Sunday, May 17, 2009

On conflict and torturing your characters

If you've been writing any amount of time, you know that conflict is what makes a reader turn the page. Conflict drives the plot. I've heard a million times, that when you don't know what else to do-say you hit a boring part of your story or you find your middle sagging and dull and lifeless-then torture your characters. Conflict pulls them together. (It's us against the world, baby.) Conflict tears them apart. (I can't believe you betrayed me like that.)

You have internal conflict. (I swear I won't eat another one of those luscious dark chocolate brownies...with nuts... and icing...sitting right there...) And you have external conflict. (The landlord is going to evict you if you don't pay the rent on time.)

Each scene in your book should have some form of conflict, but the conflict must move the story forward. Having your character hiding chocolates in their closet can be conflict if it moves the plot. For instance-mother can't find out about my addiction to chocolate. She already thinks me weak and will disown me. Without her money I won't have anywhere safe to stay while I search for the emperor's lost tomb. The tomb must be discovered in the next 48 hours or the world will end...

So, yes, torture your characters, deny their desires but remember: do it with purpose. Torture for torture's sake is useless and will turn the reader off.

For example: arguing with a neighbor can be conflict but if you do it simply to show that the characters neighbors are nuts-cut it. It does not move the story along. If, however, the neighbors stand in the way of your characters ultimate goal, then keep the scene it moves the story along.

Finding the right quality and quantity of conflict in a story is like walking a high wire. Too much and the reader will put it down as misleading and ridiculous. Too little and the reader will be bored. Putting together the right amount of conflict takes practice but with time and a judicious eye, you can learn to create a combination of conflicts that grabs the reader and keeps them asking for more.

9 comments:

Jessica said...

Awesome, awesome post Nancy! This is something I've been needing to read. Thank you!

KLo said...

Excellent points raised here ... valuable food for thought as I'm in the midst of a major revision and have been trying to figure out what to do with some slow parts. Thanks : )

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks! Glad to know I could nudge you in a good direction.

Pamala Knight said...

Extraordinary post Nancy dear. I agree with the other posters--this advice is very timely. You have a gift for explaining things in a clear and concise manner, so thank you for that.

You're awesome!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Boy doesn't it take practice. :-) Getting the right combination is tough sometimes.

I like the way you demonstrated inner and external conflict Nancy. Good job. Great post.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Once again, very good advice. Funny, I've had that very same internal conflict over brownies many times!

Jane Kennedy Sutton
http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

Justus M. Bowman said...

Hmm, I'll try. But I sure wants to love me characters!

Marilyn Brant said...

A wonderful writing post, as usual, Nancy!

Give me time, though, and I'll make that "eating a brownie" thing external as well as internal conflict :). I could write an entire novel series on that premise!!

Morgan Mandel said...

It definitely helps to keep those conflicts going and growing. Make the poor reader sweat it out with the characters.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com