Monday, September 12, 2011

Conflict: What it is and What it Isn’t

I'm excited to have Shirley Jump in Seekerville today! Shirley and I have been friends and critiqued for almost fifteen years. Each time Shirley visits Seekerville she shares her wisdom on some aspect of craft or the business of writing. Today her topic is conflict. Conflict is story. So obviously we writers need to understand what it is and what it isn't.

Without further ado, here's Shirley!

All books have conflict. And ironically, it’s one of the things that writers struggle with over and over again. If you remember this: conflict is the events, things, people and emotional issues that stand in your character’s way, then it becomes easier to pinpoint the conflict in your story. Conflict is, at its essence, what prevents a character from achieving his or her goal, whether it’s because of their own fears or outside events.


An Argument: Your characters can argue, of course, but good conflict is not a disagreement that can be solved with a few quick words. The last thing people want to read about is other people fighting for an entire book. If one character yells at another, they must have a STRONG and BELIEVABLE motivation for doing so. It’s not just fighting for fighting’s sake.

A Delay: Conflict is not a wait in traffic or an alarm clock going off. That doesn’t raise the stakes or increase the tension, unless the wait in traffic is caused by the killer who is after your hero and wants to corner him so he can shoot him in the head. The ordinary frustrations that fill our days are not conflict. They are simply frustrations, and they don’t increase the tension.

A Conversation that Needs to Be Had: That’s called a conversational conflict—meaning if the characters just talk for two minutes, they’ll clear things up. That can work for a scene or two but if you carry it on too long, your reader begins to wonder what is wrong with a character who can’t ask that question he’s dying to ask or that heroine who doesn’t just tell the hero the truth. If the characters are keeping information to themselves, they need to have a darn good reason—again, a believable motivation—and there must be a cost to keeping that information secret. Meaning, things must get worse with every minute they keep their mouths shut. There are consequences to the decisions your characters make.


Important to the Character: When something gets in your character’s way and stops them from reaching their goals, it must be important. A man who is cut off from civilization by a snowstorm would be annoyed if he was going to miss a meeting, but if the stakes were higher and the snowstorm keeps him from reaching his stranded child, then the conflict of being stuck becomes important. Then the reader cares and wants to see your hero figure a way out of that mess.

Issues That Stem From Character Pasts: The best conflict is created by the character’s themselves and their perceptions about the world. The woman who was abandoned as a child is going to have attachment issues, and thus, she won’t be able to get close to or trust the one person she needs to. Dig deep into your character’s lives and figure out what makes them tick, what they are afraid of, and what has shaped their personalities. Use that to create conflict tailored just to them.

Something that Forces Them to Change: We get out of the sun when it gets too hot. We put up an umbrella when the rain turns from mist to torrential downpour. People don’t change unless they are forced to, and conflict is that catalyst to change. They must face their deepest fears, and overcome their greatest challenges, in order to attain what they truly want.

It’s About Character: If you remember that conflict comes FROM your character, is what DRIVES and/or PARALYZES your character, then you create a book that stems from character, not from plot. Plot-driven books are mostly about external forces on a character, whereas character-driven books are mostly based on the internal workings of your character. In turn, that creates a more emotional read, which draws the reader in and makes your book not only more compelling but more memorable.

It’s Both Internal and External: That said, you want to be sure you have both internal (emotional) and external (physical) conflicts. A character’s fear of abandonment (internal) will affect how she reacts when she is left alone at the wheel of a runaway train (the external).

It is Opposition to the Character Goal: That opposition can, and should, come in many forms. Let’s do an example to show you what I mean:
In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett wants to save Tara. She will do whatever it takes to save the family farm. Emotionally, she is connected to Tara because it connects her to her father. However, the sudden death of her father has left her wounded and afraid to get close to anyone else. When the one man she thinks she loves marries another, her fear of abandonment is multiplied, which eventually makes her avoid getting too close to Rhett.
Internal conflict: fear of abandonment, fear of losing the world and home she loves, her “love” for Ashley
External conflict: Civil war, Rhett, society
In the best books, the internal and external conflicts are intertwined and impact each other. The Civil War takes away Scarlett’s world, and her home, and creates constant worries and stresses for her. Her fear of abandonment prevents her from getting close to the one man who truly loves and understands her—Rhett. And society’s judgment and choices for a woman in those days makes it extremely difficult for Scarlett to save Tara without a husband (which is why she marries Frank). Her love for Ashley prevents her from seeing Rhett as her true love, and Rhett’s abandonment of her at the end is her worst nightmare. However, by the end of the book, she has learned she is stronger than she thought, and this growth allows her to overcome the moment and rise again.

