Friday, July 29, 2005

Writing & Selling VI

Jessica wrote in comments: The discussion I would like to read most is about conflict. I never seem to have enough of it in my stories and when I brainstorm for ways to increase the conflict I find myself saying, "That would so never happen."

Jessica, your present solution -- " just keep writing and know I'll figure it out eventually." -- isn't a bad one. More often than not, the toughest reader to convince is the author of the story. Sometimes you subconsciously detangle this stuff as you write, though, so pushing through can help.

Back when I started babbling about how I write novels, I mentioned asking a character three questions. Thing is, the characters come from the writer, so you're really asking yourself those questions, i.e. "If I was a bioengineered doctor who wanted to do no harm, what's the worst thing that could happen to me?" The worst thing should be what you believe could happen to such a character.

Our belief systems are all different, and in some part they govern how we write. The more pragmatic you are, the more you'll wrestle with the impractical or unlikely. Wrangle it into a form that it makes sense to you. Example: I don't believe in magic or mythic creatures, but I write around that disbelief by making the magic function only in dreams and turning the mythic creatures into aliens populating another part of the galaxy in a distant future.

I think conflict in fiction needs a good balance of reality and imagination. Enough of the real stuff to make the story resonate with the reader, but not so much that it reads like a lecture or a textbook. You shouldn't go so far off into Imagination LaLaLand that the reader can't make sense of the story, either.

You writers and readers out there, what makes novel conflict work for you? How do you make the conflict you dream up work?


  1. Anonymous11:36 AM

    >How do you make the conflict you
    >dream up work?
    Story questions, e.g. Can X defeat Y? But I'm unpublished, so ignore me.

  2. How do you make the conflict you dream up work?

    I have to be able to rationalize it in my head. If I can specifically point at a character and say she did this or X had to happen to her BECAUSE of Z or whatever then I'm good to go.

    Funny I was thinking about this this morning on the way to work.

  3. Anonymous12:57 PM

    I'm actively involved in conflict avoidance, so coming up with conflict is really difficult for me. The thing that really pisses my wife off is when we start to fight, I think about what she would say to me if the tables were reversed, then toss that in her lap.

    As an active conflict avoider, I generally don't even see conflict. Unfortunately, I and others have seen the lack of conflict in my writing, the characters traveling along the mirrored surface of a pristine lake instead of being embroiled in a hurricane, a waterspout, and a whirlpool, all crashing against the rocks of the same lake.

    It goes down to an emotional level, something I've been successful at shutting out of my life for many years. Crawling out of my emotionally deadened self has been a challenge these past few years and, at my age, the process certainly isn't perfect. That's where I draw my inspiration for conflict, the coming out of my shell, my burgeoning understanding of emotional responses and the consequenses of acting on emotion.

  4. Good question. For me, it's about the characters. The best way to describe what I do is that I get into the heads of every character in the scene, not just the main character or the POV character. Then I write each of them saying or doing what they think will give them what they want from the situation. Since they almost never want the same thing, conflict is inevitable. If they want the same thing, they'll have different ideas about how to get it. They clash because their problem-solving methods differ so much. When a person wants more than one thing, and they're mutually exclusive, he gets to be in conflict with himself.

    Before I can write those conflicts, I have to have characters who have very different personalities and backgrounds from each other. They need to have a different perspective on life. Maybe different values, morals, and ethics. When the conflict is internal, the character usually has values clashing with each other. He can't choose because whichever choice he makes forces him to violate something he holds dear.

    Anyway, that's how I approach conflict, fwiw.



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