Friday, December 24, 2010

Emotional vs. Intellectual - Which is The Stronger Conflict?

The ENDING is happily ever after...not the middle.

In romance, the ONLY reason to keep turning the page is the romantic conflict.

This is a tenant for all writers of romance.

The emotion, tension, and pull the characters have for one another has to exist OUTSIDE the plot.

These two people have to be attracted to each other and have a problem with that attraction whether they meet in the Sahara or in  a submarine.

Leslie Wainger in Writing a Romance Novel, explains the two types of conflict and how to manipulate them to best capture and captivate your reader.  Here are a few examples, but I urge you to pick up her extremely helpful book.  The relationship observations would help a writer of any genre.

There is EMOTIONAL conflict and INTELLECTUAL conflict -- the two used together can create great tension for your fictional sweethearts. But the first is the conflict that will be most effective in the romantic genre.

Many writers struggle with separating the two...and use the weaker reason to their story's detriment.

  • Emotional Conflict is borne out of feelings.  They just are...Emotion colors how you feel about yourself and your family. "There is no logic and therefore can't be reasoned away."

  • An Intellectual Conflict comes from the mind, from opinion. And like most opinions, there is more than one side. How a person thinks about an issue can be interesting...but in romance, you want to capture the heart of the reader...not just the mind.

    Here's an example of how emotion can change your whole romantic paradigm...

    Let's say that Molly MC is shuttled from foster family to foster family, and eventually ends up on her own at a young age. 

    She is likely to be self reliant, slow to trust, aloof, have job where she answers to herself. She may live in a secluded area, value her privacy, and keep to herself.

    Now let's imagine Molly MC as the youngest child in a large and loving family. She has several older brothers, her parents loved each other, and she is protected in life...maybe too protected.

    She makes friends easily, is confident, and bright, but may doubt if she can stand on her own. She has job that allows her to prove she is capable and tough...maybe a police officer.

    How does this change the emotional vs. intellectual conflict in your story?

    A man, the same man, may give each one of them pause for the same intellectual reasons...He is causing problems in their work or personal sphere, he is mysterious and therefore suspect, he has a flaw that is dangerous to them at first glance...

    These are intellectual conflicts. These can be explained away easily. That is why intellectual conflict is not as strong in a romance as emotional conflict.

    We eventually find out that the reason for his behavior, while at first may seem dangerous, is a result of the plot.  He is under cover, falsely accused, had a change of heart..whatever you choose to explain away the notorious first impression and make him a suitable hero...the intellectual conflict is easily fixable.

    But each woman will react emotionally to this man in a different way - because emotional conflict comes from who we are.

    • The first woman - the one with the rough childhood: She may not react well to this man or doubt his feelings because she feels unlovable. After all, years of people failing her and leaving her drove that home.  

    So the emotional conflict, the one that underlies the intellectual reason for not trusting him, is deep rooted in who she is.  

      • The second woman - the one with the large, overprotective family: She may fear being smothered by love, romantic love in particular. Losing one's self in someone else is terrifying if you've fought for years to become an individual.  Acts of chivalry may be insulting to this woman. 

      Her reaction to the same personality, the same scenario, will be vastly different because it is her emotional past that will inform her romantic reaction.

      Whatever the intellectual reason: He seems to be hiding something, he is under investigation, he is rebuffing her advances...the emotional conflict will be deeper and resonate more with your reader.

      And in order to get them together, the hero has to be able to overcome her particular doubts and fears in order to win her heart. Emotional conflict makes for all kinds of great scenes and angst...the push and pull of a romantic arc are enhanced.

      Romantic fiction or not, the interplay of characters is a key component to any story. What do you do to build up the emotional tension between your characters?

      Until next time...Go Write!