Tag Archives | conflict

Characters and instant conflict. Let’s talk.

At times, my life is full of conflict. I struggle to be the best mom possible when two of my kids are exactly like me, that is, a bit strong willed and determined.

My life would be so much easier if I was one of those moms who had patience and love bubbling over like a fountain in some romantic foreign city when their son spills the grape juice from his Flavor Ice onto the newish couch when he knows he’s not supposed to eat in there and it’s now a permanent stain.

Or when that same son yells out early in the morning on a Saturday that he broke the faucet, and everyone is sleeping in or trying to on the one day of the week they can.

Let me tell you, instant conflict.

Does your character offer the most conflict for the situation? That question comes up in SAVE THE CAT. In other words, the main character should be the worst person for the job, because for obvious reasons, there is instant conflict. And a lot of times, adds humor.

Here are some examples from books and movies:

Romancing the Stone: Novelist with no real adventure experience goes off on a crazy adventure with the man of her dreams.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns: Extremely overweight princess with a major carb addiction is born with the Godstone, which means she is meant for greatness.

Harry Potter: Boy with absolutely no wizarding power or experience needs to take down the most evil wizard ever.

Anna and the French Kiss: Anna is sent to a boarding in school in Paris but would much rather be at home in her safe world.

I’d Tell You I love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You: Cammie Morgan falls in love with a boy in town, except she’s been trained to be a spy and knowing 40 languages doesn’t prepare her for her first major crush.

Just think how different these stories would be if the character had been “perfect” for the story.

This is just one method of introducing conflict to a story and starting the emotional arc. I’ve looked and there are plenty of high concept and low concept books that don’t use this method and they are still extremely successful.

Have you ever thought about crafting your character to be the worst possible one for the role? And is there anyway to lift a grape juice stain from a couch? Just askin’.

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Five reasons I might not finish your book.

My kids are out of school in about two weeks, so I’ve really been pushing to get this rewrite done before I take a break from it. But last night my brain was burned out so I picked up a book I started a few days ago.

I stopped reading after six chapters.

Closed the book.

And decided not to finish it.

1. The first chapter was the best.

It had great emotion that made me care about the character. And then the initial conflict dissolved and the emotion evaporated in the next few chapters.

Don’t let this happen to you.

2. Lack of connection to the protagonist.

The story was told in first person and the voice was pretty good. But the internal conflict did not grab me on a personal level. The character would comment on the situation and other people but did not go deeper and make herself vulnerable.

Don’t let this happen to you.

3. Too many characters introduced at once with no connection to any of them.

Just like when we meet a large crowd at a party, it’s hard to remember them. But, if we have a real conversation with one person, we’ll remember them. As a reader we crave that connection. Too many characters with just physical description do not create that bond.

Don’t let this happen to you.

4. Well-worn paranormal plot with a lack luster twist.

An overdone plot really needs a huge twist that makes the reader think this story will be different than all the other ones out there like it that are written better. Without it…well, we all know what happens.

Don’t let this happen to you.

5. Writing that is just okay.

Let’s face it. We all recognize great writing. And when we read a book that combines great writing with a great story, we want to sleep with the book under our pillow and prop it up next to our computer. I think this is where practice and polish comes into play. And some natural talent.

Don’t let this happen to you.

You tell me. What are some reasons you’ve stopped reading?

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Just add a spider.


Adding a spider to your shower is an extremely effective way to learn about adding tension. (Okay, so it wasn’t a tarantula or a Black Widow, but that’s beside the point. Really.)

As writers we know about adding conflict to our stories. But what about micro tension? That moment to moment suspense that makes a reader want to turn the page. We all want it. Here’s what I learned.

Put something in the scene that your character isn’t aware of at first  – let’s say a spider.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say your character is taking a shower – a simple mundane act that we usually don’t include in our stories. (I’m thinking about all the scary scenes from movies that take place in showers.) It could be any scene. But if it is a shower, make it a small stand-up shower without a lot of wiggle room.

In this scene, your character is naive, happy, going about her business. The story is moving forward.

Next, your character becomes aware of the spider.

And here is where the tension starts to rise. Even though the spider isn’t moving and is minding his own business, show the physical response in your character- like panic. Your character continues on in the scene, but is fully aware of the spider.

Then, the spider moves all eight of its legs, stretching, reaching. (Probably annoyed at the water splattering him.)

The original problem just became worse. The tension increases. Your character will find it extremely hard to continue what she was doing, but perseveres, hoping that the spider is just stretching before settling down for a long winter’s nap. Right.

Worse yet, the spider starts to move across its web.

Now, the character has lost all motivation in her original mundane act of showering. She is paralyzed, her eyes riveted on the arachnid, hoping he’s just repositioning.

But we can always make it worse for our main character. Right?

Now, the spider leaves its web and crawls down the side of the shower. This is the final act of terror that causes the main character to fumble with the shower door, open it, and grab for the tissues. And as your main character’s heart rate increases, so will your reader’s.

But no solution comes quick and easy.

Now the focus of your scene has switched from the mundane act to a highly stressful situation, fully focused on the main character’s predicament. She attempts to kill the spider in a single, quick act of violence (much against her character).  But the spider drops to the floor, its legs wiggling. The main character screams and jumps out of the shower.  Then she proceeds to take care of the problem with a lump of soggy tissues.

One last step. Show the recovery.

Your main character is shaken up, trembling.  After a few deep breaths, she resumes with her mundane act of showering. She is no longer naive and happy but totally creeped out.

So, there you have it. Just as tension rises from scene to scene, the smaller tension within a scene should rise to. And if you’re not sure how to add that micro tension – just add a spider. (Trust me, you’ll get the message loud and clear.)

How do you keep tension on every page, every paragraph, every line? I’d love to hear.

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