Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare


Written on Tuesday, May 05, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This week, continuing on an analysis of novels, I’m looking at Pamela Clare’s Unlawful Contact, her most recent in the I-Team romantic suspense series. I’ll try not to leave any spoilers, for anyone who hasn’t read it (and if you haven’t, track it down, seriously).

There are two things which stood out to me while reading Unlawful Contact the first time, which I think bear closer examination: POV depth, and external conflict.

Because I don’t know how she achieved that amazing POV depth, I’m going to focus on the external conflict. In most romance novels, we talk about external conflict vs. internal conflict. I only recently realized this was exclusive to romance novels (when I was blabbing to a mystery author and her face got all scrunched up and she looked at me sideways).

But for romance, there are two things holding apart our hero and heroine – the external conflict (jobs, suspense, bad guys, etc) and the internal conflict (fear of intimacy, past trauma, trust issues, etc). And these often (or hopefully) collide all at the same time for the ultimate black moment/conclusion.

And now and then, you stumble upon a novel which breaks the rules. Now, I’m a sucker for internal conflict, as I love angst. I recently read Anna Campbell’s Tempt the Devil, which has almost all internal conflict and little external conflict. Because the focus was entirely internal, the emotional depth and angst was awesome.

In Unlawful Contact, Pamela Clare takes the opposite direction. The external conflict, rather than the internal conflict, is the primary thing holding Marc (our hero) and Sophie (our heroine) apart. Rather than having Sophie not trusting Marc, or Marc being scared of commitment, or any of the other internal issues that keep us all from having perfect relationships, they’re passionately in love.

I found this interesting, because it was the first time I’d seen it. There’s nothing internal holding them apart. They want to be together, they love each other, and they’re desperate to stay together. And yet they know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that they won’t be together beyond the few days they’ve stolen from real life.

The external conflict is so powerful that the readers, as well, are thinking “they’re never going to get out of this. Either Marc dies or goes to prison.” Marc himself says to Sophie, “There’s not going to be a happy ending for us.” There’s no lifetime of bliss in the future, no home and family, no happily ever after. Which makes their love and devotion to each other – that lack of internal conflict – all the sweeter (and of course, since this is romance, and there’s always a happy ending, it just makes the happy ending itself so much sweeter, since I for one, never saw it coming).

This also has interesting implications for the black moment. Usually the best black moments are the collision of the internal and external conflicts, especially in romantic suspense. The hero thinks he’s unworthy of love, so walks away from the heroine, only to have her kidnapped by the bad guy (yes, I’ve used that one – stop laughing now!). Or the heroine, can’t risk another failed relationship, so calls the paramedics to help the injured hero and slips out into the darkness.

But in Unlawful Contact, because there’s not the internal keeping them apart, the black moment is entirely external. And because you *know* how much Sophie loves Marc, you feel her anguish. She’s not holding anything back – and that comes across the reader. She loves him, she knows she’s losing him, and it’s devastating.

Now, I’m not trying to advocate dropping internal conflicts from romance novels. In fact, another book in the I-Team series, Hard Evidence, has phenomenal internal conflict between the hero/heroine.

But for Marc and Sophie, the primarily external plot worked, and worked brilliantly. I think it’s important, as writers, to examine our characters, and really think through conflicts – do these particular characters have primarily an external or internal conflict? Even split? What’s going to make the plot stronger (and the happily-ever-after sweeter)? It won’t be the same with every set of characters.

Any thoughts on the conflicts in Unlawful Contact? Any other books which use primarily internal or external rather than a mix? What do you tend to focus on in your own writing?

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  1. Anna Campbell |

    Gosh, you make Pamela's book sound great! I've got one of her historicals on my TBR pile. I've heard so much great buzz about her writing. Hey, glad you enjoyed Tempt the Devil. Actually the external conflict in that story is the fact that she's a prostitute and he's an earl and society (and his family) would frown on a marriage between them. I agree though that the majority of the book concentrates on their internal issues - and man, did they have lots of those!

  2. haleigh |

    Hi Anna! I'm sure you have writing to do before you can tackle your TBR pile, but definitely move Pamela's to the top!

    Earl vs. courtesan is definitely an external conflict! I just loved that so much of the novel revolved around who the characters were, and who they wanted to become. I think the balance you struck was perfect for those characters. (and I just love angst - sigh *g*)

  3. Pamela Clare |

    Hi, Haleigh,

    Here's a quick second on Anna's book. I just finished reading TEMPT THE DEVIL last night -- yes, last night. I found the characterization to be wonderful. I really felt the H/h struggle to come to grips with their baggage, so to speak. Especially poignant for me was the heroine's anguished background. There are some very touching "healing" scenes in the story.

    So, there you go Anna. That's what I thought of your book. Plus, I have to say the writing was lovely. I can tell you're not an American because you get that British syntax right. Here we say "keep her from walking out the door." You had the British "keep her walking out the door" without the "from." Is that how one says it in Australia, too?

    Haleigh, thanks so much for featuring UNLAWFUL CONTACT on your blog.