Here’s an excerpt from my latest release, THE PRINCESS TEST, that shows you how you can use the characters, the environment and the words the characters don’t say to show the conflict. A little setup—Daniel, the hero, is a reporter who doubts Carrie is truly a princess. He’s at the library with his little girl when he runs into Carrie:

>> The little girl with Daniel stared up at Carrie, her blue eyes wide and curious. “You’re a princess? A real one?”

Carrie bent down slightly. “I am.”

The little girl’s mouth opened into a tiny O. “Wow.” She tilted her head and gave Carrie a curious look. “Where’s your crown?”

“Back home in Uccelli, where I come from.”

“But don’t princess always hafta wear a crown, so everybody knows they’re special?” (THIS IS A KEY COMPONENT OF THE STORY…WHAT MAKES A PRINCESS?)

“Princesses are special every day, Annabelle.” Carrie gave the girl a smile…(skipped section)

“Well, well,” Daniel said after the couple left the room. “Seems the princess angle is good for sales.” (HERE’S HIS CONFLICT IN BELIEVING HER…IS SHE DOING IT FOR SALES?)

She bristled. “That isn’t why I told people who I am.” (SHE’S TIRED OF A SKEPTICAL MEDIA, CONFLICT FOR HER BETWEEN THEM)

He arched a brow. “It isn’t?”

“Of course not.” She glared at him. “You always see the worst in people, don’t you?”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because you people are jaded and bitter and think everyone is lying.”

His face hardened and she knew she’d struck a nerve. “Well perhaps if people didn’t tell us lies all the time, reporters wouldn’t be so jaded.” (AND PART OF HIS CONFLICT STEMS FROM A TIME HE WAS LIED TO)

“I’m not—“

“Here, read this one.” The little girl thrust a book between them. Then she leaned in closer to her father and lowered her voice. “And Daddy, you’re not supposed to fight with a princess.” (NOW ANNABELLE BECOMES PART OF THE CONFLICT BY REMINDING THE ADULTS TO HAVE GOOD BEHAVIOR AND FORCING THEM TOGETHER)

The lines in Daniel’s face softened, and the hard edge disappeared. He bent down to his daughter’s level and took the book from her hands. “You’re right, Belle.”

She beamed, then spun on those plastic pink shoes and thrust out a hand toward Carrie. “I’m Annabelle. I’m not a princess, but I wanna be one really bad.” (ANNABELLE’S BELIEF IN PRINCESSES IS A CHALLENGE TO CARRIE’S CONCEPTION OF HERSELF AS A PRINCESS, ANOTHER CONFLICT)

Carrie laughed, and shook the little girl’s hand. Five fingers, so delicate, so soft, and so reminiscent of herself and her sisters. “I’m Carlita Santaro, but you can call me Carrie.”

“Princess Carrie.” Annabelle glanced up at Carrie, all smiles and apple cheeks. “I like that name.”

“Me too.” Carrie glanced at Daniel. He’d tamed his go-for-the-jugular reporter side for now. But how long would that last? In the end, she knew where his type gravitated—to the story. Regardless of the consequences or fallout. But a part of her wanted to know if a guy who could look at his daughter with such love in his eyes could be different. Still, her instincts told her to keep her distance. (A WHOLE PARAGRAPH OF CONFLICT!) “I should go.”

“Stay,” Annabelle said. “’Cuz, Daddy’s going to read a story and he’s really good at reading stories.” (CONFLICT…UPSET THE LITTLE GIRL OR GO?)

“Oh, I don’t think I should—“

But the little girl had already grabbed Carrie’s hand and was tugging her in Daniel’s direction. “You can sit ova there. I can sit ova here. And Daddy,” the girl stopped in front of her father, propped one fist on her hip, and gave him a stern look, “you can read.”

Daniel let out a laugh, then sent Carrie an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. Annabelle can be…demanding.”

“Daddy! I’m not ‘manding. I’m nice.”

He chuckled again. “Yes, Belle, you are nice. The nicest little girl in the world.”

Annabelle beamed and the love between father and daughter seemed to fill the small colorful space. This other side of Daniel Reynolds surprised Carrie, but she refused to soften her stance about an interview about herself. She’d seen a hundred times how trusting someone from the media could turn around and bite her. Hadn’t they been painting her as the “extra” princess for years? As if the royal family could discard her because she’d never be queen.

