Make it hurt

It’s been a while since I wrote about writerly things, and there’s something specific on my mind.

Quiz: what makes for a better story?

A. Two women have to work together. Neither really likes the other, (not for any big reason), but things happen and they work it out in the end.

B. Two women from vastly differing ideologies must work together. But one knows something the other doesn’t, and fears, justifiably, that if the other found out she’d turn tail in a heartbeat. And when a work issue comes up that forces them to confront their own patterns, and secrets, they’re left with no choice but to work things out.

3…2…1

The primary difference here is conflict. Without it, a story has very little oomph, and can flatline to the point that a reader simply isn’t interested in the story.

The most common argument I hear about conflict is, “but life isn’t that complicated!” And that’s true. Daily life also isn’t that interesting. That’s why we make up stories. And the best stories require that you give depth and flesh to your characters, that you make them overcome things. And they can’t do it easily or with a shrug. You need to make it hurt; the reader needs to feel the character’s emotions and invest in their journey.

For instance:

A. A woman is born to a middle class family, has typical money worry issues, but gets by. She moves, is happy, finds someone she dates, they fall in love. (Yawn)

B. A woman is born into a struggling middle class family. The child of a single parent, she’s had to grow up fast and has learned the hard way that people shouldn’t be trusted. She moves to get away from that life, but once she’s gone, finds that she doesn’t know the rules the new people play by. She always feels on the outside. When she meets a woman she likes she’s convinced there’s no chance in hell, and even if there was, she knows better than to trust someone with her heart… (and so on)

Conflict.

I think this is something we often don’t give enough thought to. It’s fine to say you’re a pantster, that you just see where it leads, but if you don’t have a solid idea of the main conflict, of the thing holding your characters back and the big thing getting in their way, you’re setting yourself up for one of two things: a massive rewrite or a flatline novel. You don’t want either.

Conflict is tied to emotions and emotional reactions. It’s not enough to say, ‘she just does’ when it comes to understanding why a character would react a certain way. If you give her enough depth, the reader will understand and stick with her. False conflict is when you put it in just to keep the story going (I.e the unasked and easily answered question), and it doesn’t feel authentic to the character/plot you’ve built. True conflict comes from a solid plot line and the emotional journey that character takes in relation to that plot line. They interlink and the more consistently and smoothly they do so the more believable and interesting your conflict will be. Ask yourself why. Why does it work that way? Why did the character react one way and not another? What would the simple answer be that would mean the story would end, and what specific and believable thing is keeping that from happening?

Conflict in a story is what makes a reader keep reading. If I say, ‘how was your day?’ And get ‘good.’ I’m going to shrug and zone out. If, however, I say, ‘how was your day?’ And she bursts into tears and tells me about the car wreck that happened before the coffee massacre and the donut box full of carrots…then I’m paying attention.

Conflict. Dig deeper. Make it hurt.

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Get your suitcase out…

I’m really excited to say that my first anthology for BSB, coedited by the wonderful Sandra Lowe, will be out in January.

Escape to Pleasure is all about finding the sensual while away from home. Whether that’s in Thailand on a business trip, playing out a fantasy with a partner, or getting under someone new to get over an ex, these stories are told with emotional depth and a definite element of heat.

Come along for the journey with award winning authors who are ready to take you on a very special trip.

Come Talk to Me?

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Hey all. Hope you’re well as we slide into autumn. Here in the UK, we’ve had a gorgeous run of chilly sunshine and our yard is full of Halloween decorations. That definitely points to the fact that there’s a Yank living here, since no one else in the entire estate has decorated.

Anyway, I’m going to be answering questions in a live Facebook Q&A session on Saturday 27th at 5pm UK time under my pen name, Brey Willows. It would be great if folks are available to chat and ask questions and such.

Here’s the link. It’s being hosted by Lez Spinecrackers, a great group dedicated to telling folks about lesfic books. https://www.facebook.com/events/1952197748204771/ 

See you soon!

Nicotine and backgammon

Nostalgia is a funny phenomenon…

I moved around a lot as a kid. Three years in a place was an average.

