Purple Prose + story problem

Emotional Conflict

One of the workshops I attended during the RWA (Romance Writers of America) national conference dealt with adding emotion to your story.

Author Jennifer Greene explained that not all conflicts will give you an emotional story. When you create conflict, make sure it’s not one your character can escape or walk away from, and make your character as miserable as possible. Only then will your conflict have the greatest emotional impact.

For example, a tornado isn’t a conflict if your characters can hide in a tornado shelter. In the movie Where the Heart Is, a severe storm rapidly approaches Natalie Portman’s home. She and her three-year-old daughter rush over to the neighbor’s house to hide in the storm cellar. However, Natalie’s friend (the woman who took Natalie and her newborn baby in when they had no place to go) left a short while ago to deliver soup to a sick friend. Natalie’s frantic and stays above ground, waiting for Stockard Channing to return. And then the worst happens: a tornado develops. Natalie waits for as long as she can before she has to seek cover. But as she climbs down the stairs, before she has a chance to close the storm door, the wind tries to suck her away. Natalie is left clinging to the railing.

Scared and upset at what’s happening to her mom, Natalie’s daughter tries to go to her, despite the neighbor’s attempt to stop her. The strong wind catches her and pulls her out of the storm cellar. Her mom manages to grab hold of her at the last second. Fortunately, the door then slams shut, saving them both.

But that’s not the end of the heart pounding moment. Stockard Channing is still missing. Unfortunately, the news is not good. She doesn’t survive. The emotional moment is brought to its climax with Natalie taking photos of her daughter holding onto the skinny trunk of the (symbolic) buckeye tree while surveying the devastation. The award winning photo is a heartbreaking reminder of what was lost that day.

Now, that’s emotional conflict.

(And yes, I cry every time I watch the move.)

How about your story? Can your protagonist escape/walk away from the story problem or conflict? If so, maybe now’s the time to brainstorm ways so she can’t.

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Emotional Conflict + story problem