How did she know this guy wouldn’t do the same? Or worse, just make something up?
No, if she allowed him into her world, it would be to talk about Uccelli’s wines. And nothing more. And all the while she’d be wary, and not trust him.

But as she watched him interact with his daughter, a part of her wanted to believe he was different. That she could trust him. (CONFLICT IN THOSE THREE PARAGRAPHS…TRUST HIM OR NOT??)

“Come on,” Annabelle said, tugging on Carrie’s hand again. “You gotta sit down or Daddy won’t read. It’s a…” she glanced at her father for the word.

“Rule,” Daniel supplied. Then he shrugged and smiled again. “Sorry, but it is.”

Carrie thought of leaving. Then she caught Daniel’s smile again, and something about it hit her square in the gut. He had a lopsided smile, the kind that gave his face character and depth, and had her following Annabelle to the square of carpet on Daniel’s right. As soon as Carrie lowered herself onto the small space, Annabelle scrambled over to his opposite side, plunked down on her bottom and plopped her chin into her hands. “Read my story, Daddy.”

He arched a brow.


“Okay.” He turned the cover of the book and then shot Carrie a glance. “Seems Belle has picked The Princess and the Pea. You know, the fairy tale about the woman they suspect is masquerading as a princess.” (MORE CONFLICT! THIS IS THE CORE OF THE MATTER)

“I love that story,” Annabelle said, completely oblivious to the hidden conversation between the adults. “’Cuz it’s got a princess in it. I love princesses.”

“Then by all means, I think you should read it,” Carrie said to Daniel.

“I think I should, too. Refresh my memory.” He leaned back against a beanbag chair, and Annabelle curled up next to him, laying her blonde head on his chest so she could see the pictures as he read.

The father-daughter picture before her filled Carrie with a rush of sentiment. On the rare occasions when her mother had been home at night and around at bedtime, she’d made it a rule to read the girls at least one story, sometimes two. Always a fairy tale, because she said those were the kind of stories that taught you to dream. Carrie leaned against the bookcase, as enthralled as the little girl in Daniel’s arms.

She’d stay just a minute, no more, and only because Annabelle had asked her. She didn’t want to intrude. Or get any closer to this man. (CONFLICT!)

“Then she took twenty mattresses and laid them on top of the pea,” Daniel read, his quiet voice seeming to spin a magical web, “and then twenty elder-down beds on top of the mattresses.”

“Twenty?” Annabelle asked and fluttered her fingers as if she was counting that high. “That’s lots.”

“It is indeed,” Daniel said, then turned another page. “On this the princess had to lie all night. In the morning she was asked how she had slept.” He paused. “What do you think, pumpkin? Was she a princess after all, or another imposter?”

“What’s a ‘poster?”

“Well, Belle, that’s a person who pretends to be something they’re not.” He closed the book, glanced at Carrie and arched a brow. “Would you agree, Miss Santaro?”

“I think lots of people pretend to be something they aren’t.” (AND THIS, FOLKS, IS A MAJOR PART OF THE STORY…PEOPLE HIDING THE TRUTH FROM THEMSELVES AND OTHERS)

“You have a point,” he said. Their gazes met and for a moment, it felt like détente. Like they were starting something. What, Carrie wasn’t sure.

“Daddy, you gotta read. I wanna know if the princess lives happy ever after. And so does Princess Carrie.” (AND ISN”T THAT THE REASON FOR READING A ROMANCE?)

Daniel glanced at Carrie, and arched a brow. A teasing grin darted across his face. Was he…flirting with her? Or merely playing into Annabelle’s game. “Well, Princess Carrie? Do you want me to keep reading?”

She waved toward the book. “Please do, Mr. Reynolds. I’m dying to hear how this one ends.”

His gaze met hers and something hot pooled inside her. “I am too,” he said. Then he opened the book again and began to read.<<

Make the conflict important to the character and it will be to the reader, too. Dig deep to get to know your characters better, and use that information to create fully formed people who have to face their deepest fears in order to achieve their goals. Conflict is one of the best tools in the writer’s arsenal, so use it to create the best book possible!

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance and women’s fiction to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. Visit her website at or read recipes and life adventures at

Shirley is giving away The Princess Test and A Princess for Christmas, in a two-pack of the first two princesses of Ucelli stories, to one reader selected from those leaving a comment.

Janet again. In honor of Shirley's Princess books, I brought a breakfast fit for royalty. Cheese blintzes, Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce, an assortment of rolls and scones, fresh fruit, coffee and a selection of the finest teas. While we eat, let's talk conflict.