But I was born in Glendale. My aunt and my grandmother lived there too. My aunt moved around some, but she ended up back in Glendale. I spent many a weekend at my grandmother’s apartment, swimming in the concrete enclosed pool overlooked by every apartment, watching my aunt and grandmother play backgammon for pennies, and generally just being a kid.

When you’re a kid, life is what it is. You don’t do a lot of soul searching or thinking about socioeconomics or addiction.

But when you get older, and you look back over your reading glasses at the nicotine tinted past, you begin to analyse. You think of the serial killer who lived on the second floor for a while, and how he gave the three of you the creeps. You think of running across the road to the 7-eleven to get beer for your aunt, and when you explained that to the cashier, they sold it to your nine-year-old self. You think of the boy you crushed on, and how you never saw him again, even though his grandmother lived there for the rest of her days. You think of your matriarchal family’s last days in those peeling studio apartments.

Nostalgia. Remembering a past through a different set of lenses.

I ended up back in Glendale not long before I left the country for good. I never thought I’d live just down the street from that apartment in my childhood, which now sported police crime tape and shattered windows at the front entrance. But it was good for me, I realise now. I went back to put my past to rest, to lay down the alcohol fumes and despair, to leave behind the guilt and loss.

I can look back with clear eyes and smile at the memories rather than shrink from the ghosts.

Breathing.

Surrounded by work, by noise, by the need to be ever-available, it’s easy to forget to just breathe. To be in the moment.

I’m on a Greek island in October. This is my view every morning when I wake up.

And I am breathing. Like, deep breath, full soul, filling my being with silence and the distant call of kris-kris kind of breathing. I’m looking at my wife and seeing her beautiful eyes. We’re laughing, relaxing, hanging out with the parents, and exploring in the sunshine while dreaming of moving to a place where we could be this way all the time.

But I suppose it wouldn’t be that way if we lived here. Life must be lived, and that has to include the stressful bits that make mornings like this one that bit more precious.

Here’s to stopping to breathe. Hope you’re all well.

Touching history

I love studying history. I love touching something that meant so much to someone nice upon a time. It’s such a beautiful thing to be connected to the past. Even if it’s a past with darkness, as so much of history is. It makes me feel both less alone and even smaller. It makes me determined to leave something behind, something to say, “yeah, I was here too.”

Prophetic multitudes

I was a weird kid.

I was a soul searcher. From a young age, I wanted to understand the nature of god (little g). I wanted to understand who was supposed to be out there listening. And why people where talking to a bunch of different entities they couldn’t see.

I wanted to understand faith. Believing even though there was no evidence or proof.

I went to churches, mosques, temples, and youth groups. Quiet and solemn to shouty and brimstone. I knelt, stood, sang.

And I read. A lot. Sacred texts, pamphlets, documents. And one day, many years into my search, I read The Celestine Prophecy.

It’s a work of fiction about searching for answers and trying to find your place in the world. There were a few things in it that stuck with me, that hit me hard and helped make some sense of the world. A book of fiction made more sense than much of what I’d studied for years. It wasn’t a fantastically written book, but it spoke to the searcher in me.

One of the ideas in it had to do with collective synchronicity. The concept that at certain major moments in time, people all over the world start thinking/writing/speaking about the same issue. It becomes a global mindset, a way of creating change.

I’m thinking about this right now in light of a seemingly insignificant thing that happened. I wrote a dystopian climate change novel that comes out this month. A friend of mine wrote a sci-fi novel about a woman who finds the planet she was supposed to help colonise has already been colonised, and not in a good way. They’ve both come out this month.

Our books both stem from our thoughts on climate change, and hers could easily be the sequel to mine.

It’s not unique that we’re thinking of climate change; it’s weighing heavy on many people’s minds. Rather, it’s the next steps of climate change, the what next, that seems to be being voiced. A kind of dramatic doomsday need to plan for full evacuation. Global minds, planning an escape route. That’s the synchronicity I’m seeing.

What will it lead to?