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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Putting Conflict in your Writing

by Ann Lethbridge
Not so long ago, I attended a workshop given by Donald Maas, and among the many things I learned, I keep remembering one of them. No one ever complained that a story had too much conflict. I took this message too heart and each time I write a page I am asking myself-- enough conflict? How can I make it worse for my hero and heroine?
We only have to look at the newspapers to know that people love conflict. Journalists focus on the bad news, not the happy stuff, because it is conflict that sells newspapers. Remember the Volcano that had Europe closed down in May? I think we got to the point where everyone could say its name. But since it is not causing anyone any trouble at the moment, not a word can be found.
It is conflict that fascinates readers. The conflict our characters face. Characters they care about. Real conflicts that readers can relate to. Not misunderstandings e.g. the heroine seeing the hero with another woman, who happens to be his sister, though she doesn't know it. This is not conflict, at least not for more than a moment or two. It is a misunderstanding. But if the hero lies about who the woman is, perhaps because his sister is an undercover cop, that is conflict for both of them. He is conflicted because he will want to tell her the truth. She is conflicted because she wants to trust him, but now.....
Certainly a villain can create lots of conflict. But what fascinates us most is the conflict facing the protagonists. The choices have to be between a sucky choice and a suckier choice - this last is my critique partner Molly O'Keefe's favorite saying.
A character conflicted about their choices will keep a reader turning the page.
A heroine who has to choose between her beloved father's freedom and her own virtue is going to have conflict.
A man forced choose between helping his brother and helping a woman in danger and doing either will cause harm to the other, is going to have conflict. He is going to try to do both. But finally he is going have to choose.
Conflict on every page. It is one of the keys to making your manuscript a page turner.


Kathryn Albright said...

You are so right, Ann! Funny how we love conflict in fiction but not in real life! In real life, it's all about clearing out or avoiding the conflict --being the solution to rather than the source of (conflict.) Must have something to do with living it vicariously--otherwise we'd all be stressed out!

Michele Ann Young said...

Kathryn, so true!

Sally said...

I think it could not have been better stated than "choosing between a sucky choice and a suckier choice". That is memorable. Thanks Molly for saying it and Ann for sharing it.

peggy said...

I agree could not of said it better.

Margaret West said...

Great info. I'll bear his in mind. I don't want to have sucky moment in my books lol