KC Frantzen said...

What a great post, Shirly. Thank you! How did you know it's just exactly what I need?!!!

Going to print off so I can really savor and understand...

(and YUMMO food today - thank you Janet!)

Helen Gray said...

Plenty of coffee will be ready at 3 a.m.

In real life I avoid conflict, so it's not always easy for me to steer my characters through genuine conflict.

Thanks for the tips.


Janet Kerr said...

Wow Shirley,

This is just what I was looking for. Looking for conflict in every scene...I am printing it now!

Thanks so much,


Anonymous said...

Just what i was seeking.

Laney4 said...

Ahhh, sounds like real life to me! Sometimes I need a knock on the head re things I KNOW I should be doing but don't do (like getting mammograms as regular as clockwork). I appear so organized that friends would never think I'd let something go like that (yet I know better).
Thanks for sharing, Shirley. It's great to see you here. Would love to read your stories.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Cheese blintzes! Oh my stars, even if Shirley wasn't so dadgum talented, you had me at hello!


cheese blintzes!

Shirley, welcome back to Seekerville! So nice to have you here and what great examples... Wonderful.

Helen, I sneaked in early for coffee... this second cup is even better. You've outdone yourself, woman.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, KC! I'm enjoying May's adventures. With that pup around, you need a good breakfast. :-)

conflict is a tough bone to gnaw. Shirley's post helped me too!


Janet Dean said...

You make a great point, Helen! Some of us are peacemakers. Not what our characters should have until their HEA.

Thanks for the coffee!


Glynna Kaye said...

Welcome, Shirley! And thank you for the great tips and illustration of how you weave in the conflict!

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Janet! Shirley is full of wisdom, an excellent teacher and writer. Glad her post resonated with you!


Janet Dean said...

Laney4 and anonymous, seems like a princess should be problem free. NOT with Shirley writing their stories. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Morning, Ruthy! You're up and at em early, as usual!

Love cheese blintzes, too. The blueberry sauce adds a burst of flavor.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Glynna! To weave in conflict has a lovely sound to it. But getting it right isn't easy.


Shirley Jump said...

Thanks to Janet and the great ladies here for having me!

You're so welcome, KC! Glad to help!

Helen, I love being able to make my characters go through all the stuff I avoid ;-)

Jan and Anonymous--glad the post is a help!

Shirley Jump said...

Laney--I really find that is the core of all my stories. My favorite poem in the entire world is "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by TS Eliot. That's the whole theme of that poem. It's the basis of lots of my work. :-)

KC Frantzen said...

"seems like a princess should be problem free."

Two words - Roman Holiday!

Shirley Jump said...

LOL, Ruth, at the cheese blintzes. DH ran to the store late last night and bought me a cake, just because I'd had a hard month, so that was my breakfast. Gotta love that guy :-)

Glynna, glad you enjoyed the post!

Shirley Jump said...

FYI to all, I'm also doing a month long of blog posts on writing tips and motivational posts on

There's two motivational ones up right now--my quitting story and one on finding time to write. Also yesterday was my Ten Tips for Taking a Book from Good to Sold. So if you didn't get enough here, LOL, stop on by!

KC Frantzen said...

Shirley! Just reread that about doggie doubles as vacuums. I remember that from last time you were here. Still makes May BOL...

Janet - so glad you are enjoying May's adventures. She gets into it doesn't she?

Thanks for bringing that up because I'm CONFLICTED! We're working on book 2. We have some obvious conflicts but need to work on the BIG conflict.

The bad guy is still on the loose to be hunted again in #2, and #3. There's a pattern!

So - we need some interim conflict with other characters while he's in the background wreaking havoc and then a showdown (Where's Mary, right? May will need to shoot somebody!)

But I've not come up with a juicy conflict throughout and then a plausible showdown... yet.

So - I'm plotting (ack - this is HARD) using the Snowflake Method but there are gaping holes without that info firmly in mind...

Book 2 May ends up in Paris, alone, and runs into a feral cat who lives in a cemetery. He teams up with her... and... This is where I'm struggling without knowing that overall conflict.

Your turn to talk conflict! :)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good Morning Shirley and welcome to Seekerville. Wow, what a teaser to start the morning with and I'm not close to a store.

You gave us some great samples of external versus internal conflict. Thank you.

And Janet, the blintzes are yummy. I feel like a princess this morning. smile

Shirley Jump said...

