Friday, June 23, 2006

Conflict Is Not A Lifetime Movie

STATUS: I rarely get a chance to read manuscripts during the day but I literally cleared my desk (and FedEx’d that final contract off to the author). So what fun, I get to read today. This is my kind of Friday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? (JUST LIKE) STARTING OVER by John Lennon

A couple of months ago, a writer sent me an unsolicited POD novel. Now, as I mentioned before, I’m optimistic. I look at previously self-published works but only if I have requested it. Please query first before sending ANYTHING in the mail.

Back to my story. This novel just arrived in the mail. Because I’m curious, I flipped it over to take a quick look at the back cover copy. When I could stop laughing, I read it aloud to Sara and shook my head. Folks, a good novel shouldn’t be a melodramatic Lifetime Movie.

Needless to say, the unrequested POD novel didn’t get read.

But I have seen this in a lot of recent queries lately as well—where the writer has confused conflict with dramatic plot elements.

I just want to clarify here that these two things are not the same.

Conflict is what motivates and drives your character (and can be internal and well as external).

Dramatic plot elements are simply events that occur in the story.

Not the same thing. So what I’m seeing is that writers are confusing the two and making the assumption that if they have a lot of big events in their novels, that’s enough “conflict” to carry the story.

So a query (or back cover copy) will end up looking like this (and I’m just making this up off the top of my head.)

Jane Smith had the perfect life: a husband, two children, and a great home in the suburbs. But when her family is killed in what looks like a car accident but isn’t, Jane must unravel the truth. She must look to her past and discover that the old boyfriend who stalked, raped, and beat her might be involved. Can she hide the fact she gave up their secret baby for adoption? Will the crazy boyfriend learn this truth, track down her only living child, and kill that innocent soul as well?

But Jane can’t uncover the truth alone and she must open her heart to allow sexy detective Joe Boxer, who moonlights as a movie star, into her life and into her secret. Jane Smith wasn’t always a happy suburban mom. She originally worked for the FBI as a ….

And the list of huge events just continues.

I know it’s a Lifetime movie error when, as I read, I’m thinking, “what the hey? Now there’s a secret baby? She was raped as teenager? She led a secret life? She’s had huge tragedy in her life but now she’s meeting a movie star?”

It’s all too much. Like I said--Lifetime movie. And folks, what works well on TV doesn’t necessarily work in a novel. (Just like what works in a novel often doesn’t translate well to the screen.)

And don’t make the assumption that all Lifetime Movie-like queries are done by women or for a romance/women’s fiction novel.

No. The POD novel I received was written by a man and had a male protagonist but still a crazy abundance of tragic events to make up the “conflict” of the story.

And don't assume you're safe if you write SF & F. I've seen the same problem in queries for that genre. Just the context of the events are changed to reflect the SF & F setting.