Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Eureka! At long last!

It's been an exciting morning for me. For a few years now I've been working on a writing project. Ok, so it's a novel I started back in summer of 2011. I worked on it probably 18 hours a day for several months, and then hit a complete wall. I couldn't figure out the root of the conflict.

My stack of notebooks, folders, and "look books" grew higher and higher, fed by notes, clippings, bits of dialogue, and notes on structure and plot progression. There was a lot of work put into that project. How frustrating it's been to not be able to do anything with all of that generated data!

I've written my entire life, for as long as I can remember. I have the first short story I ever wrote, about some magic key a kid finds in the woods. I even made it into a little book, with construction paper covers and crayon drawn illustrations inside. It was submitted for some young authors competition and won a blue ribbon. Yep, those were proud days!

I have a few old Samsonite hard-side suitcases filled with journals, notes, poems and short stories. I'm all on the bandwagon these days for working on the beloved laptop, but I still do a lot of my work by pen and old-school composition notebooks with the notorious black-and-white marble covers. I've continued to fill several of them while the "novel" has grown slowly, and mostly in silence.

So, where's this Eureka! I mentioned way back long ago? Okay, let's get to that before I divert my attention to another tangent......

This morning, while pacing the living room, nursing my third cup of coffee, the conflict dawned on me. Blam! Just like that. All of a sudden it dawned within the darkness of my writer's endless horizon of wonder. It's those moments of magic that keep me writing, day after day.

Conflict is important. Let's be honest here -- there are plenty of books out there that are poorly written, books that Faulkner, Wolfe, and Williams would scoff at. And yet, plenty of those books are huge successes! Some of them are published in the traditional method through a publishing house, and plenty are e-published through such platforms as Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and iBooks.

Conflict, that underlying tension, drives a good story forward, even more than florid and complicated vocabulary. Don't get me wrong -- I am all about using proper vocabulary to delve into situations instead of over using a limited repository of trite phrases. That being said, even a basic vocab can be used to write a book that sells thousands and thousands of copies. We see it every day.

These past two years I've collected hundreds of pages of text. I have folders and folders of scenes I've developed, turning points for the characters. And yet, I couldn't figure out the key underlying conflict.

My story is about New Orleans, my beloved and sometimes despised home. It's about two families that have seemingly ruled the city from their positions in the underworld currents that run strong through Orleans Parish. The families are not your run-of-the-mill Uptown aristocrats that hold parties every week and show up in the society pages of the Sunday newspaper.

These two families have been at war with each other for hundreds of years, back to the time before they migrated to the New World. One family is an ancient coven of witches, and the other is a clan of another line of beings with their own particular lusts, needs, and demands.

This morning, the source of conflict between those two families finally dawned on me. The conflict needs to be very real, believable, able to sustain months of daily work, and days of a good read.

If you are having difficulty with your writing, my suggestion is to look at the undercurrent of it. Where is the conflict? What is the true source of the tension? I firmly believe that if you can find the tension, then the writing will begin to write itself as you allow it to come through you. When there's tension, the story propels itself, desiring resolution and completion of its own tale.

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