KC, not sure what "May BOL" means. Maybe I've haven't had enough coffee, LOL.

With the interim conflict, IMO, you don't want to consider it "interim"--you want it to be integral to the plot. So that you can look at it as book-length. If two characters team up, the best way to keep them conflicted is to give them different agendas. Like the vengeful father hunting his daughter's kidnapper who teams up with the cop who wants to put the kidnapper behind bars. You've got one character who wants to kill the kidnapper and another who wants to bring him to justice. Or maybe one of them is secretly looking to team up with the kidnapper to find a buried fortune. Those conflicting goals keep the reader hooked because she knows at some point, that's going to come to a head. Someone is going to lose, someone is going to win.

Even in THE PRINCESS TEST, Daniel's goal is opposite to Carrie's. He wants to expose her in the media, she wants to keep a low profile. The reader, who learns relatively early on that there is a secret that will be exposed if Daniel gets his wish, is in on the conflict too--when you're rooting for both characters, it's hard to see one of them "lose." And it presents a challenge to the author, in how to create a happy ending :-)

Shirley Jump said...

You're welcome, Sandra!

And hey, there's always Amazon :-)

KC Frantzen said...

Thanks Shirley,

Whoops. BOL is Barking Out Loud. My heroine is May the K9 Spy. :) I write middle grade adventure...

In book 1, the evil plot is thwarted, but the bad guy slips through. ("Humans... So unaware.")

So that's the challenge for me in 2, for the bad guy to be there in the background plotting evil things, while May and this feral French cat share adventures in/around Paris... And with a nod to Seekerville, we'll have a flight attendant and embassy person as a romantic interest! :)

Book has a happy ending, but leaves room for book 3. (I have in mind something for that already, or... if the series is going well, it can be extended. You know how kids enjoy long series.)

I'm still really thinking about your excellent tutorial and appreciate your comments so much. Wonderful to sit at the feet of the masters here!!!

Jamie Adams said...

Great post! Just what I needed. As a writer I have a hard time with conflict because as a reader I've read more than a few books that I had to put down because the delays were killing me. When you're pulled in emotionally you really want to get to that happy ever after.

Like Helen conflict is something I avoid in real life. I'm not the kind of person you want to sit next to while watching a suspenseful movie that I've already seen. It's a rule in our house that I can not tell what's coming next no matter how dire the situation.

I've really got to learn to let people sweat it out.

Pam Hillman said...

Ooohhh, Carrie and Daniel's story definitely has LOTS of conflict. Loved the excerpt, and Belle is the perfect puppet master!

Loved it!

Shirley, so glad to have you in Seekerville today.

Could you tell us a bit more about how you came up with the idea for The Princess Test?

A reporter and a princess.

Now that's ultimate conflict!!!!

Diana Prusik said...

Bookmarked! Thanks for such excellent info.

Mary Connealy said...

The best conflict discription I remember is:

Whatever she has to have to survive, has to destroy him.

If you can come up with something that sweet, you're golden.

Of course most of the conflict is emotional destruction or financial destruction. Not DEATH.
If he succeeds at his dream job, her business will be destroyed.

If he wins custody of his long lost--believed to be an orphan -- son, whom she is raising, her heart will be broken.

Jan Drexler said...

Thanks for the great post, Shirley.

Conflict is so difficult. I'm with Helen, it's one thing I've been taught to avoid in real life (drives my dear husband crazy), and so it's hard to work with it in my writing. I just hope it doesn't sound as forced as it feels.

Your points about "what conflict is" have helped clear up things for me. I'll have to post them on my white board to keep the in front of me!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Shirley! So nice to have you back in Seekerville with another insightful and instructive post!

"A Conversation that Needs to Be Had." That is exactly what burned me out on soap operas many years ago. How many days/weeks/months/years can script writers drag out characters' avoidance of a simple conversation that could set things straight instantly? So annoying!

Casey said...

Why is conflict so difficult??

The post was GREAT, thank you! I especially loved you wrote what is NOT conflict, which is great, because thos kind of events usually find themsevles sneaking into my fiction.

As I'm plotting my third contemporary novel, I'm working to get down the internal and external conflict, which I know will help me as I write the story.

Great to read more about you Shirley!

Shirley Jump said...

Pam, I usually try to come up with what a character's worst nightmare is when I plot a book. A character who is seeking peace and quiet will become the center of attention (The Princess Test).

