RUE and Conflict

I've been in the midst of judging contests since November and I'm starting to see a pattern with entries, enabling me to see what I need to work on in my own writing.

Resist the Urge to Explain
This manifests as telling most of the time. Good showing needs no explanation. A grin says more than "she was happy." RUE doesn't just occur in telling though. Sometimes the sneaky bugger pops into narrative (and there's a fine line, imo, between internal narrative and telling). For example, something will be said in dialogue or shown in action, and then we like to jump in and drop a few lines explaining what just happened.

Just like in life, sometimes it's better to RUE.

Another weakness I'm coming across is lack of conflict.

I think many writers (including myself) make the mistake of thinking that bad things happening to our main character equals conflict. I've been pondering it though, and I'm beginning to realize that conflict cannot exist without goal. (GMC, anyone?)

A true conflict means two opposing forces, not one force battering our main character. This means our main character must be a force as well. Our main character must begin the story with a deep desire which translates into a goal he or she vigorously pursues.

And then, WHAM.

An opposing force gets in the way of that goal and suddenly our MC must deal with that conflict.

So true conflict requires a proactive MC rather than a reactive one.

What do you think? Is there enough conflict in your plot or is your MC just reacting to what happens to her or him? And anyone here struggle with RUE?


Unknown said…
Great post. I just judged a contest entry in which the mc's goal wasn't clear in the first chapter . . . or the second. Conflicty things were happening, but I didn't understand what the motivation was (or maybe it was too weak to be noticed). I have feeling the writer knew what they were when he/she wrote the book, but I just couldn't figure them out.
Anonymous said…
Needed to read this!

I'm diving into my ms and starting revisions based on Genesis comments. Telling/explaining is one of the big downfalls in my first chapter. In the beginning of my story, I felt the need to share quite a bit of backstory, and as the judges pointed out (in red!:), it's a story no-no. {aka, snore}

I'll be taking a hard look at conflict, too. I like the way you described exactly what conflict should be for a mc.

Thanks for the helpful thoughts!
Linda Kage said…
I'm extremely guilty of RUE. Okay, I'm guilty of all of them, but lots of rejection letter espeically mentioned my Rue-ness! I'd never heard it called that acronym before. Lovin' it though!
Anonymous said…
I like the acronym. I believe there was a character named RUE in a recent book I read! I do need to constantly work on scene motivation, goals, and obstacles.
Jessica Nelson said…
Stina, good observation! I think writers often have these things already in the work, they're just not as fleshed out as they could be.

Hi Kerry, LOL on the backstory! We've all done it, no worries. :-) The interesting thing is that you've probably already included that backstory later in the book, in dialogue, etc, so deleting the big chunks of backstory probably won't hurt the overall story. Make sense? You sound like you have a great attitude toward your entry too, which is good. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Linda!! Too funny! You've never heard that acronym? I just got it on one of my crits which made me want to smack my forehead. LOL Thanks for sharing that.

Hi Lynn, good point about our scenes. Sometimes we need to treat them just like a character.
Mary Curry said…
Great post, Jessica. Don't you love what you learn from judging contest entries? It's an unexpected benefit.

Conflict has always been a weakness for me so I was thrilled when I got a recent entry back that commented on the strong conflict. Finally! Phew!!
Erica Vetsch said…
I'm putting the final touches on rewrites before turning in a ms.

The main critique my crit partners had was not enough conflict for the heroine. Things were coming too easily for her and I needed to snarl her path up a bit.

I'm still trying to weed out the RUE in all my's slow going. :)
Sarah Forgrave said…
Great post, Jessica! I find that I explain things in my first draft of a m/s, more for myself as a way to flesh out the story. Then in my edits, I RUE, RUE, RUE! :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Yay! Good for you, Mary. :-)

LOL Sarah. Yep, thank goodness for rough drafts!

Erica, I know you'll be able to do it and come out with something amazing. :-)
Jennifer said…
Great post! I used to have a major problem with actual conflict--my characters were just reacting to things. I think I've got a better handle on it now, and I've been told my writing's a lot better for it.
Katie Ganshert said…
This is GREAT! I've noticed the same thing - especially in regard to conflict. So true - that to have true conflict we need two opposing forces! Thanks for the reminder!
Diane said…
What a great opportunity and learning experience for you to see what works and doesn't work and then apply it to your own writing. Cool! :O)
Robyn Campbell said…
I do this a lot, J. But I wondered what those letter meant attached to my MS sent back from a beta. (I did NOT want to appear dumb, so I couldn't really ask.) Now I know. Whew. Better do a recheck. :0)

Thanks for explaining this time.
Oh, thank you so much. I am going to print this out to refer to later! I'm judging my first contest soon, and editing a novel this summer. These will help me.

