Monday, July 25, 2011

Segment 3 RWA NATIONALS workshop Creating the Perfect Hero...Internal Conflict

Welcome again. For the past weeks, we've been reviewing my notes from the workshop I gave with Jenna Kernan and Deb Mullins at RWA 2011.

We've gone over family and your character's flaw. Today we tackle incorrect core beliefs (which in Susan Meier World form the basis of the internal conflict).

So, read on...

I said before that the hero and heroine can be correcting or deciding not to correct little flaws throughout the course of your story and that can be used to move your plot or to show your characters’ level of commitment.

But I told you that they cannot CORRECT THEIR CONFLICT because then the story is over. LOL

So what’s the difference between a flaw and the conflict?

A flaw isn’t the big thing that will keep the hero and heroine from committing to each other for life. A flaw is something unique to your character that can be perceived as negative. A fear. A habit. An addiction. A physical imperfection.

When you sit down to write your story, one of the questions you should ask yourself is…

Okay, I have this wonderful, good looking, intelligent hero and this superfantastic, good looking heroine, who are uber attracted to each other…
Why won’t they commit for life?

Seriously, why don’t they just ask each other out, fall into bed, and begin plans for spending the rest of their lives together?

The answer to that question is your conflict. And most of us wouldn’t refuse to commit because of a flaw. There’s something deeper in us that causes us not to want to commit to someone.

Now, there are all kinds of workshops on conflict. So we’re not going to get into internal and external stuff.

We’re going to talk about the real, bottom line reason two people wouldn’t just fall into each others’ arms on page one and commit for life.


What are incorrect core beliefs? Maybe we should start with just plain core beliefs? (LOL)

A core belief is a broad and general conclusion a person comes to as a result of life experience. We create these core beliefs and use them as a sort of shorthand for how to live our lives. According to Tony Robbins (and about a billion psychiatrists) we do everything to avoid pain and/or gain pleasure. So these beliefs we create are used to either help us avoid pain or gain pleasure.

Think back to your 21st birthday. If your friends took you out and got you rip-roaring drunk and you don’t remember the last hour of the night, but woke up on your bathroom floor naked and bruised…You’d probably create a core belief or two about drinking…or maybe about getting totally drunk.

You probably would think, Wow, getting drunk is dangerous. I’m not doing that again.

Then on Saturday when you had a date with a guy you only met, you wouldn’t order the El Presidente Margarita at Chilli’s. You’d get a draft. A small one.

Or you might scare yourself so silly that you’d never drink again!

But, the point is, you wouldn’t sit in the booth staring at the waitress, reliving your entire getting drunk experience. You’d have a core belief that said, getting too drunk is dangerous, and you would simply either order no booze or something small. It wouldn’t be a big deal. It wouldn’t even be a thirty-second blip in your brain.

That’s the power of a core belief.

Whatever your core beliefs, they are based on your life experience and you believe they are correct. You also believe they protect you. Or make your life easier to manage. It – literally – would take something earth-shattering to change them. Most of them you wouldn’t want to change. You believe they are correct. LOL THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE THEM. YOU GENUINELY BELIEVE THESE BELIEFS ARE NECESSARY FOR YOU TO LIVE A LIFE WITH AS LITTLE COMPLICATION/TROUBLE AS POSSIBLE. Without these beliefs, you believe you would be hurt…So you cling to them, guide your life with them, use them to make critical decisions. You wouldn’t change them on a whim.

The same should be true for your characters.

Your characters' core beliefs have to be so firmly rooted it would take something earth shattering to change them…and when it comes to a conflict strong enough to sustain a romance novel, there has to be something strong enough and personal enough that it would preclude the character permanently committing to someone.

THAT creates your internal conflict.

So where do you find your character’s incorrect core belief … especially the one that keeps him or her from committing to someone for life? From your characters’ pasts.

This includes not just things they’ve done, but also things they’ve been taught and things they’ve seen other people do.

If you have a hero who has seen ten failed marriages of his friends who thinks marriage is a trap that ends in tragedy, who meets a woman who needs the commitment of a marriage because she grew up in a single-parent home, these two are going to conflict.

Conflict basically boils down to an incorrect core belief a hero or heroine has about trust.

I can’t trust myself.
I don’t trust women.
I don’t trust life.

For instance: If you’ve created a hero in his thirties, who has never married, he’s got to be the unluckiest guy in the world – never to have met a girl he wanted to marry – or he’s got a core belief that prevents him from marrying. And there’s a reason for that core belief!

A. He might have been hurt. (Can’t trust women.)
B. His dad could have been unfaithful – making him wonder about himself. (Can’t trust himself.)
C. He might have seen three or four awful marriages of his friends. (Can’t trust life! The institution of marriage doesn’t work. So he’s not going to participate!)

But what if you have a hero who thinks being single is fun? Is that an incorrect core belief? Sort of. But dig deeper. Why does your hero think being single is fun? Did somebody show him marriage wasn’t fun? Does he see it as a trap? Even if he’s having such a good time that he doesn’t want the party to end – that means he sees marriage as the end of the party! LOL What makes him believe that? That’s his incorrect core belief and coupled to the heroine’s crazy beliefs about life…THAT’S going to form your conflict.

The way to find good, rich conflict is to dig into your character’s past…look at his parents and friends, look at his history, look at his beliefs. Dig deep. Figure out what he believes that’s wrong…

Why? Because you're going to have to change this belief through the course of your novel. Know how editors tell you that they want your heroes and heroines to grow? This is what they mean. They want your characters to be "different" at the end of your story...And...wait for it...people don’t change, their beliefs do.

Ah. Magic formula. If you want to write a believable book about a hero who appears on page one as someone who will never marry (or wouldn’t marry that particular heroine)…don’t try to change HIM, change his beliefs about himself, about life about women (in general or the heroine specifically). Show this change throughout the course of your novel -- the incremental growth that’s needed to change his belief, and you will have the character growth required by most novels.

So that it. Family. Flaws and Incorrect core beliefs.

Everybody needs a family. Nobody’s perfect so use their flaws. And figure out your characters’ incorrect core beliefs so that you can have strong, believable conflict.


Those are my notes from my segment of Creating the Perfect Hero from RWA 2011.

Hope they help! If you have any questions, please feel free to post them.

Have a happy, productive week.


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