Also, a funny side story about the two princess books. A while back my editor came to me and asked me to write a ranch book. Those who know me know I am as far from ranches as the moon from the sun. My experience with horses is pretty much limited to visiting them in the zoo at the farm exhibit, LOL. I told her I'd rather do a princess book, and that's how the country of Uccelli and Princesses Mariabelle and Carlita were born :-) I have one sister left so if sales are good on Carrie's book, I'll get to do that one too. :-)

Shirley Jump said...

KC--LOL at BOL! Cute! Glad the comments were helpful!

Jamie, I also have to pipe down during movies because I'm always guessing the plot. I was thrilled to watch one last night where I was wrong lots of plots that surprise me. The movie was Get Low with Robert Duvall (amazing actor) and I kept thinking there'd be this detour or that one, but in the end, the movie didn't take the predictable twists (KWIM? Those twists movie makers ALWAYS use). I liked that.

Shirley Jump said...

Mary--that's pretty much my approach. I give each of my character's their worst nightmare (and it can just be the quiet librarian saddled with the outrageous jokester) and that creates instant conflict. And forces the character out of his/her comfort zone.

Shirley Jump said...

Diana--glad you enjoyed the post!

Myra--I felt the same way about soap operas. For goodness sake, just tell him he's your brother's cousin's child by the neighbor's ex-husband!

LOL, Casey, I agree. But if writing was easy, we'd all be Nora Roberts :-)

Jan--I think if you create situations that naturally arise out of your character's weaknesses (the woman who can't keep her mouth shut accidentally blabs a big secret) then characters create their own conflict. In essence, they dig their own holes. KWIM?

Lorna Faith said...

Thanks for giving such great examples of conflict. That's what I'm working on right now in my this was a big help:)
I would love to be entered for a chance to win one of your books Shirley!


lornafaith at gmail dot com

Shirley Jump said...

Glad to help, Lorna! Hope the writing goes well :-) And fingers crossed for a win! :-)

Missy Tippens said...

Shirley, it's so good to have you back! Such a great post. Conflict is one of the hardest things for me to do. These were great examples!

Also, I just loved your bio!! Love those vacuum cleaner dogs. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Helen, I'm the same way. I'm taking an online class right now, and we're studying personality types. Figured out I'm a peacemaker. Make conflict difficult for me!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Laney! So true.

Now go get that mammogram!!

Joanne Sher said...

LOVE when Shirley drops by - an AMAZING teacher! And I love love LOVE eggs benedict AND cheese blintzes. I'm a VERY happy lady!

Have been working on heightening the conflict in my current WIP - and this will be so INCREDIBLY helpful.

And, OF COURSE, I want the books ;) please enter me.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Shirley,

Ah, yes, the dreaded conflict. Sounds so easy to do, but in reality is so difficult.

Thanks for some concrete examples!

Jumped over and read your other posts. Wow, loved the part where you threw everything to do with writing into garbage bags and your husband stopped you from throwing them out. Wiping the hard drive clean even! OMG! You owe your hubby big time!

Isn't it amazing that at such a low point, things turned around for you? Gives us all hope! Glad you didn't give up!

Thanks for the inspiration on a Monday morning.

sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Missy Tippens said...

Oh, my family will hardly watch a movie with me any more! After a couple of outbursts (where I holler what's going to happen next), they threaten to kick me out of the room. :)

I don't know what makes them madder. The disruption, or the fact I'm always right. LOL

Shirley, I'll have to check out that movie!

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Your post was very helpful, Shirley. Creating conflict in each scene is very difficult. Thank you for the tips. Enjoyed the interview. Thank you Janet for having Shirley here.

Shirley Jump said...

Missy, thanks so much! I always enjoy visiting here! LOL at the dogs...sometimes they are annoying but sometimes they are helpful. And they end up in my books all the time! My April book had two Goldens modeled on my late Golden and I've used Max, the incorrigible German shorthaired pointer in several books.

Shirley Jump said... are too sweet! Made me blush!

Susan--I agree. I look back now and see how God has just popped in there from time to time and made such a difference. Like nudging me down another path :-)

Pat--you're very welcome!

Janet Dean said...

I've brought lunch fit for a princess. Shrimp and crab in a tantalizing lobster sauce stuffed into flaky puff pastry. Brie and cheese straws with fresh fruit. For dessert, Cherries Jubilee over ice cream. All served on crystal. Note the linens are embroidered with tiaras.

Hey, in Seekerville, we're all princesses. If the guys show up, I'll bring out the crowns. :-)


Shirley Jump said...

I wish that was my real lunch, LOL.

