By Lauren CarrI hate soap operas. Okay, I’m dating myself. They are now called daytime dramas. Or, if they are in the evening, they are called continuing dramas or family sagas. No matter what they’re called, I hate them. Here’s why:
There’s always the couple that the viewers are rooting for. You know the couple. The beautiful couple that we all dream of being a part of:
She’s the gorgeous sweet girl next door who will do anything for her friend, who just so happens to be the sexy bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks that everyone knows is a two-face slut … except the heroine who, while she is nice, isn’t too bright when it comes to friends.
The hero is the hunky guy with the cute butt who also isn’t too bright and falls for the seduction of the so-called best friend who is now pregnant with his baby. Or, fill in the blank for the situation that is always lurking around the corner to tear Romeo and Juliet apart.
Just when it seems like the couple are finally on their way down the aisle, trouble rears its ugly head to ruin their day. Why, the viewers scream at the television when this happens, can’t the writers let them be happy for just one week?
Because happy characters make for boring shows—and books. After all, as much as the viewers are screaming about the plotline, notice that they are tuning in.
Imagine this tale: Boy goes to a party. Boy meets Girl. They fall madly in love at first sight. Everyone is happy. Boy marries Girl. They live happily ever after.Sounds great, doesn’t it? We’d all love to be a part of that story. But, while this story has the makings of a personal fantasy for our own lives, would we want to read a whole book about that? Or, if you saw a preview of a movie about that, would we pay money to go and see it?
Not likely.Let’s add something to that story.
Boy goes to a party. Boy meets Girl. They fall madly in love at first sight. They discover that their families hate each other. Boy has to sneak around to see the Girl. If caught, he will be killed on the spot. Girl’s Cousin picks a fight with Boy. Boy kills Cousin. Police are now after the Boy. They conspire to run away. Boy gets delayed. Girl fakes her death. Boy believes she’s dead. Will she wake up before he kills himself?
Now that’s a plot line that you would want to go see. Sure, the couple isn’t happy. As a matter of fact, they’re miserable—so miserable that they want to kill themselves. But it’s got something that the other plotline lacks: Conflict—the type of conflict that has had audiences enthralled for hundreds of years.While conflict in our own personal lives is not preferable, readers do want it in their books. Trouble is the spark that ignites the readers’ curiosity to make them continue turning the pages to see how and if the conflict gets resolved. No problems, no sparks. Without sparks, there’s nothing to make the reader care about how the story ends.
Conflict is especially important in mystery writing because it is so very essential to the plot. Imagine a mystery where no one gets killed. Or no one shoots or threatens your detective. Or there is nothing to lose if your detective doesn’t solve the murder.
Who wants to read a mystery like that?In my latest mystery, Shades of Murder, one of the murder victims is the beloved wife of a multi-millionaire CEO of a government defense contractor, who, years later, still mourns her death. He wants the murder solved for closure. The other victim is a Jane Doe whose accused killer, a born again serial killer, wants to be identified and her murder solved to give peace to her family.
In the first installment of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, It’s Murder, My Son, the character with something to lose ended up being Mac’s newly found half-brother, David O’Callaghan. When Mac delves into solving the murder of his next-door neighbor, he inadvertently makes David the prime suspect. Now, Mac is in a race to clear David’s name before the chief of police gathers enough circumstantial evidence to have him arrested.Unfortunately, some writers have trouble inserting conflict into their characters’ life, which is understandable. After all, characters are the children of their authors, who have conceived and molded them. The development of a really good character is on par with giving birth. Now, readers want us to throw them directly into the path of conflict, sometimes even life threatening? What type of parent would do that to their baby?
Not a good parent, but a good writer, yes.This is actually a trait in writing that is called The Good Parent Syndrome. It is where writers have trouble developing conflict in their plots because they’re afraid of hurting their characters. They love their characters so much, that they want them to be happy.
It is something that can be overcome.The key is keeping everything in perspective. Authors can forget that they’re in control. When it comes to writing books, the author is God. Yes, when our characters come to life, they may have a mind of their own (this is another post), but as God, we can throw up road blocks and control that conflict.
However, we have to resist the urge to eliminate it completely so that our beloved characters live conflict free.
For example, when that conniving best friend in her little black dress sashays to our heroine’s boyfriend’s apartment to seduce him, the author has the power to make her fall off her high heels into a mud puddle and break her ankle.
But do let Ms. Mayhem live to weave her web of deceit another day—like it or not, she’s the one that keeps readers turning the page ... even if they are screaming while turning it.
About Lauren Carr
Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. A Reunion to Die For was released in hardback in June 2007. Both of these books are in re-release.
Lauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. The first two books in her series, It’s Murder, My Son and Old Loves Die Hard have been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. The next book in this series, Shades of Murder, will be released May 2012. This will be Lauren’s fifth mystery.
Lauren’s sixth book, Dead on Ice, will be released in Fall 2012. Dead on Ice will introduce a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, in which Joshua Thornton will join forces with homicide detective Cameron Gates.
The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This spring, two books written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.
She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
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