    You know, I hadn't thought about the conflict before. At all. There is very little analysis that goes into my writing. I get an idea, and then I write it without necessarily knowing how it's going to turn out.

    The only thing that matters to me when I write is characterization. Plot is obviously important, but it derives from character for me. I never know what my characters are going to do. I'm 2/3 through NAKED EDGE, for example, and I'm not certain who the bad guy is. True.

    Here's the thing I must know: Where does my character's pain come from? Once I understand their pain, I understand them. It's like understanding that one thing opens a door for me to everything.

    In this case, yes, the conflict is largely circumstantial. He's an escaped convict and she's... not. They've got both cops and bad guys after them and Mark knows he's either going back to prison or he's going down. Nothing in between.

    I think it works (thanks for saying that it DOES work) because it's so extreme that one almost doesn't need additional internal conflict.

    They DO have internal issues: there's a bit of a trust problem at first, his sense of unworthiness, his guilt for dragging her into this, her desire to preserve the life she knows and not have that fall apart. But by and large the problem is that he's a convicted murderer on the run and everyone wants to kill him.

    To make that Black Moment work, I had to believe it. I had to believe it was 100 percent real. I was so deep into my characters that I spent the entire weekend CRYING while I wrote that scene. CRYING. Man, oh, man. I went through an entire box of Puffs. It was wrenching. When people told me it made them cry, I said, "GOOD!" because it had been so tough to write in some ways.

    Those are the thoughts off the top of my head. I'm at work writing the cover story, which goes to press tomorrow. I'll check back as I can.

  4. Christi |

    I loved it (as i did all the I-team)- reguardless of more/less internal or external conflict b/c Pamela can make a reader see past the plot lines and tells a story that sucks you into their lives. It is like watching a super-fantastic movie, that you have to "shhhhh" your hubby/mate because you don't want to be drawn out of the moment. Marc and Sophie's relationship was romantically refreshing even if the circumstances of his future were uncertain.

    I personally like heroes/heroines who have less internal conflict, who love each other but life/circumstances keep them from being together. But as a writer of historical fiction, that is not often the case, a lot of "relationships" of that time are forced and eventually end in love.

    There are some authors i have read who overdo the internal angst and it becomes wearysome to read a whole story where the hero or heroine battle themselves until the very end. A good mix is a slow breaking down of the walls the character has built up over the story, glimpses of change within themselves.

    Haleigh, this is a great topic and I am glad you posted it.

  5. Anna Campbell |

    Pamela, in a way, we're lucky in Australia (well, at least when it comes to writing British-set historicals!). We still use a lot of British syntax, especially if you're of a certain age, as, sadly, I am. I suspect the English influence is fading as the years go by but I grew up reading English books and watching English TV shows and the rhythm of the language seeped in. I learned a lot of British history in school. And of course culturally we still have a lot of British stuff - we have the Queen as head of state, for example, although I'm not sure for how much longer.

    We don't use those extra pesky words that you have in American useage. So things like "she took her hand off of him." NUH!!! It's just she took her hand off him (hmm, I wonder what part of him she's taking her hand off!).

    By the way, thank you for saying those lovely things about TTD!!!

  6. Pamela Clare |

    I meant every one of them, Anna. A truly enjoyable read!

    I can see why you would have better access to real British English. Language is such an interesting thing because you really must learn it as a child to use it naturally or truly apply yourself to learn it later.

    I've had to argue with copy editors about such things. If I write from a British character's POV that someone was "at university" or "in hospital" I know that the copy editor is going to think I forgot the necessary article. I always have to watch those and change them back. One told me that she thought everyone would think it was a typo. I told her that I'd rather have Americans think it was a typo than for my British and Aussie readers think I don't know better. LOL!

    And LOL about the hand off OF him. I don't want to think too much about that. :-)

    Christi, thanks so much for your kind words about the I-Team series. The characters seem like friends to me, so it's wonderful to know you like them, too.

    I think the problem with some internal conflict is that it's bogus. The big misunderstanding is an example of conflict that isn't. The rule I go by is: My characters are intelligent and sensitive. Is this going to be something they understand about each other, or do they need to fight with each other/themselves about it? That resolves a lot of conflict. And it's okay that they resolve one point of conflict and find another, which is what Anna's characters do in TTD. That's character growth, as I see it.


  7. Pamela Clare |

    Oh, I should add... At first (SWEET RELEASE, etc.) I was told I didn't have enough internal conflict and was told to make the characters argue. That's what I mean by bogus conflict. I just don't get into meaningless bickering, you know? Maybe you feel the same way, Christi.

  8. haleigh |

    Hi Pamela! So great to get your take on this, since you wrote it and all! I over-analyze everything. While it's fun to analyze later like this, it's probably best you don't while writing :) I never analyze my stuff until I get to the revisions. But I am a plotter (gasp!) so not knowing the bad guy for sure at the 2/3 point would give me a panic attack. You're a braver woman than me! I must say I'm jealous of authors like you and Anna who can just write without plotting. It seems so much organic that way.

