The Challenges of Conflicting Emotions

I haven’t blogged in about a week.  The reason is that I’m diligently working on wrapping up Jake Lasater’s first novel.  I have a handful of chapters to go, a full-on edit and then a typo edit, with some peer-review mixed in for good measure.

However, as folks in my writing group last night went about giving me feedback on the opening chapters, an interesting discussion came up regarding the importance of emotional conflict as a key facet of contemporary genre and mainstream fiction.  By the way, I detest the delineation between mainstream and genre, but c’est la vie.

Anyway, it was pointed out that Jake seems to be lacking in what is commonly referred to as foibles and/or weaknesses in an emotional sense.  While this bears out to be untrue as the rest of the novel unfolds, the point is no less valid.  Characters should have some sort of inner turmoil, conflict or conundrum in order to further engage a wider readership.

Keep in mind that I grew up reading characters like Retief At Large, Bolo, Jhereg, Starwolf, The Stainless Steel Rat, and quite a few others where such tumultuous emotional circumstances were few and far between.  They were action-packed novels with heroes (and heroines to some extent) that knew how to chew bubble-gum and kick ass.

I have to admit that my protagonists do have a certain penchant for ass-kickery, and I don’t leave too many openings for mayhem against their persons except for one glaring example.  Their friends.  Don’t get me wrong, they all have vulnerabilities and can be defeated, like any good hero should.  What I’m talking about is a mental stability and dedication to purpose that makes such inner turmoil a difficult thing to engender, from their personal perspectives, anyway.

Last night’s discussion did get me to thinking, though, and the take-away was that I do need to expand some of the emotional conflict within the text.  To meet the expectations of my pre-readers, it means that I have to add a few sentences here and there at key points within the storyline, all in the name of achieving a heightened level of emotional conflict.  It won’t take much, but their point was exceptionally valid.  The comment was made that, “… we like characters who are perfect, but we love characters who are flawed.”

In this context, the term “flawed” applies to soft spots in the underbelly of a protagonist’s armor.  I can only agree whole-heartedly with what I believe to be an axiom, and it did get me to thinking more deeply about how I go about revising the manuscript.

One good example mentioned was how the overall novel-conflict is introduced.  Jake receives a telegram from a beautiful, female Chinese tinker in San Fran with whom he has an abbreviated but conjugal relationship.  The request is simple: deliver a package from San Fran to Denver.  However, the last time he was in San Fran, the Chinese Tong tried to assassinate him.  For Jake there is neither conflict nor question in his motivation.  A lady needs his help, and he has no fear of death.  Ergo, he goes.

Jake’s character does not allow for any sense of personal, internal conflict or emotional response.  It simply wouldn’t suit him.  In the current version I simply have a sentence or two where Jake tells a delivery boy that when a lady needs help, you help.  Jake’s partner Cole is understandably incredulous at any notion of returning to San Fran, but that part is sorely abbreviated.

What is required is for Jake to have a conversation with Cole about the rationale.  Cole’s character will provide some of the emotional conflict while Jake remains steadfast and true to the notion of fearless and dutiful.

There will be other places throughout the novel where I will enhance these sorts of situations, and my whole point here is to recommend that writers consider and implement these sorts of emotionally-charged situations within their writing.

Contemporary fiction begs for it, and in doing so you will not only make your work that much more marketable, you will be expanding your readership from just those who dig action-fic to a wider audience that also appreciates a deeper emotional involvement in characters and their stories.

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