Pippa Roscoe on the web:
The Three Layers of Emotional Conflict
When I first came across the phrase Emotional Conflict I was working in tv and when I asked about it, each time I’d get a different answer, making it even more difficult to get a solid hold on what it meant. There is lots of information out there helping to explain, explore what this is, but to me it’s the phrase that, in romance, covers why a character feels they are unable to fall in love with the other.
This struggle is vital in romance; it creates that will they/won’t they tension that draws readers into the story. It also pin points key moments in the characters backstory that have defined them, shaped them into the character they are on the first page. Every author has a different way of exploring their characters, and by no means is this the only option. But I wanted to share with you a way I like to think of my characters’ emotional conflicts. I can’t say I manage it every time, but I do try!
I like to see conflict a little like an onion, peeling back the layers to the heart of the deepest hurt of the character –perhaps causing us to cry a little more each time a layer is revealed! Initially the character isn’t aware of what is truly driving them. A healthy dose of denial helps us here to make our characters more complex! But peeling back that layer reveals a deeper hurt, and once that layer has been removed we get to the juicy heart of it all.
For me there are three layers of emotional conflict, whether because this naturally works towards the beginning, middle, and end structure, I’m not quite sure, or if it has something to do with ‘three dimensional’ characters? Who knows. But here goes.
The Surface Layer: This is why the character, (the hero for eg) believes initially that they cannot begin a relationship with the heroine. For me this tends to be based on an assumption: that the heroine is a gold digger, or has betrayed them, or has some quality that they are unable to forgive. When this has been proved incorrect as our hero gets to know more about the heroine, we can move on to eh reinforced layer.
The Reinforced Layer: This is a moment in the hero’s recent experience when their original conflict was reinforced. This comes from the hero’s direct personal experience, often one that involves feelings of love. A moment when they were rejected, abandoned, betrayed… but most importantly hurt. It contains an echo of the deep original conflict, but one that proves their fears about love were correct. Once this has been explored and in some way exorcized by the revealing of it – the burden is lighter, the hero can begin to move on from it. Now perhaps he’s embarking on a relationship with the heroine, he’s beginning to explore his emotions. Until events threaten those emotions and he starts to feel the impact of the true original conflict.
The Original Conflict: This is the moment when the hero first learned that love was a painful thing. It’s deep rooted and long ago, quite often in childhood (like so many of our personal hurts!). Whether it was something they indirectly experienced from their parents, or something that their parents caused in them, a feeling that love can’t be trusted (infidelity), that love isn’t constant (abandonment) that love is manipulative (betrayal), it is the moment in his life that a shocking and painful lesson about love was learned.
Exploring how the hero and heroine are able, through their relationship, to overcome these three conflicts helps draw the line of character development through the story, clearing a way through the past hurts and allowing them to finally see love as a positive thing, something that they can finally feel freely and happily to fall truly in love with the other.
To me – above all else – the personal journey of the characters through these obstacles is the greatest message of romance. That we can overcome our pasts to look forward to a loving and fulfilling future as the best selves we can be.
I’ve really enjoyed sharing the way I like to address emotional conflict within my characters and hope that it’s helped. Are there any writing phrases that you’ve found difficult to navigate, or had that light bulb moment when you realised what a specific phrase meant?
A Ring to Take His Revenge (The Winners' Circle)
He’ll do anything to settle the score…
…even fake an engagement!
To secure his revenge against his cruel father, billionaire Antonio Arcuri needs a fake fiancée—fast! He demands his shy PA, Emma Guilham, wear his diamond. In return, he’ll help fulfill her dreams—starting with a jet-set trip to Buenos Aires! It’s a simple charade, until the burning tension between them erupts into irresistible desire. Now Antonio must decide between vengeance and Emma…
A powerfully intense revenge romance!.