Guest Blogger: Erica Hayes

Conflict, or Tales of the Unexpected

shadowfaeYesterday, my day went something like this: I got up, showered, had breakfast. Went to the gym. Had lunch with my husband. Got my word count for the day done without too much fuss. Called my friend for a chat. Cooked a lovely dinner, ate it. Watched DVDs, went to bed.

Nice, huh? I achieved everything I wanted. Nothing went wrong. Everything happened exactly as I’d planned.

The kind of day our characters never have. Right?

If everything always went to plan for our characters, they’d be dead boring to read about. Our heroine may begin in a familiar, safe little world-bubble where her expectations are never thwarted. But no matter how engaging or amusing or fun to be with she is, if she stays in that safe world for more than a few chapters, our readers will toss the book across the room and exclaim ‘Nothing’s happening!’

The more like real life, the more boring the book. Real life doesn’t make good fiction, because in real life, things happen as we think they will most of the time.

So how to spice up our heroine’s life? Surprise her. Throw some rocks at her. Make her think, adapt, overcome. Force her to work for what she wants. Yank her out of her comfort zone.

And that doesn’t mean the building has to be struck by an earthquake or the town invaded by aliens. Conflict can happen on the smallest of scales. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee calls it the gap between expectation and reality. A character does or says something, expecting a certain reaction from other characters or their environment or society — and gets a completely different, unexpected reaction.

Say yesterday I go for lunch as planned, but my husband doesn’t turn up. I call him. It rings out. Huh? Where is he? Just delayed? Had a car accident? Murdered? Abducted by aliens? Having an affair? What should I do now: Wait for him? Eat alone? Go home? Call all the hospitals? Hire a PI to spy on him?

From such a small unexpected thing, so many possibilities arise. What if I’d called my friend, expecting to have a nice friendly chat about what we did on the weekend — but instead, my friend screamed, ‘I never want to speak to you again!’ and slammed the phone down? Or, what if a sinister stranger picked up and growled, ‘Your friend can’t come to the phone right now…’?

All these little unexpected events have one special thing in common: they force the character to act. To think outside the box, to ask ‘what should I do now?’. To find untapped resources. To work harder, and in new ways, to get what she wants. It’s the character’s reaction, not the event itself, that’s important. And the wider the gap between her expectations and the reality, the deeper she’ll have to dig inside herself to achieve her goals.

And this is what we really mean by conflict, right? It doesn’t have to be fighting or arguing or killing bad guys. It’s never letting your heroine have one of those nice, dull days where everything goes to plan. It’s surprising her with the unexpected, and watching her shine.

So tell me about your WIP — how is your heroine (or hero) forced to face the unexpected? And how do they cope??
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Erica Hayes’s debut novel, Shadowfae, will be released by St. Martin’s Press on October 13th. Read to this, and tell me you’re not intrigued.

Steal souls. Live in hell. Never die.

In a city infested with psychotic fairies and run by sadistic vampire mafiosi, life as a soul-sucking succubus rarely involves lacy lingerie, hot guys or great sex.

Enslaved by a demon lord, Jade must spend her nights seducing vampire gangsters and shapeshifting thugs. After two hundred years as a succubus, she burns for freedom and longs to escape her brutal life as a trophy girl for hell’s minions.

Then, she meets Rajah, an incubus who touches her heart and intoxicates her senses. Rajah shares the same bleak fate as she, and yearns just as desperately for freedom. But the only way for Jade to break her bonds is to betray Rajah—and doom the only man she’s ever loved to a lifetime in hell.

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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11 Responses to Guest Blogger: Erica Hayes

  1. Michelle says:

    Thanks for a great guest blog, Erica. I love the way you put it: ‘force the character to act’. That is the essense of it, isn’t it? Action, rather than reaction.

  2. Kath Calarco says:

    Great writing advice, Erica. It’s making me think about my current WIP’s main character, as well as considering the importance of what you said, “The more like real life, the more boring the book.” Essentially, if fiction mirrors reality, there’s no escaping real life for the reader. What’s entertaining about that? It would be like reading a cook-book. No surprises there, right?

    Thanks for pointing that out. I couldn’t agree more. Best wishes for success on your new release. 🙂

  3. Edie Ramer says:

    Erica, thanks for blogging with us and your great post. I’m so jealous of this part of your day: Got my word count for the day done without too much fuss. I got mine done, too, yesterday, but I fussed.

    My heroine has trouble happening right from the beginning. I don’t believe in waiting. The sooner the conflicts, the better for the reader. 😈

  4. LaDonna says:

    Erica, great having you at Magical! And your day does sound perfect! 😆

    Life is just one big ball of what ifs, isn’t it? I love that. For me, my characters get all the credit. Their dreams and solutions are wrapped up inside every one of them. And I love being the one to discover that!

  5. Cynthia Eden says:

    Wow–this book sounds fabulous, and I LOVE the cover!

  6. Liz Kreger says:

    Let’s see … in a short that I just did, my heroine is in danger of becoming an insect incubator. If that happens, the tiny little darlins’ will hatch and will eventually eat her from the inside out. Is that thinking outside the box and forcing my heroine to act? 😆

    Great blog, Erica. I like the “imagine the worse case scenario” better than “what ifs”. Pretty much the same but seems a little more urgent.

  7. Theresa says:

    Hi Erica, LOVE that cover. It would certainly make me pick up the book. Your back cover blurb would convince me to buy it.

    Win-Win!

    Let’s see, in the current WIP the heroine is forced into doing something she so doesn’t want to do, which brings a psychotic killer down on her head.

    And then the hero is forced into allowing something he doesn’t want to allow– which brings the heroine down on his head…. but even worse, he’s forced to move in with his own mother, and her psychotic dog. . .

    I believe in making your characters suffer. Torture builds character! :LOL:

  8. Theresa says:

    Liz,

    Now that’s not just thinking out of the box– but the whole genome. 😆

  9. Erica Hayes says:

    Thanks for dropping by, everyone! and thanks so much to Michelle, Edie, Liz and LaDonna for having me.

    Hatching insects, psychotic dogs, character torture… it’s all happening! This is one thing I love about fantasy especially — the options are endless.

  10. Kath Calarco says:

    Liz, that’s so creepy…I love it!

  11. Great blog post Erica!! 🙂

    ATM my heroine has met a dragon, whom where thought to be extinct and hellrasiers.

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