Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Guest Blogger: Janis Patterson - Or Is It Janis Susan May?
Janis Patterson also writes romances and horror as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson. LURE OF THE MUMMY by Janis Susan May, the first ever horror novel from either Carina or Harlequin, will be released August 29. THE HOLLOW HOUSE, a cozy historical mystery by Janis Patterson, will be released November 14, also from Carina Press. She and her husband, a Captain in the Navy Reserve, just returned from overseas deployment, live in Texas with three rescued furbabies – two neurotic cats and a terribly spoiled little dog. Janis has two websites – www.JanisSusanMay.com and www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com
Well, here I am, sprawled under the Tiki Hut, a fresh Mangorita (a frozen margarita made with fresh mangoes) beside me, my laptop in front of me and for scenery, white sand, surf and palm trees. Best of all, not another human being in sight. What bliss!
Bliss, however, is not conducive to good fiction. While in life it might be a sustainable end-all and be-all, in fiction it gets boring rather quickly. That’s why when a book reaches the point of ‘Happily Ever After’ – it’s over! What makes fiction interesting is conflict.
Conflict is one of those convenient catchall phrases that means both everything and nothing. Basically, it is two things in opposition to each other.
Conflict comes in two varieties – external and internal.
An example of external conflict might be environmentalists versus developers. Two people with different visions want control of the same company. A man wants freedom and adventure while a woman wants commitment and a safe home (or vice versa) but they are overwhelmingly in love.
Internal conflict is just that – internal, within one person. The female developer knows that the new shopping center would be good for the town, but she hates to see the old swimming hole where she spent so many happy hours replaced by concrete and glass. A man might be attracted to or even falling in love with a woman who is so very like the woman who broke his heart so many years ago and he knows he has to stay away from her.
Now admittedly some of those examples were simplistic if not downright cheesy, but they are examples of conflict, and conflict is what drives books. If you’re writing a romance, you might have a wonderful time showing a man and woman meeting, liking each other and finally falling in love while taking lovely walks and enjoying nice dinners and attending symphonies. That would be wonderful – in real life. In a book it would be a snoozer.
Instead, bring conflict into play. Make him suspicious of smart women. Make her distrustful of charming men. Give them both backstories that make it seem unlikely they will ever get together. Throw in other conflicts, anything from differing business practices to hired killers. Make them earn their Happy Ever After – and then leave them to it.
Same if you’re writing a mystery. How boring if the detective follows every clue, processes everything according to the rules, finds the criminal and has him sent up for a good long time, then ends up having a lovely dinner with his adoring wife and ruminating about the nobility of his job. Again, a scenario to be wished for in real life and to be avoided like the plague in fiction.
Give them problems! Give them uncertainties! Give them bad ideas and bad luck! Make them think their world will end, and then let them save it and work things out at the last minute. It will make their Happy Ever Afters that much happier.
Now, here under the Tiki Hut, I am seriously conflicted as to whether to order a Pina Colada the next time around or stick with my Mangorita. Also, should I remember this is bathing suit territory, or curse the calories and order some botanas (snacks)? Sigh. Such conflicts.