakened her character -- so instead she uses inappropriate aggression.  But the DIALOGUE she chooses is DEFENSIVE, so we know she feels attacked by his !-style question. 

Now pick up another tool, Description.

The detached garage sat on the surface of the asteroid they had won in a card game, right over the pressurized apartment.  The garage could be evacuated, but if they did that to bring their ship in, they'd lose all the drug money that Stardust represented.

EXPOSITION: It had been her idea to avoid evacuating the garage to bring their ship inside.  (SEE? ONE LINE, NO LUMP.)

Wrenching his foot free of the hole, he turned hands on hips.  "Maybe I will actually marry you after all."

"Over my dead body!" 

NOTE: that is a line of narrative followed in the same paragraph by a line of dialogue.

Look that over again.  Start with a line of Dialogue, then Narrative, Dialogue, Description, Exposition, Narrative, Dialogue, Dialogue. 

EXERCISE: Go find a copy of your favorite novel and go through it with highlighters coloring each word to tag it as dialogue, description, narrative or exposition -- note the rhythmic alternation and then write a piece of your own with that SAME RHYTHM of tools. 

Now go back over what I just wrote here and look at the characterization.

Find the external conflict -- there they are on an asteroid they won (note the ABSENCE of an explanation of what card game, how they partnered, why they ended up co-owning the asteroid, whether they own equal shares, or why they were both playing that game), and they HAVE FOUND a pile of drugs of some colossal value if sold to a trafficker (note the absence of narrative of poking around their new place and her discovering but not mentioning the space ship, of any reason why she didn't mention it -- NOTE WHAT IS LEFT OUT).

Find the internal conflict -- they are partnered but not exactly married. Neither really knows if this is Love or what.  They've got worries (lots of money involved; someone probably wants that Stardust; can they trust each other?)  They are hip-deep in a Situation and they disagree what the Situation actually is, except that it's changing by the moment. 

He accuses, she counter-attacks -- that's the surface or external conflict.  It shows without telling what the shadowy-lurking-shape of the internal conflicts must be like.

Now, the actual story starts when SOMETHING comes after that drug-dump of Stardust, and all this about the garage might have been cast as an expository lump.

Three days after Marla and Tip got to the asteroid, Tip discovered that Marla had been hiding a space ship in the garage.  He was mad at her for that but she just mocked him and flounced off.  So he chased her down and proposed marriage again, as a solution to the legal problem of joint-ownership of all that wealth.  Two days later, while they were eating dinner (separately), something hit the asteroid.


Where's the story?  Where are the characters?  Where's the action? 

Or you could make it worse with a long technical description of the size of the asteroid, the make and model of the artificial gravity machinery, the orbit, and speculation about all the things that could happen but didn't.

You, as writer, know all that -- all of it, every single bit.  But the reader, as a reader, doesn't need to know, and more than that doesn't want to know.

Your job as writer is to get the reader wanting to know long, long before you "reveal" without TELLING.

Let the reader figure it out, then confirm their suspicions. 

That's a major key to how a reader "gets into" a book and "identifies" with a character.

In Part 2 of this series on Depicting, we used a political example, so let's use another one from politics.

You see on the TV News how commentators on one network point the finger at commentators on rival networks, trying to make a story out of one calling the other names.  Yes, it's pathetic, and one big reason nobody watches TV news anymore.

But there's a lot to be learned from watching stuff like that.

Every once in a while, when they know the listening audience is very small (like Friday night for example), they will reveal by offhand reference just how these pieces are generated and why some Events get covered and others don't.

1) The Narrative
2) Optics
3) Resonance

"The Narrative" -- the news is not what's new, but the next development in a story-line that doesn't exist in reality.  This is a story that is being invented much like a Parable or a story-with-a-moral -- a story that is designed to get viewers to draw certain specific conclusions and thus act on those conclusions as if they were fact based.