    But anyway, back to conflicts -- I love how clearly the conflicts came directly from the characters. And of course there's internal conflict there, esp through the first half. But it works so perfectly for these characters for them to both know how much they love each other early on. Neither of them seem the type to hide their feelings or fight over nothing, especially when they know they have so little time together.

    I think you're exactly right about the extreme-ness of the external conflict (can I make that a new word?) You're right - major internal conflict or misunderstandings would have been over the top. Instead, the absence of the internal conflict, and their obvious love, only made the external conflict more poignant.

  9. haleigh |

    Hi Christi! I agree completely that the internal can be overdone to the point of wearisome melodrama. Especially when it's just misunderstandings. Judith McNaught's "Whitney My Love" comes to mind immediately. I loved the first half of that book, but by the end, I just wanted to slap them both. Unfortunately, the second half ruined my love of the first half.

    Now, I will admit to enjoying some witty banter back and forth, but mindless arguing is annoying to me too *g*

  10. haleigh |

    And Pamela, I'm thrilled you didn't muck up Sweet Release with arguing for the sake of arguing *g*

  11. Lucy |

    Oh, how absolutley wonderful to have 2 of my fave authors on the same blog!!! (Hi Anna/Pam!)

    I must admit that internal conflict is what gets me teary-eyed, hence, is more important to me. Julian's pain at thinking he didn't deserve a HEA in HE makes him so vulnerable under all his alphaness that I just wanted to give him a big hug. That I also wanted to gobble him up is beside the point(g).
    In UC, Marc and Sophie's external problems made their story sweetly poignant but it still had a profound affect on me.
    I adore those 2 books!!

  12. Anna Campbell |

    Hi Lucy! Actually you're one of the many people who told me I just had to read Pam's books. Do you remember, for example, our long discussions on the glory that is Pamela Clare at ARRC in Melbourne in Feb? Pam, I hope your ears were burning!

    Pam, I'm with you on the characters being smart enough to work out at least some of the conflict along the way. What I like, though, is that every time they think they've worked something out, things get WORSE! Love to torture my characters.

  13. Christi |

    Oh heck! I just typed a whole bunch of poinient stuff, but i was signed in under my alter-ego, Addison Burke, and figured ya'll wouldn't figure out it was me, soooooo...
    I summise: I agree with Pamela and Haleigh.

  14. Lucy |

    Anna, I rave on about Pamela's books to everyone but I do remember that discussion too. And I recommended TTD to Pam too. Can't help it...it's the bookseller in me (g).

  15. Anna Campbell |

    Lucy, your efforts are very much appreciated! I love it when people recommend books to me, especially when so far you've never handed me a dud! And thanks for spruiking TTD - I still think word of mouth is the best advertising.

  16. Jessica |

    Inredible post! I love how you're able to look into books and pick stuff apart like that. That's awesome.

    And what's up with these famous authors commenting on your blog? LOL Too cool. :-)

  17. haleigh |

    Hi Lucy - I'm a sucker for angst too :) And Julian in HE just has the perfect mix of vulnerability and alpha. I love his tortured soul!

    Pam & Anna - I'm loving being able to "watch" you two talk on here -- so much fun! Even though you both write different settings, I think you're characterization and emotional depths are similar, and I know you'd love each others books!

    Jessie - I know! How cool is this? Thanks for stopping by :)

  18. Pamela Clare |

    Haleigh, it's funny you should say that about my writing and Anna's. As I was reading TEMPT THE DEVIL, in which the heroine has a traumatic past, I thought, "OMG! I need to send Anna a copy of RIDE THE FIRE." I could say specifically which scene made me feel that way, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

    Christi, I'm so sorry your post didn't go through! I would have loved to have read your thoughts on this in more detail.

    Lucy, you're such a darling to spread the word for those of us who toil at writing. I believe Anna is right — word of mouth is everything. I really so appreciate it. I wish I could have written more about Julian. I adored him. He was very hard to keep out of the limelight in UNLAWFUL CONTACT. He kept wanting to believe it was his book still. I do adore Marc very much too for different reasons.

    Anna, you do that very well. You resolve a point of conflict and then make it much worse. It reminds me -- okay, this is just how my mind words -- of a fugue. You've got a theme, it works toward a kind of resolution, and then it grows more complex and builds toward a climax. I love music, so... That probably sounds strange, but I hope it makes sense.

    Hi, Jessica — I found Haleigh's analysis fun to read, as well. It's really fun to write something and then have people look into it like that. She's very sweet.


  19. Anna Campbell |

    Pamela, isn't that interesting? I tend to think in musical terms when I'm writing too!

    By the way, Haleigh, Pamela and I have a lot more in common than our writing. Just mention Tim Tams to her and watch how fast she moves!

  20. haleigh |

    You know, I have no idea what Tim Tams are, but I've heard Pam talk about them! LOL!

    Pam & Anna - thanks so much for stopping by and discussing this with us! Lucy, Christi & Jessie - thanks so much for joining in!


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