“To uncover the plot of your story, don’t ask what should happen, but what should go wrong. To uncover the meaning of your story, don’t ask what the theme is, but rather, what is discovered. Characters making choices to resolve tension — that’s your plot. If your protagonist has no goal, makes no choices, has no struggle to overcome, you have no plot.” [Steven James. Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules]
When we are taught about how to write or how to analyze a story, we often hear that one of the essential elements in any story is conflict.
This is true.
However, sometimes that word conflict brings to mind images of aggressive opposing forces, and those images might lead us to believe that a story must have some form of fighting, danger, or battle contained within it. This, in turn, might make us think that a “good” book must have great mounds of drama and angst squished between the covers.
I’ve never considered myself an angsty sort of person. In fact, I used to tell my junior high classes, “I don’t do drama.” (And if you have spent any time in a junior high classroom, you know that drama often comes standard. 😉 )
So, if readers are looking for high drama and angst, they’re going to be disappointed when they read my books because I am still not an angsty person. If you need proof of that, you can read through my reviews on Amazon. There are some there which have commented on the low angst in my stories as if somehow the lack of angst makes my books unworthy of a good review/rating. [And secretly, because of these reviews, I’ve rather come to despise that word angst. :)]
Here’s the thing: Angst and conflict are not the same things when it comes to writing a story. Conflict in a story is the struggle between opposing forces.
“But, but, but… that sounds like angst and drama.” I’ll give you that. It does sound that way, and in some cases that is what it is. However, it is not always the case.
Conflict can come from many sources and appear in many forms. Let me try to explain that a bit in a non-dramatic scenario.
Before we can spot conflict, we must know something about the goals of our main characters. Let’s start with a couple of Kitty Bennet’s goals from the beginning of the story.
She wants to find a handsome and wealthy husband.
She wants to present herself as a proper young lady, which will mean thinking before speaking and acting.
With this knowledge in mind, let’s jump into the action and see where the conflict or tension can be found.
In chapter one, we see Kitty accompanying Mr. Gardiner while he does errands, and we discover some of who Kitty is as a person as well as what her goals are. Also in this chapter, she meets a handsome gentleman, but sadly he’s neither wealthy nor is his heart free. That’s a disappointment to her and an obstacle standing between her and her goal to find a husband. It is not a large or dramatic setback, but rather one which happens very quietly with a sad sigh.
Let’s move on to chapter two. Here Kitty meets another handsome gentleman. Her hope rises, but only for a moment, before it crashes when she discovers his heart is also not free for he is betrothed.
To her, it seems that the only handsome men her uncle knows are taken. That is a very frustrating thing to a lady who is wishing to find a husband.
The engaged state of this second gentleman once again thwarts her goal, and in the discovery of Mr. Edwards’ engaged state, the surprise causes Kitty to say something before thinking which is a stumble along the path to presenting herself as a proper young lady should. Again, this is not a dramatic setback. It happens quietly with a laugh and a blush of embarrassment.
Then, we get to chapter three and once again Kitty meets another handsome gentleman. This one is unattached. Hurrah! Time to celebrate, right?
No.Mr. Linton might be handsome and available, but he manages to insult her more than once and seems to push all her buttons, which makes it challenging for her to hold her tongue. This meeting which extends through chapter four is not excessively dramatic (although it might give the reader a giggle or two), but this setback does happen a bit more loudly than the first two setbacks did.
The conflict or tension in this story, to this point, comes from Kitty meeting gentlemen who are either “taken” or, if they are single, rude. Added to that tension is the fact that this rude gentleman is making it very difficult for Kitty to hold her tongue. Imagine if she were to be thrown into his path over and over again!
