Elf Ahearn writes about Conflict

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Elf Ahearn is part of an anthology released on Valentine’s day 2017 titled Her Perfect Gentleman.  Today she offers  valuable insight and advice on using conflict to develop unforgettable stories. But first, let’s meet is amazing, creative and talented author…

dscn0573Name/Pen name: Elf Ahearn

General location: New York 

  1. When did you first know you wanted to writer?

When I saw Francis the Talking Mule movies as a kid, my best friend Georgette and I wrote a sequel. She illustrated it—she was inspired with a pencil.

  1. What inspired you to write?

Francis. Who can resist a talking mule?

  1. Are you a planner or pantster?

Kinda both. I write out a loose outline, and then I ignore it.

  1. Which of your works is your favorite? Why?

The book I’m working on now is really fun because the heroine is resisting growing up. She’s constantly getting into trouble because she can’t drag herself away from potential adventure.

  1. Would you say your stories are plot or character driven?

I always start with a plot that intrigues me and then struggle to create interesting characters, so I’m gonna say plot.

  1. What do you take with you on vacation?

Absolutely nothing of interest, but I do have a friend who would always pack a ball gown just in case.

  1. What’s your motto as a writer?

“Regency romance with a Gothic twist.” Is that a motto?

  1. What’s your next project or what is in your future?

The second book in the Albright Sisters series was released yesterday in Her Perfect Gentleman an anthology with seven top writers. The title is His Lordship’s Darkest Secret.

This year, it’s my ambition to rewrite the third novel, A Duke in the Rough, then get it published. And finally, I’d like to finish the rough draft of the forth novel, which I’m about half way through. Wish me luck!

Any information you would like to share about yourself?

Elf is my real name—my parents thought it up without any assistance from me. I was a horse when I was a kid—I galloped on my hands and knees, grazed on lemon grass and violets when they were in season, and carried my sister on my back. Ah, those were the days!

Connect with Elf

Website: www.elfahearn.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elf.ahearn?fref=ts

Newsletter: email elfahearn@hotmail.com to subscribe

And now for her blog…

“Conflict,” Debra Dixon, author of Goal, Motivation & Conflict, says, “is the obstacle or impediment your character must face in obtaining or achieving his goal. Conflict is not an optional element. Conflict is required…”

In other words, smooth sailing in fiction is the fastest way to lose readers. Conflict doesn’t have to be big and violent, in fact it can be so quiet and internal the protagonist is scarcely aware of its existence, but it must be there.

EXTERNAL CONFLICT

When George and Lennie, the heroes of John Steinbeck’s seminal novel Of Mice and Men enter a beautiful riverside landscape in the opening pages, George does not say, “Oh, this is lovely. We’ll lay down our bindles and spend the night because I know you’ll be safe here, Lennie.” No, the character steps nervously to his goliath pal’s side and barks, “Lennie, for God’ sakes don’t drink so much.” Lennie continued to snort into the pool. The small man leaned over and shook him by the shoulder. “Lennie. You gonna be sick like you was last night.” Blammo, conflict.

Here’s another example using Of Mice and Men:

“The boss said suddenly, “Listen, Small!” Lennie raised his head. “What can you do?”

In a panic, Lennie looked at George for help. “He can do anything you tell him,” said George. “He’s a good skinner. He can rassle gain bags, drive a cultivator. He can do anything. Just give him a try.”

The boss turned on George. “Then why don’t you let him answer? What you trying to put over?”

George broke in loudly, “Oh! I ain’t saying he’s bright. He ain’t. But I say he’s a God damn good worker. He can put up a four hundred pound bale.”

The boss deliberately put the little book in his pocket. He hooked his thumbs in his belt and squinted one eye nearly closed. “Say—what you sellin’?”

These two men need a job. They have no money and can’t afford to move on, so this conflict, though minor, sets an urgent tone. That George has to struggle to get the ranch job, makes the scene more interesting—it adds suspense.

Example #2 Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees:

Naturally the third man felt obliged to say something, so he looked at Rosaleen sashaying along unperturbed, holding her white-lady fan, and he said, “Where’d you get that fan, nigger?”

“Stole it from a church,” she said. Just like that.

I had gone once in a raft down the Chattooga River with my church group, and the same feeling came to me now—of being lifted by currents, by a swirl of events I couldn’t reverse.

Coming alongside the men, Rosaleen lifted her snuff jug, which was filled with black spit, and calmly poured it across the tops of the men’s shoes, moving her hand in little loops like she was writing her name—Rosaleen Daise—just the way she’d practiced.

This conflict hasn’t come to blows, yet, but we know it’s going to do something really damaging to Rosaleen’s goal of registering to vote. In fact, this bit of conflict is the inciting incident in the novel. According to the blog, Scribe Meets World, “Inciting comes from the Latin word incitare which means ‘to put into rapid motion, urge, encourage, and stimulate.’ And that’s exactly what your inciting incident is: it’s an event that catalyzes your hero to ‘go into motion’ and take action.” External conflict is usually the catalyst for the inciting incident.