Shirley, off to heat up a Lean Cuisine and pretend its the princess meal :-)

Carol J. Garvin said...

Such a useful post, Shirley. Excellent advice and examples, thank you. I usually think I have conflict under control, but this is a post that's going into my reference file.

But first I need to help myself to some of Janet's lunch. Then again, I think I'll skip the lunch and head straight for the Cherries Jubilee! ;)

Cara Lynn James said...

Great post, Shirley! Conflict is so important. If we can't get the conflict right we won't have a good story. But most of us are really averse to conflict in our real lives, and tend to be the same way with our story people.

Jeanne T said...

Shirley, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom about conflict. I have much to learn in this area, but the "Isn't's, and Is's" for conflict really helped me better understand how to ramp up the conflict in my wip. Thanks so much! BTW, lunch sounds delicious!

Virginia said...

Love, love this! So many layers and so many itnernal conflicts going on!

Virginia said...

Sorry about that, had a squirmy toddler on my lap! And that's some conflict built in to the writer's life...

Debby Giusti said...

Great discussion on conflict! Thanks, Shirley, for making it sound so easy!

I'm cutting and pasting and adding your post to my Keepers File!

Love your Princess story and the conflict you so cleverly revealed.

Debby Giusti said...

Janet, lunch was delicious! Thank you! And thanks for bringing Shirley back to us!

I'm shining my tiara to wear later. :)

karenk said...

A great posting...

kmkuka at yanoo dot com

The Grammar Queen said...



How could I possibly stay away with all this talk of princesses and such!

Shirley, darling, delighted to make your acquaintance! Would you care to join me for tea and crumpets in my throne room one day soon?

Janet Dean said...

LOL, Virginia, I'm sure that built-in conflict on your lap is adorable! We have peanut butter and jelly for royalty tots.


Shirley Jump said...

Thank you, Carol! I ended up finishing off my lunch with the last of the cake (I will be regretting that when I hit the gym tomorrow, LOL).

Cara, I agree. But I do like living vicariously through my characters as they face conflict. :-) And IMO, conflict grows OUT of character, so I always look at the characters I have and see what kind of trouble they can cause for themselves.

Janet Dean said...

Ah, Grammar Queen, nice of you to leave your castle for a visit to Seekerville. I will now check my comments for any grammatical errors.

Shaking in my slippers.


Shirley Jump said...

Virginia, LOL because I definitely remember the days of writing with toddlers underfoot! And today I have the 13yo home sick, and you'd think they'd be less needy when they get older...uh, not so much :-)

Julie Lessman said...

SHIRLEY!!! Welcome back, sweetie, it is ALWAYS fun to have you here in Seekerville!!

And, honey, you had me at "Gone With the Wind!! :)

Great blog and WHOA, what a cover for A Princess for Christmas -- YUM!!!


Shirley Jump said...

Jeanne and Karen...glad you enjoyed the post! Hope it helps your writing!

Debby, I'm always thrilled to be here! You guys are the greatest :-)

Grammar Queen...I'll go anywhere that has tea and crumpets, LOL. Actually I'll go anyplace that has food! :-)

Shirley Jump said...

Aw, thanks, Julie!! I do so love Gone with the Wind! I remember reading it when I was 12 or so. It's such a classic :-)

I love that Princess for Christmas cover, too. And the hero inside is equally yummy!

PatriciaW said...

Illuminating post, Shirley. As usual. I so love princess stories. I can't watch The Princess Diaries too many times, and one of my favorite books is The Princess by Lori Wick. (It's been a while. Time to read it again.) Contemporary princess stories in made up places are the best.

I don't know my personality type, as Missy recently learned, but I think I veer away from too much, or maybe too harsh, conflict in my stories. Then I feel as if I haven't done the story justice.

Janet Dean said...

Debby, I'm delighted you enjoyed the luncheon!

And Shirley's post. Her advice is always a keeper.


Shirley Jump said...

Hi Patricia! Thanks for coming by! I think it all depends on the characters you choose. I have some characters who don't have huge conflicts and others that have mountains to climb. But I try to pair one less conflicted character with one who is more conflicted. I think it works better that way.

My next book, Riverbend Family Christmas, has a really tortured hero who has a horrible event in his past to overcome. (For those who read Midnight Wish, New Year Kiss, this one is Edward and Olivia's story). I felt so bad putting him in such a painful boat, but I'm hoping the book really pulled out a lot of emotion :-)

Janet Dean said...

Hugs to your sick teen, Shirley! Take home some of that chicken noodle soup in the freezer. Just the ticket for a stuffy nose.