Why, she might find herself saying something she shouldn’t at a very inconvenient time. Doing something like that might stir up further trouble such as rumours which might, in turn, lead to her not being thought of as an acceptable choice to other gentlemen. Just think of all the ways something like this could go wrong and keep Kitty from realizing either or both of her goals. I am not saying any of these things will happen, but they could. It would likely be best if Kitty were not to have to see this gentleman again. However, his sister has invited Kitty to call on her, and Kitty does like Miss Linton. Therefore, not seeing Mr. Linton again is outside the realm of possibilities.
Instead, Kitty will just have to attempt to be on her best behaviour despite Mr. Linton’s being present and very, very handsome.
That’s conflict. That’s struggle. That’s the tension that creates the plot. It’s not high drama. It’s not angsty. In fact, it will include some moments of humor and a good deal of frustration for our heroine as well as our hero.
Speaking of our hero, let’s consider what his goals are when he first steps into our story and crashes into our heroine.When we first meet Trefor Linton, he is…
- trying to avoid getting married until his sister is married, but then,
- his aunt insisted he attends a soiree, which means
- he has to go pick up his sister from her charity work (while feeling perturbed).
In his desire to just tell his sister that he’ll wait for her in the carriage and leave quickly…
- he comes upon a pretty young lady who hinders his escape for a few minutes and whom he accidentally insults, and then just when he thinks he can once again leave
- he’s compelled by good breeding to return to the room where his sister is, which means he has to converse with this young lady once again.
He then attempts to extricate himself from the situation — maybe this time with some dignity intact,
- but alas! His ability to offend is significant, and he’ll just have to be happy to leave the room with a shred of respectability remaining.
The poor man’s goals are being stymied at every turn! And that’s just in a little more than one chapter of the story.
One thing you must know about Mr. Linton, which heightens the tension for him, is that he is as proper as the day is long. He is, in fact, much like Darcy in that regard. So to have insulted a young lady — several times — is not his natural character, and as the story progresses, he is going to find that his ability to behave and think as he should is greatly hindered by the presence of Miss Bennet. I’m sure you can imagine what kind of internal strife this causes for him.
As was mentioned above, his sister has invited Kitty to call on her, which means he will be interacting with Miss Bennet again and again. And that will most certainly interfere with his goal to remain unattached. 🙂
Following these two as they make choices to attain their goals and as they make discoveries about themselves and what they truly want sounds like fun, does it not?
It is in this journey of choices and discoveries where the moments of tension or conflict are found — some quietly discovered and others more loudly. Is there angst and drama in this story? Not really. However, even without angst and drama, A Scandal in Springtime is an entertaining read with a good plot based on the tension that flows out of answering the question “what could possibly go wrong?”
Below is an excerpt which, though not from the four chapters discussed above, shows just how things can and do go wrong for our hero and heroine.
“Who was the gentleman sitting across the room on the green chair?” Kitty whispered to her sister. That gentleman had also been quite attractive in his black jacket and red waistcoat. His hair was not much darker than Mr. Linton’s, and he was likely shorter and less broad than Mr. Linton, but he seemed more willing to smile than scowl, which was very pleasantly unlike Mr. Linton.
“I am certain I could not tell you,” Elizabeth answered. “I am not as familiar with everyone as I would like to be.”
Kitty sighed. That was the trouble with having a sister so newly married. Elizabeth was very good at meeting people and remembering names, but she had only been in town for a few months. Therefore, she had not had enough time to meet all the truly interesting people about whom Kitty wondered – such as that handsome gentleman on the green chair.
“Mr. Hayes,” Mr. Linton answered.
“Were you listening to me speak to my sister?” Kitty asked with no little amount of agitation. How rude! If one were to listen to whispers, one should not let the source of the whisper know that he had intruded on a private conversation. That was why one whispered in public, after all. What was said in a low tone was not meant to be heard by everyone. Surely, that fact was just as true in London as it was in Meryton.
“I did not mean to listen,” he apologized.
At least, he knew he was in the wrong. That was a point in his favour.
“I just happened to hear and knew the answer. Was there a particular reason you wished to know who Mr. Hayes is?”
“And what was that?”