INTERNAL CONFLICT

According to the late, great film and stage director Mike Nichols, “There are only three kinds of scenes: a fight, a seduction or a negotiation.” I’m not sure if his philosophy is 100 percent correct, but it’s something to keep in mind because conflict is implicit in each scenario—something is always chaffing the skin of the characters, forcing them to work harder to achieve their goal.

The examples above illustrate exterior conflicts. Now we’re going to address internal conflicts.

The characters in Of Mice and Men are often credited with the success of the novel, but that’s not because Steinbeck paired a smart guy and a super strong dumb guy, it’s because of the internal conflict George grapples with: Lennie drives him crazy, yet the big galoot fulfills his essence as a caregiver. If the protagonist of this novel were a mellow guy who took Lennie and everyone else’s behavior in stride, you’d read the first three pages and close the cover. For good.

“You keep me in hot water all the time.” [George] took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. “Jus’ wanted to feel that girl’s dress—jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a mouse— Well, how the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country. All the time somethin’ like that—all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice an’ let you have fun.” His anger left him suddenly. He looked across the fire at Lennie’s anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames.

Protagonists need to itch. They need to be in conflict with themselves (identity vs. essence), with the people around them and, at times, with the environment. However, this does not mean they have to argue constantly. George does, but, for example, Lily in The Secret Life of Bees, does not vocalize her internal agony to other characters, only to readers.

  1. Ray, her father, tells Lily, “Your sorry mother ran off and left you. The day she died, she’d come back to get her things, that’s all.”

…I looked down at the bee jar still clutched in my hand and saw a teaspoon of teardrops floating in the bottom. I unfastened the window screen and poured it out. The wind lifted it on her skirt tails and shook it over the blistered grass. How could she have left me? I stood there several minutes looking out on the world, trying to understand.

And here’s the opening paragraph of a brilliant short story by Lesley Nneka Arimah, titled “Who Will Greet You at Home,” which was printed Oct. 26, 2015 in The New Yorker.

“The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unraveled as she continued walking, mistaking its little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone. By the time she noticed, it was too late, the leg a tangle of fibre, and she pulled the string the rest of the way to end it, rather than have the infant grow up maimed. If she was to mother a child, to mute and subdue and fold away parts of herself, the child had to be perfect.”

In each of these examples you can feel the itch of longing, of unhappiness, of wanting to be or do something different. These stories are rife with conflict: small internal ones, little tiffs with other characters, big arguments, physical obstructions, and larger more devastating conflicts until the climax explodes.

John Barth, the bestselling author of Giles Goat-Boy, calls this “incremental perturbation.” “So how many perturbatory increments does a story need?” he wrote, “Just enough: Too few leads to unconvincing climax, faked orgasm; too many is beating a dead horse, or broken camel. And how many are just enough?” He suggests the larger bumps in the road on the protagonist’s journey toward their goal should come in uneven numbers, 3, 5 ,7, etc. I went through Of Mice and Men, and honestly, the number of conflicts varied per chapter. The key, though, is that, except for brief scenes of peace following a major dust up, conflict was always there.

Her Perfect Gentleman 

her-perfect-gentlemanElf Ahearn, author of His Lordship’s Darkest Secret, part of an eight-person anthology titled Her Perfect Gentleman by a pack of awesome writers. Only 99 cents!

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See who the other authors are: Gina DannaElla QuinnJenna Jaxon, Collette Cameron, Marie Higgins, Lousia Cornell, and Lauren Smith

Ruth A. Casie Talks about why she writes Historical Romance

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ruthcloseToday’s guest is a personal friend and amazing historical romance author. Before reading her bog post about her love for writing about people and places from the past let’s get to know what makes her tick…

Name/Pen name: Ruth A. Casie

General location: www.RuthACasie.com

  1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

My older sister will tell you I always had a story in my head. She is nearly 15 older than me and often humored me by dressing up and role playing. I think she liked the cowboy boots and used any excuse to wear them. Anyway, stories filtered through my head. The story ideas didn’t stop, but I never saw myself as an author. It wasn’t until I actually wrote my first story (see question 2) that I knew this is what I wanted to do.

  1. What inspired you to write?

Several years ago, when I was Board President of the woman’s shelter in my county, our Board Secretary mentioned she was writing a romance story. I read romances and offered to be her beta reader. One thing led to another and with her encouragement, I wrote my own story. I’ve been writing stories ever since.

  1. Are you a planner or pantser?

This is an interesting question. I thought I was a pantser until I looked back at a writing journal when I wrote the second book in my series. I may not have written an outline per se but I certainly had all the elements of goal, motivation and conflict identified as well as turning points and black moments. Character background and even backstories were sketched out in prose. So… I think I am a cross between planner and pantser. I call myself a plotster.

  1. Which of your works is your favorite? Why?

This is like asking which child you love best. I think my favorite historical is my first book, Knight of Runes, in my Druid Knight series It’s a time travel story about a miss-matched couple who are soulmates and will do anything to be together. Love does conquer all.

For my contemporary story is the novella I’ll Be Home For Christmas, in the Christmas in Havenport collection. One of my first reviews was scathing and a person attack. Mary Jo Putney was wonderful when I told her about it and talked me off the edge. With only a few tweaks, I used it as the opening of the story about a romance author who doubts her career.