Shirley Jump said...

Thanks, Janet! :-)

Cathy Shouse said...

Thanks for making conflict sound so easy, Shirley. :)

It's so hard for me to get out of the external trouble and into the internal. I've had so much internal conflict in my life, I should be able to write it. lol

Tell us about what you're doing at eHarlequin. The other day, I ended up on that blog, where you will be posting but I don't remember how to get back there. That's an internal conflict for me.

Put my name in for the books, please!

Andrea Strong said...


I really want to read that book! I felt so bad about the "extra princess" line. I'm the second daughter and my mom has often introduced me as her "other daughter" to people who know my sister. She doesn't do it anymore since I told her it kinda bothered me, but that's what I thought of as soon as I read that line.

Reading the post, I suddenly rethought some things in my WIP and I've decided to move some things. I had a big conflict getting resolved fairly early in the story, and I realized it should come later, as the final giant obstacle to the HEA. Thanks!

andeemarie95 at gmail dot com

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Cathy, I'm laughing at your internal conflict caused by navigating blog posts!

I hear ya, honey! :)

Blogger acted up a few months ago when I was trying to load my blog, and I had a mini-meltdown. Lots of angst! Lots of stress! Lots of conflict between me and the computer! Not pretty at all! :)

I wasn't wearing my tiara that day!

Debby Giusti said...

Ah, Andrea, you're the delightfully beautiful and very special daugther!


Janet Dean said...

Andrea, I loved hearing how Shirley's post impacted the story you're writing.

I'm impressed that you spoke up and shared something that bothered you. We moms appreciate that. :-)


Janet Dean said...

Missy, I'm not surprised you're a peacemaker. I think I'm like that too. Up to a point. :-)


Debra E. Marvin said...

Did I miss all the cheese blintzes?

Thanks Janet and Shirley. Great reminders today.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Janet! We just need to learn what that point is so we can avoid it!! :)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, as always. Thanks Shirley. Legendary stuff!


Donna said...

Thank you,Shirley. Great examples of how subtle and layered conflict can be presented.

Shirley Jump said...

Hi Cathy,

Nice to see you here! I think internal conflict is tough for everyone. External is so much easier to develop because it's tangible. Internal, because it stems from the emotional core of the character, requires the author to go deep emotionally, which can be hard, for sure.

As for the eHarlequin thing--I VERY rarely blog there because I can't hardly find it either, LOL. they just did a redesign of the site and to me, it's harder to navigate than before. But maybe I'm just getting old, LOL.

Shirley Jump said...

Donna, Anonymous and Debra--thank you! I'm thrilled you enjoyed the post!

Andrea--so glad the post helped you with your WIP! I love those light bulb moments! And hugs on the other daughter comment...I have an adopted sister who's the same age as me and can relate :-)

Patty Wysong said...

Sheesh. Shoulda read this earlier today BEFORE I worked on edits. LoL.

Excellent post, as always, Shirley. Thank you. This is something I'm wrestling with mightily this week.

Are there any late night snacks? Oh! I have oreos. And I'll share. =]

Janet Dean said...

Hey, Missy, I enjoy an occasional non-peacemaker moment! LOL

Late night snack, I have milk to go with your oreos, Patty! Delicious and we should sleep like babies.


Janet Dean said...

Shirley, thanks for your awesome post on conflict and for chatting in Seekerville! Loved having you!

The winner of Shirley's Princess books will be announced in the Weekend Edition. So check back!


Pam Hillman said...

Oreos and milk???


Kayleen said...

Thanks, Shirley! Great post-- too many authors don't provide enough conflict to keep a reader's interest. If there's no conflict, there's no plot or book. Can't wait to read your new books! Congrats!

Judy said...

I'm just a reader but thought your post was great. Conflict in books can be good as long as it isn't carried out too far and the characters make up! Shirley, you are a new author to me and I can't wait to read your books. I'd be delighted to win a copy of the books you are giving away.



Shirley Jump said...

Kayleen and Patty--thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post! And Patty--sometimes I need to read my own handouts to remind myself to do these things, too, LOL.

Judy, thank you for reading! I love readers! :-) And I hope you enjoy my books! This one is #36 so there's plenty of backlist to choose from too :-)

Jessica Nelson said...

OOoh, that sounded great! It's probably too late to be entered, but if not, enter me. ;-)
jessica_nelson7590 at yahoo dotcom

Shirley Jump said...

Thanks for reading, Jessica! Glad you enjoyed it!