He expected her to tell him that? Kitty thought not! And she was certain her expression said so quite nicely since Mr. Linton’s brow furrowed.
“Why do you suppose?” Miss Linton gave her brother a pointed glare.
Mr. Linton shook his head for a moment until realization washed over his features. “He is a bit of a fop,” he muttered.
“If you mean he appears pleasant, as well as handsome, then I would have to agree,” Kitty said, fixing her gaze on Mr. Linton’s lovely blue eyes. They were silvery and strong. It really was a pity he was not more civil.
Mr. Crawford coughed, which was likely to cover a chuckle for he looked rather amused. Of course, Kitty did not see anything amusing about such rudeness, but then, she was not a rake. Perhaps rakes found things more humorous than the regular person.
“However,” she continued, “if you are only attempting to disparage him to me, I should like to know why.”
“Kitty,” Elizabeth cautioned.
She should listen to Elizabeth. She knew she should. This was not a particularly good path down which to traverse, but the challenge had been put forth. Therefore, she stood her ground and ignored Elizabeth. She would be improper for just this moment – only long enough to have her point carried that Mr. Linton was being arrogant.
“I will give you that he’s handsome,” Mr. Linton replied. “But even he would tell you that. And he would likely do it just before he informed you which tailor he used and where to find the best muslin for your dress.”
“What is wrong with my dress?” Kitty retorted.
“Not a thing.” Mr. Linton looked to his sister for help. However, when none was forthcoming, he continued on by himself, which, as it turned out, was not the right choice. “It is a fine dress, but Mr. Hayes would likely comment on some small detail such as the fact that it will not survive many washings or that it would look better with a different lace on the sleeves.”
Kitty’s right hand flew to her left sleeve. “This is my favourite lace! And the fabric used for this dress is not catchpenny!”
“I did not say it was.” Mr. Linton ran a finger around his collar. “And I can see why you like that lace, it is very nice.”
“Nice? Only nice?” Kitty looked at her sleeve. This lace was so delicate that it spoke to a high degree of craftsmanship to create it, and he called it simply nice?
Mr. Crawford was coughing again, which made Mr. Linton glare at him.
“What would you have me call it?” he retorted sharply.
“Something better than nice,” Kitty grumbled.
Mr. Linton blew out a breath as they came close enough to the door to feel the coolness of the night. “I was only imagining the sorts of things that Mr. Hayes might say. I was not saying any of that myself.”
Kitty accepted her pelisse from a footman. “You sounded very much like an expert.”
“That is because I have heard Hayes say such things before,” Mr. Linton said, but Kitty paid no attention to him other than to listen and peek at him from the corner of her eye.
“You will still call on me despite my brother?” Miss Linton looked apologetic as she asked.
“Of course,” Kitty assured her. “You cannot control your brother any more than I can stop my sister Mary from scolding and lecturing, and I should very much dislike it if I were not to have friends because of her.” She pressed her lips together. “That was not kind. I should not speak so about my sister.”
Did you notice the name Mr. Crawford in this excerpt? This Mr. Crawford is indeed Mr. Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park. He has gone through a transformation which has rendered him to be no longer rakish and which ended with him being happily betrothed to Miss Linton. Therefore, if Mr. Linton and Miss Bennet ever come to like each other very well (and I predict that they do), Mr. Darcy will eventually be related to Henry Crawford through marriage. How fun is that? 🙂
You can find Henry’s story, as well as that of Mr. Charles Edwards, who plays a significant side role in A Scandal in Springtime, in my Other Pens, Mansfield Park series. This series is only available in the Kindle store since all the books in this series are currently enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.
In other writing news:
I have a sweet Regency short story that finishes posting today on my blog, and…
Loving Lydia will soon be taken down from my blog in preparation for publication later this month.
I also have a bundle of books that has just entered the Kindle Unlimited program for the summer, and I have another bundle which will be leaving Kindle Unlimited on June 11, 2019. You can find the details and links to the books at this link.
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