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A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Listen Up, Grasshopper





Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

One way of thinking about it is to dissect life into four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with your feet and hands in each of four colors. That's about how it feels most days, too.)

How does this translate into the art of writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they must try to restore balance through their actions. (In the case of the villain, this is often through unconventional or illegal means.) The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or making the decision they’d rather have oranges.

As a reader (and as a human who strives for balance), I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life path…better them than me, I say. I'd rather live vicariously through them any day. Especially since suspense typically involves some rather stressful (i.e., dangerous) ways of pushing the characters off balance. And the more of those four realms involved, the stronger the conflict.

For example, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life, invading her (social) sanctuary, putting her in (physical) danger, and dredging up (emotional) issues she's shoved aside for much too long. In Avenging Angel, the heroine's world (social & emotional) is rocked when her intern is murdered, and she has the (social) expertise to help find the killer, which puts her in (physical) danger. Beneath it all is the more spiritual concept of hope versus despair, and the desire for justice. My entire Mindhunters series was the result of an extreme imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

Human beings have an innate desire for balance, and stories resonate with people because everyone knows what it's like to have that balance upset...and to try so hard to regain their footing.

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

What are some of the imbalances characters face in the books you’re currently reading (or writing)?

12 comments:

Maureen A. Miller said...

Wow, Anne Marie! You started my morning off with some deep philosophy. You made complete sense. It is so true. Too often I walk that balance beam and list one way or the other.
I was also a big fan of the Kung Fu series. :)

Toni Anderson said...

You are so right. This is why burning the midnight oil doesn't work for me and why simple disruptions throw me off so easily. Great post, Anne Marie.
My characters are being thrown off by death of a father, the heroine's beliefs are about to be proven wrong and the solitude my hero thinks he needs is about to get busted. I really nee balance in my life. Harmony in chaos.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great post, Anne Marie. I need balance in order to write. If I'm pulled too far in one direction, everything else suffers. It's different in my writing, of course. :-) In Backli's Ford, Constance starts off balance and ends somewhat more in balance -- but not completely, so there will have to be a sequel.

Anne Marie Becker said...

@Maureen - I have my deep philosophical moments. :) Good luck on that balance beam!

@Toni - ah, the midnight oil. If I try to do it all, or do too much in one arena, I get headaches. Migraines are my body's way of telling me to back off one area and focus on another. (I try to notice this BEFORE the headache!) Sounds like your characters are being thrown into delicious turmoil. ;)

@Marcelle - hope Constance finds her balance (after you throw her off a bit more. LOL

Rita said...

Heroine has a wicked temper. she doesn't hesitate to reach out an touch when pushed too far. She is an Intelligence office and sees things that light a match to her rocket fuel skying her up on a regular basis. I keep telling her she’s going to get ulcers if she doesn’t find another line of work. She gives me a dirty look and keeps right on. Heavy sigh. What are you gonna do? You make them gorgeous, give them an exciting job, write about them and they still give you grief.
You’re right- balance is what it’s all about. From the tiniest to biggest things in our lives

Anne Marie Becker said...

LOL, Rita. I love her already!

Sometimes it's those tiny things that tip the scales, for sure. And sometimes it's the big things.

Addison said...

Anne Marie:

What a great post and what a neat way to look at how we develop conflict in our books! I smell a workshop in here.... :-)

Addison

Anne Marie Becker said...

Oh, fun idea, Addison! I learned this view of balance from my days as a counselor...have thought about using some counselor tidbits in a workshop, but haven't worked it through. Will have to think on it. ;)

Thanks for stopping by today!

Diana Layne said...

True, true, I've recently had to accept that the many hours working with no sleep is not so good for the body. Like how you relate it to characters.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Diana, I hear you. When I had two really little ones, I didn't sleep for more than a couple hours at a stretch for five years. I tell people I was a different person. My personality changed.

Thank goodness that's over!

The physical things like good health, eating right, exercise, and sleep are just as important as the other elements...they all go together.

Thanks for stopping by!

Autumn Jordon said...

Great blog, Anne Marie. I never thought of conflict that way. (Knocking head on laptop) I don't know why. I'm often out of balance myself, and fight to set the world start. Thanks for the insight.

Oh, I agree with Addison. A workshop please.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thanks for stopping by, Autumn. Here's hoping the world gets back into balance for you - although it's never quite fully balanced, is it? :)

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