Writing the Novel: Developing the Yes/No Relationship

Between migraines, three days of being unable to sleep, and actually being sick for the first time in a long time, I did not have a great weekend. Or get anything done.

But I’m set up to write now. I’m starting at 4915 words, and shooting for 1500 tonight. And I want to develop the conflict between the hero and the heroine.

I already know it’s big. I’ve outlined the whole thing on screens full of index cards. But it has to start big. I hate trite. The stupid misunderstanding, the disagreement over the trivial—to me, if you have two people that you want to have end up together and a part of the story is about the conflict that is keeping them apart, that conflict has to matter. To both of them. They both have to know what it is, they both have to understand the terms, and it has to be something big enough that they won’t bend their principles.

They have to earn being together, by building the thing that fixes the conflict. Not a patch, not he gives in to get her, not a compromise. A real fix.

So tonight, I’m laying the groundwork for that big conflict. It needs to start with both of them telling the truth—and discovering that their truths put them on opposite sides of a great divide.

Yes, they are attracted to each other.

No, they aren’t going to pursue this relationship, because they would be wrong for each other. Events will then clobber hell out of them while proving them wrong…but that’s then. This is now, and tonight is all about Yes/No.

Onward, then.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

7 comments… add one
  • TimK May 27, 2009 @ 11:08

    I also didn’t get any writing done over the weekend, but that’s because I rarely write on the weekends. Weekends are for relaxing. So I read a Robert Heinlein novel instead. 🙂

    I can’t wait to read this book you’re writing. It sounds like my kind of story, with deep characters and deep character-driven conflict.

    Loving your stories, as usual,
    -TimK

  • Kerryn May 26, 2009 @ 20:58

    Thank you Emily for asking the question and thank you Holly for answering. This has just given me the opposite POV of my theme in question form. It’s given me a lot to think about. I don’t know the answer to the question but now I get how I might discover the answer as I write the story.

  • Emily May 26, 2009 @ 9:43

    Wow, Holly. Thank you!
    You’ve given me a lot to think about. I think I was pointed in the right direction, but I didn’t realize how big a conflict this could be for my heroine. I was worried their relationship was going to wind up too perfect (I unfortunately have issues with making my characters suffer) but this is very exciting!
    And congrats on getting another thousand words in last night! 🙂

  • Victoria May 26, 2009 @ 8:49

    Holly,
    You have answered a lot of questions for me in this post. But now I have even more questions, even more problems. I am starting to see just how hard I am going to have to work to make my conflicts, my characters and my story matter. Hopefully all of your wonderful advice will turn me in the right direction.

  • Johanna May 26, 2009 @ 1:09

    Holy crap, I learned a helluva lot in one post and two comments. That kind of made my day 🙂

  • Holly Lisle May 26, 2009 @ 0:17

    You have to ask yourself a few questions to figure out if the core conflict between your two characters is big enough, or true enough. Don’t answer these here—just answer them on paper where you can use the answers.

    “Is what is keeping my protagonists apart also what this story is about?” That is, is her distrust and fear of men based on childhood experience going to appear in a story where she will be faced with legitimate reasons to fear and distrust other men? Or is this a light, comedic story where the only spot of darkness is her unhappy childhood?

    “If both protagonists put all their cards on the table, could they work this thing out in five minutes?” In your case, your heroine may not even know she has this distrust, and it may be tied in to the depth of the relationship, so that the more she gets close to the hero and tries to trust him, the more she fears her trust. In a situation like this, she doesn’t even know about some of the cards she’s playing, so your protagonists cannot solve their issues just by sitting down and telling the truth and saying “This is me, this is you, everything’s better.”

    “Do I as the writer want to delve into the issues this conflict brings up?” Harder question than it seems. If you commit to the “daughter of abused mother” conflict, you have to be willing to bring in all the ways that past affects the character’s present and future. It can’t be like saying she has blue eyes and never referring to it again. It has to ripple through her life and screw her up every time she gets ready to trust—and drive him crazy at the same time.

    Hope that helps.

  • Emily May 25, 2009 @ 22:30

    Holly,
    I’m using your first TWC techniques to build a scene between my hero/heroine, but I’m worried that what’s keeping them apart is trivial. (It’s her distrust in men after watching her father abuse her mother.)
    My problem is that she’s not fully aware that THAT’s the reason she wants to run from this man she’s attracted to.
    How do you tell a story from the perspective of someone who has an inner conflict they don’t know about?
    By the way, that TWC exercise with the Think vs. Say vs. Do was so helpful! I never would have thought something so simple could help so much. Thank you!

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