Saturday, June 25, 2011

WORDSMITHING 101 : Damn You, Conflict!

Again, I wasn't able to comment at another blogger's post because of some glitch. T.C. Mckee, I would have had something to say at your blog about your conflict post. And the fact that you were reading until the ungodly hours of the morning. Oh, to be the writer who has held your attention that long. Would we give blood for this? Gold? I wonder.

The question posted was "Is there enough conflict in my WIP?"

How do we, as the writer, know? Unless you have some people who can read your WIP and give you honest feedback, you really don't know. So, how do you know?

This is from my story checklist the main two questions you ask as you do your read through:
1). Were the characters plunged into rising conflicts? - Did the action lag or conflicts become static or jumping?

I also always ask myself  "are the conflicts believable?"AND "have I built up to them enough?"

Jealousy is a good one to work with. It is universal. Everyone knows how it feels. And it doesn't have to be about jealousy over another woman or man. It could be over a pet, a car--anything that the other person is paying a lot of attention to.

Conflict isn't just two people not getting along, or they hate each other for whatever reason. You can have two people who like one another, but disagree at some point about some pivotal thing that is important. Two brothers argue over money, a woman, land, who is going to mind the store, politics etc. But it has to be something important to the story.

What is the main problem in the story? What carries the story along? Is there a mystery to be solved? Who is in the way of that problem or mystery being solved? Could something else also get in the way of the hero/heroine solving the problem or mystery? This is where the conflicts come from.

Also, if the characters aren't likable the conflict doesn't have enough grist to pull the reader along. Who will care what happens to them? I remember not being able to get through the book, A Lovely Bones. I found myself distracted by the writing, and I really didn't care enough about the characters to find out who murdered the girl. To this day I don't have any idea who murdered her, nor do I even care.

So, the next thing you ask is :

2). Are all the conflicts resolved?

If you have a few conflicts that aren't resolved, that's okay, there's always book #2 to resolve them, or attempt to, and bring in new ones!

You might resolve a lover's triangle with a death of one of the players. Jealousy can create all sorts of interesting plots and sub-plots. But having a jealous husband or wife simply kill off the offending other person is sort of crapping out. You gotta make it interesting make it fresh; wow me!

You also want to ask: Does your climax have impact? Was there a surprise? Was the emotional impact powerful enough that the reader either cries, or feels some emotional response that has her wanting more? Does someone die, someone who is likable, someone who the heroine has had a relationship with?

Another question to ask: Have you avoided working up a conflict for some reason where maybe you should have? It might be that you have two characters getting along and you don't want them to be in conflict, but maybe the conflict will work in favor of the plot.

And finally: does each scene have a conflict? What is the objective of the scene and who holds it as though they own it? Is someone holding back the truth? Do they know something that is important to the story and if they told it would ruin the ending? Dialogue is a huge key. It pulls the reader along. Leave somethings unsaid. Have someone lie. Have someone hold a grudge, and it comes out later. Have someone secretly plotting to do ill toward your hero.

All important questions to think on.

Here is an example from something been working on my own WIP, just today. This is an example of one scene in one chapter that I've been working on which has some sort of small conflict. It hampers Sabrina's need to do what she came here to do.

Set up: Sabrina is on another world, where vampires rule, but humans are treated well enough. However there are some creatures called "Dreadfuls" who cause people to become sick and die. No one can kill these things. . . until Sabrina came along. The people she is speaking to are all humans. She's at a ball. She is trying to find her cousin Lindee, and take her home.

Ali floated in. "It's true! I saw her kill one in my room!"

Suddenly I was surrounded by excited faces. Gasps circulated around the crowd of on-lookers.

"How did you do it?" a woman in a pink taffeta gown surged toward me and I had to lean back a little because she was in my space.

"She has a dagger. Don't you?" Ali said.

"Well, yes--"

"But anyone who has ever tried to kill one with any weapon has never been able to kill it!" a man argued heatedly.

"It must be a special dagger," the woman in the ruffled pink taffeta dress, who was still standing in front of me said. She held her champagne in a gloved hand, in an awkward way--this was how everyone held their glass, around the rim--and took a slug. Her face was flushed. I thought that she'd had enough o f the bubbly.


"Magical! That's what it is!" Ali exclaimed.

"Well, then, she must help rid us of these things!" a woman in blue said. I noticed the ruffles of her off-the-shoulder dress had beads threaded throughout. Her fan hung from one wrist, and a matching velvet bag hung from the other. "You know that Dedra has two at her place!"

"Two!" came the other woman's gasp, eyes wide.

Wonderful. I'd never have a chance to find Lindee, and then leave for my world if I was busy placating these people.
Now, get to work!


  1. I love this because to me a great novel is all about some kind of conflict or another. I don't think I've ever used jealousy. I'll have to remedy that...

  2. Hi Lorelie! I'm having posting problems as well. Hopefully, this will post.

    I love the conflict in your story. I love Sabrina, and I really think you do it well. If only, I could reach that level. lol

  3. Lorelei said~
    Jen, first of all, you will. It took me 25 years of trying to reach it, but I don't know, maybe I'm a slow learner. But later this week I'm going to be adressing this over on Shelly's blog. HOpefully I'll get my thoughts together before I have to send it off to her on Tuesday, as I'll be away for a few days.

    Heather, it can be jealousy over anything. Even some special talent someone has, too. You never know what you might come up with. The possibilities are endless. I chose jealousy because it's a very strong, emotionally-tied thing to use for conflict. But my conflict above was more a minor one for Sabrina, who finds herself in a pickle because of what she can do that no one else is able to do. Thus it hampers her search for her cousin.


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