Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Let 'em Have It!

Ask a Miss America contestant what she wants and chances are she's going to reply, "World peace."

The hippies' movement is known for the chant, "Make love, not war." They made peace signs of all sizes and psychedelic colors famous.

But fiction requires conflict. So make a little war between your characters. Now's the time to pick your battles, start a skirmish, engage in a fight. Create conflict. This week, I critiqued a new writer who's a kindhearted person. She's known as a peacemaker among friends and family. Her lovely heroine is starting a new life, transitioning from a successful career as a manager to owning a small business. Not a detail goes awry. Everything quickly falls into place. I'm envious. I want this gal's life!

But I don't want to read this book. No conflict causes me to wonder what will happen next. No tension forces me to stay up past my bedtime to read one more chapter.

Don't fall in love with your characters--well, maybe a little with your hero. Selling fiction writers aren't nice to their characters. You've still got to let 'em have it. Write conflict into every chapter, preferably scene. After all, if the scene doesn't have conflict, you've got to ask,"Why is it there?"

Don't make these common mistakes:
--Bickering between two characters isn't page-turning conflict.
--Riveting fiction isn't built on a misunderstanding that can be cleared up between a conversation.

Great conflict doesn't result from events that happen to the characters--other than the inciting incident that sets the story in motion. Rather, riveting fiction results from choices the characters make. Get to know your character's goals and motivations, and you know exactly the opposite roadblocks to stop them from obtaining their dreams until the very end. Discover the lies they believe keep them enchained in the past, unable to hope for happiness until you give your characters their happily ever after--and your readers their great read.

Great resources
to learn to write better conflict are Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict; James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure; and Susan May Warren's From the Inside ... Out.

~Roxanne Sherwood


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beth K. Vogt said...

I'm reading James Scott Bell's book and it's excellent! And I carry Susie's book around with me. I agree with you: While I wish my real life was conflict free, I like to wreak havoc on the characters in my WIP! As writers, we're taught to ask, "What's the worst thing that can happen?"--and then we write that scene!