"The Optics" -- referring to an entire PR discipline dedicated to figuring out what conclusions the majority of a certain demographic will draw from certain images.

"Resonance" -- referring to retweeting. Will this story go viral.  Will you hear this installment of the story and hasten to tell your friends on Facebook or Pinterest?  Will they in turn tell all their friends?  Does anybody care?  Do they "relate to" this story?

How do people come to "relate to" a story?

The same way they come to "relate to" the characters in a novel.

Yes, fiction and news are on convergent paths. 

In fiction, Literature Professors study how readers "identify with" an "objective correlative" -- and in film, Blake Snyder formulated a category of deeds that CAUSES viewers to "identify with" a protagonist.

Drawing a reader/viewer into a story is a science these days.

You get drawn into a story when you see something in a character in the story that you either see in yourself or want to see in yourself -- something you aspire to be (Superhero) or actually are (angst-ridden).

You get drawn into a story when you identify with the protagonist (or antagonist).

That's why there is so much  tear-jerker coverage of news stories about tragedies -- repeated interviews with the survivors or victims.

It's the people that make it REAL. 

In fiction, it's the characters that make it realistic.

The same principle is used in politics to collect loyal followings of Democrats and Republicans (in the USA; elsewhere different parties, same principle).

You hear stories on the news about this politician and that, about Congress and the TITLE of a bill, and the Senate and which senators are for or against the Congress Bill with that TITLE.

Now we all know the title of a bill rarely has anything at all to do with the content, and amendments can reverse the entire thing, distort it, or maybe add a new topic entirely.  To be AGAINST a Bill is not necessarily to be against achieving what the Title says.  It may be merely to be against some other topic that got tacked on by amendment.  It's horse-trading.

However, the way we barely scan the surface of the news these days, all we know is the TITLE and whether it's supported by Republicans or Democrats.

Those OPTICS are managed by PR experts to lead people to "identify" with Republicans or Democrats, and it's a war-for-eyeballs.  They want you to SEE (show don't tell) how all Republicans are against Women's Rights, or all Democrats don't value Life.

PR experts create these "narratives" with words, optics, and topics personified in characters.  They draw people into identifying with one or the other label.

This is exactly what a writer does to draw a reader into the story.

Once a viewer has Identified with a Republican, that short-cut thinking described in Part 2 cuts in, and in that viewer's mind "All Republicans Think Like Me" becomes an unassailable axiom of existence.  Any attack on any Republican is taken personally -- which is why Politics is an explosive subject.

Prejudice, you recall from Part 2, is all about that short-cut thinking that lets us fill in the blanks of a depiction -- so we see a few sparse lines, and our minds insist the whole, full-color image is in 3-D right there.  We see a person with dark skin and insist we're looking at a "bad person."  That irrational conviction is absolute because it is based on what we know about ourselves, not on what we know about the person before us.

It works the same way for Democrats -- just find one Democrat who seems like "my kind of people" and suddenly all Democrats firmly believe what you, yourself, believe.

The truth is, some do, some don't, and no two are alike. 

But our brains can't handle that much data, so we use our short-cut thinking and just know that all those nasty accusations against the Party we identify with are untrue because those accusations are untrue of us.

You know who you are; you know what you believe; you know what you are for or against, and you Identify with this or that person or sub-group of a Party, and impute the certainties you cherish to all members of the larger Party.

Knowing that mechanism is operating in most voters, the political PR machine uses it to get you to "Identify" with a Candidate.  They believe that if they can hook you, they have you. 

You know if you can hook a reader on Page 1, you have them at least until the Middle, and if the Middle doesn't sag, you have them to the End.  And you'll likely be able to sell them another book with your byline. 

You can learn to induce Identification in readers by studying the Political PR Machine creating a fictional character out of each and every politician running for office.

Students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt taking courses to become experts in PR (Public Relations - Google it, see how many schools there are and what it costs).  You can learn all you have to know about how it's done by watching political commercials and scanning the News.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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