Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Problem With Conflict

Conflict is one of the most important ingredients in the recipe of writing a novel. The problem is getting the conflict right. There's a lot of ways for this to go wrong:

1. There's no conflict

When you fall in love with your characters, it can be difficult at times to write about them in a way that portrays them in a bad light or hurts them in some way. We become so attached to them that they're almost like friends and who wants horrible things to happen to their friends?

But the truly good stories are the ones in which the characters struggle for something. It's through trials and pain that the good aspects of every human being, their strengths, are accented. We get to know a character through how they suffer and we grow to admire them or hate them for it.

There is no story without a struggle.

2. The conflict doesn't build

When you write the first pages of a story, there should already be a conflict. That conflict will be resolved a little, but will lead to even more of a conflict afterwards. This builds and builds until you reach the climax of the novel and then resolve the whole thing in the end.

Sometimes, this can be difficult. You might only have one idea for the story and resolve it too quickly and don't know where to go from there. In this case, you need to brainstorm further and come up with more ideas.

Or you might have built and resolved a conflict before developing the characters enough. Part of the reason that the conflict is so terrible to your characters because it's the worst thing that could happen to them specifically. You can't build much conflict unless the reader understands the character and can feel how heart wrenching this conflict would be to this character specifically versus another one.

Or you may have a bunch of different problems through out the whole story that have nothing to do with one another. You're resolving conflicts too quickly and adding new ones to keep the readers entertained. You should focus on only a few, develop them more through foreshadowing and smaller versions of the same conflict earlier in the story and save the rest for sequels.

Your story need to be focused and you need to give your reader enough time to sympathize with the character.

3. The conflict doesn't have a satisfying resolution

Writing the endings to novels is one of the most difficult things to do. You can sometimes build up your conflict to such a large degree that it's difficult to come up with a resolution.

The truth is that most people prefer stories that end in happily ever after. Your story doesn't necessarily have to end with a happily ever after, but it should end with some solution that will leaves your readers satisfied.

Writing endings to stories is one of the most difficult problems in writing for me. While unhappy or bittersweet endings are okay, they are also sometimes lazy. Because it's harder to find a solution for every problem that your characters face in your story than it is to say that it didn't work out for them in the end. I'm good at throwing problems at my characters, but not always good at fixing them. For every conflict, you must come up with the resolution.

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What are some of the most difficult problems you face when writing with conflict?

4 comments:

T.J. said...

Convincing the audience her death was necessary. EVERYONE comes back with...but can't she live? Surely...

No. I've thrown every possibility at her, thought of other possible resolutions, hinted that only her death will stop the conflict.

SC Author said...

Satisfying conclusions are so important. I love 'sad' Tale of Two Cities type conclusions, mainly because it is so bittersweet and also so resolved at the same time.

jwtroemner said...

I think along with increasing conflicts, we need to make them build in different directions. Not just all physical or emotional, but some of each-- maybe some financial, societal, interpersonal, etc. It's a great way of keeping the conflict fresh and interesting, while also raising the stakes.

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