1. HollyWriter
    Offline

    HollyWriter New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ

    Question about maintaining conflict

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by HollyWriter, Mar 15, 2012.

    The format for my new manuscript is different than anything I have tried before. At the beginning we are in the present, at the start of what will be the protaganist's resolution. Then the story flips back to the past, but it is not a flashback. The character isn't thinking about the past; the reader is actually brought back to it. The first portion of each chapter is the present, the second portion is the past. So there are two story arcs for the same character, both revolving around the character going into rehab. The past shows the build up to rehab. The present portion starts after she is released, and so it is her resolution. The two arcs are parallel, and the reader will (hopefully) see the character dealing with the same issues in different ways. It also (hopefully) builds tension by using the past to explain the things she does in the present. For example, she loses a child in the past, and in the present we see some manifistations of that pain that don't make total sense until we delve into her past.

    The problem is that I'm having a hard time maintaining conflict when I'm in the present. Obviously, the build up to her rehab is where most of the conflict takes place. The present/resolution is all about her dealing with the backlash of her past and overcoming it. Although this story is mostly literary, there is a romantic interest, and the love of a good man is a huge (but not total) part of her redemption. I need to keep the two main characters apart until the very end, but I'm only halfway through and she's pretty much dealt with everything she needs to deal with. There are still some issues that she and the hero need to work out, but it'll only take another chapter or two to finish their story. I'm not even close to being done with building up the past. At the beginning the two arcs were in sync, but now the present arc is outpacing the past arc.

    I suppose I could invent some more conflict, but how do I do that without it appearing contrived? I don't want to resort to the failsafe of making the hero and heroine have a "wacky" misunderstanding. And I considered making her relapse (again) and having her go back into rehab (or at least have some dark days to put a halt in the romance), but I'm already having issues with her appearing weak by doing drugs whenever things get rough. I know that is realistic, but I'm afraid she'll become unsympathetic and even the hero won't want her anymore.

    Maybe the problem is that I'm trying to do it 50/50, exactly half in the past, and exactly half in the present, mostly just to help the reader keep it straight about what time period they are in. But most of the story is in the past. What is more important? To give the reader cues so they know what time period they are in and can follow along without having to think much about it, or to structure the story in a way that keeps the pacing in tact? And are headings enough to cue the reader (i.e. New York, NY - 1997)?
     
  2. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    I keep asking ''how can I make this worse?''
     
  3. funkybassmannick
    Offline

    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2011
    Messages:
    836
    Likes Received:
    30
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    It sounds to me like your 50/50 past/present approach is more of a writing exercise or challenge. Basically, it forces you to change your plot to fit the scheme. It may work, but that's a really hard thing to do, and it stifles your story. If you're having a hard time keeping the conflict in the present, to me that says that each scene in the past isn't moving the present plot forward.

    I'm not saying you can't do this approach, because anything is possible. I am saying that you may want to approach it in a more conventional way and treat the "past" like flashbacks. Both you and the reader will feel more comfortable with this, and the story will be more free to develop naturally. (also, what POV are you using?)

    I realize you think otherwise, but what you have sounds exactly like flashbacks to me. It sounds like the resolution arc is the "main" story, and the past arc is the "supporting" story. It's okay if it is another arc entirely, but it still needs to support your main story. This also means strategically placing your flashbacks so that what happens in the flashback adds new light to the main story. Either it reflects on the previous main scene, or it sets up the next main scene. If you follow your 50/50 format, your story is unable to develop naturally. It would be really cool to be able to do that, but if it isn't working right now I say let go of the concept and let your story breathe. You can always change it back later.

    Here is what your flashback should accomplish (from "Make a Scene" by Jordan Rosenfeld):
    1) the scene should focus on action, information, and character interaction
    2) The information contained in the flashback must have some bearing on the front-story
    3) Always be sure to use flashbacks judiciously so the reader doesn't lose track of the front-story
    4) Use flashbacks when the past directly affects the front plot
    5) Use flashbacks when you want to use some elements of the past to create suspense in the future
    6) use flashbacks to deepen the reader's understanding of a character

    If your scenes don't do ALL of these things, then you need to either re-conceptualize the flashback scene, move it, merge it with another scene, or trash it.

    P.S. Your conception of two distinct arcs sounds exactly like what they did in every episode of LOST. You should check out an episode or two, because they were really good at utilizing flashback arcs. They stream it on Netflix. If you don't have Netflix, chances are you have a friend who will let you use their account for free.
     
  4. HollyWriter
    Offline

    HollyWriter New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    Thanks for the feedback! I watched every episode of Lost, but that was not my motivation (at least not consciously). My flashbacks do support what is happening in the present. And they meet all of that criteria (at least *I* think so :) ) but there is more stuff in the flashbacks than in the present. So I'm letting up on the 50/50 format and making it more like 75/25. After all, a novel with a linear timeline has less resolution than conflict, so it's not a surprise that this format isn't working.

    My other question...is a heading indicating the year before each section enough to let the reader know what time period they are in?
     
  5. funkybassmannick
    Offline

    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2011
    Messages:
    836
    Likes Received:
    30
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    That is one way that I've seen before and I think it works just fine. You can also use present tense for the present, and past for the past. There are other ways, but those are probably your best options since you are going back and forth so much.

    If you are spending most of your time in the "past," what if you make that the present, and the "present" the future? It could be like a flash-forward like they do in season 4 of LOST. Then you would have to adapt the Rosenfeld criteria I gave you somehow. Just an idea.
     
  6. Pink-Angel-1992
    Offline

    Pink-Angel-1992 Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2011
    Messages:
    157
    Likes Received:
    3
    I think that the header example is a good way to let your readers clearly know where they are and the period there in; jumping back and forth with your story and not giving some indication of whether their in the present of past would really confuse them and stop them from reading.

    I've watched some of Lost, up to the end of season 3 when they were getting off the Island (I think... it's been while). In my house we have NTL (well Virgin it's call now) and we lost Sky for a while and that's the channel it's on/was on. If I remember right they were at a radio station calling for help, so I don't know how the flash-forwards could work. Personally I don't like the idea for having the past as the present and the present as the future, but it's all down to an authors ability to write that will make it work and like able.

    Anyways, I don't know what you have and haven't got as conflits in your story, but you could do stuff like your character's love interest getting promoted and haven't to move away (or the possiblity of it happening). You could have another person after your character's love interest and trying to keep her away and coursing problems between them. Family could try and keep them apart, like his family might not want to be assosate with a former addic. If you need/want a few more conflicts in your story still, you could do stuff like that, without them having a misunderstanding or something.
     
  7. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    436
    Likes Received:
    18
    One possibility is that you may be having her change too easily. Changing is hard, people will resolve to change and then slip back into old patterns, jump from one dysfunctional style to another, ignore what's right in front of them because they're not willing to admit it, and so forth. Most stories I've read that focus on a character's emotional growth make the change happen too easily (though I have read some that do it well, like Fruits Basket). One specific error is to have everything resolved by an epiphany - in real life, the epiphany is typically the first step to change instead of the resolution of it. And epiphanies can be ignored or forgotten, and then rediscovered later.
     
  8. killbill
    Offline

    killbill Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2012
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    where the mind is without fear...
    I don't see any connection between clarity of time period and length of the past and present stories. I mean, why does it have to be 50/50? It can be 80/20, 70/30 and so on in the beginning, may be 50/50 somewhere around the middle, and may be 20/80 toward the end. Don't add words just for the sack of length. If you find yourself doing so, consider doing a normal one arc story, starting the story from the past.
     

Share This Page