Sunday, 17 September 2017
Nobody likes conflict or confrontation. I tell a lie. Some people thrive on it - but they don't have many friends.
However if you're a writer and you avoid conflict, your story will be a pretty boring read. Nothing spectacular needs to happen. Chapter One doesn't have to start with a terrible car accident or a fight, but we do need to introduce conflict as early as possible in order to grab our reader's attention. It can be external, brought about by other people or a situation that affects our protagonist, or it can be internal due to our character's thoughts. Conflict can simply arise from having different values. For example, Pride & Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet valued her family, honesty, humility, intelligence and kindness. Her conflict with Mr. Darcy was based on her values. She believed him to be dishonest, prideful, rude, and as she says, he “ruined the happiness of a most beloved sister.”
Just to confuse matters, your antagonist shouldn't be all bad. My first novel, Lies and Linguine, was critiqued by the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme. My reader highlighted that my 'baddy' had no redeeming qualities to make him appear human. He had almost become a caricature of a rogue. I've now revised my first book and given him some virtues which hopefully counterbalance his villainous tendencies.
I endeavour to introduce conflict to my opening few paragraphs but find myself re-visiting my first page many times while writing my books because although people read the blurb on the back before buying, many also read the first page of Chapter One. Like me, they want to discover the voice of the author and establish whether the story grabs them sufficiently to want to buy the book. Here are a few examples of the opening paragraphs of three of my novels. I really hope they make you want to read on, so please leave a comment. I value constructive criticism so don't be afraid to say if you think something needs improving. (Unfortunately Blogspot doesn't allow me to set out my writing correctly.)
A Hill In France.
Arlette turned towards the voice. She saw her friend, Francine, running up Montverre Hill with her hair swinging from side to side and her clogs scuffing the parched ground. As Arlette was leading a cow from the farmyard to the field, the rhythmical choff-choff sound of hooves meant that she couldn’t hear what Francine was now shouting.
Her friend hurried across the farm entrance, scattering a cluster of chickens before stopping and leaning forwards with hands on her hips, trying to catch her breath.
‘Qu’est-ce qui se passe?’ asked Arlette.
‘Pétain? What about him?’
Arlette knew that when their fathers talked about the French leader, usually over a glass of pastis, the conversation usually became heated and resulted in insults being directed towards the man.
‘He’s abandoned Paris to the Germans.’
Arlette gave a high-pitched laugh and continued to lead the beast across the lane, its huge bulk swaying and slewing as it walked. ‘Don’t be silly.’
Francine followed. ‘It’s true.’
‘No one gives away a city as if it were a bag of apples.’
‘Pétain has, and not just Paris. Maman heard it on the wireless.’
Arlette’s smile wavered. ‘When?’
‘Just before she’d finished cleaning the mayor’s office.’
‘No. I mean when was Pétain supposed to have done this?’
Francine held out her hands, palms upturned. ‘I’ve no idea. Papa says he’s a coward.’
Arlette reached the gate to the field and unhooked the lock before slipping the cord from the cow’s neck. ‘Allez!’ She slapped its rump and watched it amble towards the herd. Holding on to the top bar of the sun-warmed gate in a daze, her eyes scanned the landscape, half expecting to see a line of German soldiers marching across its fields. The war. That vague, far off entity that was spoken of in hushed tones for fear of it becoming a reality for them, had arrived.
Rowan Forrester believed that she’d never see Catherine again, so with the gentle strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas playing in the background and a batch of mince pies in the oven, she answered the knock on the apartment door still humming to herself. Caught off-guard at seeing her standing there, Rowan quickly composed herself, hoping that Catherine hadn’t noticed that she’d gripped her coffee cup a little tighter.
‘I’ve got nothing to say to you,’ said Rowan, and began to push the door to.
Catherine pressed her palm flat against the glossed paintwork. ‘There’s something you need to know.’
The sweet spicy aroma of baking wafted from the kitchen and Rowan didn’t know whether to check on the mince pies or listen to what Catherine had to say.
‘You have one minute to apologise, then I never want to see you again,’ said Rowan.
Tomorrow's Not Promised.
Paris had fallen. It was unthinkable. It was terrifying.
Matilde Pascal leant out of her second floor apartment window, the stone lintel grazing her elbows as she leant forwards to get a better view. She looked at the sky. The weather was showing its allegiance to the citizens of Paris by offering an equally cold reception to the German troops. She watched squat black tanks roll into view, grumbling along the Rue de Rivoli, followed by a line of armoured trucks and motorbikes with sidecars. Along the avenue she could see people watching in silence as the enemy paraded into their capital city. The reverberation of the slow, deliberate invasion made a knot of anxiety tighten in her stomach.
A pall of black smoke had hung over the rooftops for days. Although people spoke openly about civil servants destroying records so that the Germans didn’t have access to them, she had been told that it wasn’t the burning of paperwork that was causing the dark cloud. It came from oil depots that had been set alight by retreating French troops. If the people of France were unable to make use of the fuel, then they’d make sure the Germans wouldn’t get their hands on it either.
Matilde chewed her bottom lip and decided that the darkened skies seemed like a fitting apocalyptic note for Paris as the city prepared to receive the invaders. She felt her husband’s breath on her neck as he leant over her shoulder. Xavier had said he wouldn’t give the filthy Boches the satisfaction of an audience, but his curiosity must have proven too strong. They heard a pulse of rhythmical footfall as row upon row of soldiers marched beneath their window. Matilde swallowed hard. France was occupied by a foreign power. It was appalling, yet fascinating to watch.
She squashed an ant on the stone mullion ledge with her forefinger.