  1. Would you say your stories are plot or character driven?

My stories are character driven although my stories have intricate plots with twists and turns. I love giving my readers a surprise.

  1. What do you take with you on vacation?

The family. Our children are all grown and I love to go on vacation with them without interruptions. We enjoy being together and have lots of fun. I read a lot on vacation. My go-to books include romance (of course) but also adventures by Lee Child and Clive Cussler.

  1. What’s your motto as a writer?

Ooooh. This is an interesting question. It has to be ‘Butt in chair and write.’ You can’t edit a blank page.

  1. What’s your next project or what is in your future?

I have several projects in development.

  • I’m currently writing a novella for the next Havenport collection, Snowbound. I’ve decided to take the villain in the last story and turn her into the heroine in this one.
  • I’ve also just finished the ‘almost final draft’ of the first book in a new series about a time traveling art curator who can guarantee the authenticity of artwork and a security officer tasked with stopping time travel.
  • Fans have enjoyed my Stelton Legacy series. I’m plotsing the next book in the series.

Any information you’d like to share about yourself?

Here are five other things you probably don’t know about me.

1. I filled my passport up in one year.

I worked for a large financial institution and before webinars and Skype as a product manager I visited with clients and potential clients. My sales support program took me to almost every European country (sorry not Liechtenstein) as well as a good sampling in Asia and South America. Have I got some travel stories!

2. I have a medieval romance series, The Stelton Legacy about the seven sons of a seventh son.

Three books are published. The others are in various stages of development. The heroine in The Guardian’s Witch, the first book in the series was born with veil over her face. It’s called a caul. Throughout history, these caulbearers are believed to have a special purpose—to serve mankind, guide people to understand themselves and the world within which they live. Many cultures believe this makes the child “King by right” with special powers ranging from leadership abilities to natural healers and having greater insight. I was born with caul. I’m still trying to figure out my power.

 

 

3. I did a rap to “How Many Trucks Can a Tow Truck Tow If a Tow Truck Could Tow Trucks.”

I was a guest reader at my son’s first grade class (he just turned 32 and working on his Master’s Degree in Cyber Security at Northeastern University). I rapped the book while my son was my boom box. We had a great time.

4. When I cook I dance.

Our kitchen isn’t large but ever since Paul (my DH) and I have taken ballroom dance lessons I practice between the fridge, the stove, and the table.

5. My Sudoku book is in the bathroom.

I’m not saying anything else about that.

Thank you Debbi for hosting me. I’d love to hear from your readers. Catch me on Twitter or Facebook at @RuthACasie, or you can drop me a line at Ruth@RuthACasie.com

And now for her post…

Why Historicals?

Years ago I did a lot of international travel for business. But I can remember my first trip overseas very clearly. It was a two week trip to five European cities. I brought six novels thinking I would catch up on my reading—there never seemed to be enough time at home with three small children. I finished one and a half books before I landed.

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My idea of Lyn Kurland’s magic forest

My days were filled with client calls with the local bank directors, but most late afternoons, evenings and the weekend I was on my own. I filled the time with walking tours of the city, sometimes in groups other times using the track provided by the hotel. Each time I came face to face with history; the Grand Place in Brussels, the Place de la Concorde in Paris, and HamptonCourt in England. As I went on to the different cities I tried to hear the sounds, smell the aromas, and see the sights from a different perspective, a different time. Stories by Julie Garwood, Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey and Lynn Kurland had me enthralled along with Clive Cussler. I know, he’s not exactly romance but his Dirk Pit stories always start with some historical fact or thread that’s crucial to solving the mystery. I read my books at night and visited places where I could imagine the stories unfolding.

Historical facts mixed with chivalry and magic made the most compelling stories to me. The romance of the middle ages and Renaissance with their knights and princesses and their myths of druids, fairies, and fae tossed in for good measure all drew me in. Time travel stories and the ability to change the past, protect the future, or simply experience a different time made all things possible. Personally, I want my fiction based on fact but I don’t necessarily want the cold truth of reality. I know that history doesn’t always end with a happily ever after but taking a little poetic license to alter history just a bit to make it all work out is what I enjoy reading.

My Stelton Legacy series is a historical fantasy.

 

The Guardian’s Witch: In 13th century England, in order to save the man she loves and prevent being married off to another, Lisbeth Reynolds, born with the ability to see things before they happen, must make a crucial decision. Dare she rely on her knight, Lord Alex Stelton, to find a way to save them both or does she trust her magic and risk exposure and persecution as a witch?

The Maxwell Ghost: Traitors, deception, murders and ghosts run rampant at Caerlaverock Castle. Jamie Collins and Laura Reynolds, long-time friends find their destinies intertwined with hidden passions, but all is in jeopardy when Laura becomes the murderer’s next target. Jamie will find he needs some ghostly assistance to save Laura and declare his love.

The Highlander’s English Woman: Longtime friends Jamie Collins Maxwell and Laura Reynolds find their destines intertwined and complicated with hidden passion. Their new found love is threatened when Laura becomes a political pawn… in an arranged marriage to Jamie’s greatest enemy.

Available at Amazon