I appreciate you!
Keli Gwyn said…
My natural tendency is to explain things in painstaking detail. Having taken to heart the admonition to show and not tell, I RUE-ed during a major rewrite of my story. One of my CPs actually pointed out several places where I needed to explain what was happening so the reader could understand. Finding the balance can be challenging. I put back in what I hope was just enough explanation.
Thanks for your observations, Jess!
Great post, Jessie! And did you make up that acronym? Very clever, and a great way to remember it. I wonder if I over explain in inner narrative sometimes. Hmm. Something to watch for.

Thanks for the reminder. I'll rue the day I forget this rule again! LOL
Melissa Jagears said…
I saw this opposing conflict thing done well in Maid to Match by Gist.

I wrote about it in detail here:

But what I learned was when every character's goal had an opposing goal from another character the book flew effortlessly.
Elana Johnson said…
Dude, great things to consider! I often just have bad things happen to my MC and call it plot. Ugh.
I need to put a post-it on my laptop with RUE on it. Great post!
I struggle with everything, Jessica!!!

But I really like you state we need a proactive MC to create real conflict. Wording it that way makes it so understandable now!
Deb Shucka said…
Great post, Jessica. It remains one of my biggest challenges - knowing just how much is enough, of anything.
I'm conflicted over my conflict - ungh! dang..... no more trilogies for this author *laugh*

I, however, do think I do a good job of not RUEing :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hahaa, Kathryn! So have you finished the third book of the Graces series? I'm so afraid to read the second two because I need a HEA and I don't know if she'll get it in those....??? LOL

Me too, Deb, me too.

Oh Eileen, reading your comment makes me think about how UN proactive my MC is in the story you just read. LOL
Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Jenna, that's great! I still have to remind myself to work on the conflict factor.

Thanks for stopping by, Katie. :-)

Diane, it's def. a good opportunity. :-)

Oh no, Robyn! LOL Well, now you know. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
How fun, Jeanette! I love contests. So you wrote a novel? Why didn't I know this???

Keli, I've actually had that problem too, where I went too far, both in RUE and in backstory. Sometimes I think it's harder to add back in than to cut.

And thanks for stopping by, Cheryl. :-)

Hahahaa, you give me too much credit, Anita! No, I def. did not make up that acronym. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Melissa, I'll have to check out that post. My sister got that book and told me it was excellent, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

LOL Elana. Been there and will
probably be there again.

Jessica, thank goodness for post-it notes, right?
Jennifer Shirk said…
I was wondering what "RUE" was. LOL

You know, it's amazing how much you can learn when judging a contest. That's why I always try to judge at least one contest a year.
But yeah, I'm a littler nervous that my hero has very little conflict. But there's still time to tweek. :)
Tana said…
I hate RUe. I am constantly magnatized to RUE. I must steer clear, I must!!!
Hi Jess -

Great lesson!

Hmm, MC must be proactive and not reactive? I'll have to ponder that one and go over my manuscript.

Susan :)
Terri Tiffany said…
Excellent! I think my biggest mistake is I make my characater reactive and not proactive--going to try to change that in this new one!
Karen Lange said…
Good stuff! I need to keep writing with this in mind.
Jessica, I disagree with you. She was very proactive in struggling to get her journalist story throughout that story. She had a goal and we saw it all the way through the novel, even if she didn't get to achieve that goal, she got her man!!! :) So love HEA's!
Nancy said…
I like what you said about conflict. Can the MC just be looking for happiness or their place in the world when they are confronted with their Wham? Does what they want need to be more specific?
You did such a good job of explaining true conflict. Makes me realize that I need to work a little more on my mc's goal. Great post!

LisaAnn said…
Hi Jessica! I wandered over from Anita's blog, and it's awesome to meet another "inspirational Blog Award" winner! I can't wait to look around further... :)
Angie Muresan said…
I'm just grateful you and all your readers post such fabulous tips. I have a lot to learn.
Anonymous said…
Great post - I don't tend to have the urge too much - but then sometimes I leave the reader clueless... oh so much to think about.

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