Thursday, June 30, 2016

Angst, Torture and a Very Bad Day: Conflict

The peak of contest season has ended and this post is based on needs I saw in contest entries. For more help, see my Monday post "How To Be Successful in Romance Writing Contests."

These topics are also part of the challenge I face each time I sit down to plot a new story. Let's review together.

Your story is a journey.  
"Your story concept must have a clearly defined endpoint for your story to reach." -Michael Hauge. The Hero's Two Journeys.

  • That journey occurs on the internal level and on the external level.  
  • The reason your hero wants to reach his goal is called motivation. THE BIG WHY!
  • Conflict is what keeps your hero from reaching that goal. 

Conflict is the angst, the torture and the very bad day. It says to the reader: if that wasn't bad enough, THEN THIS HAPPENED. 

What is external conflict anyhow? 

"If you can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it...that's external." -Debra Dixon. Goal, Motivation and Conflict:The Building Blocks of Good Fiction.

What is internal conflict? 

".. internal conflict is the struggle occurring within a character's mind."-Wikipedia. Peter Ruby and Gary Provost in How to Tell a Story, call it "Man Against Himself."

If you only take one thing away from today's post let it be this: Your writer life will be a heck of a lot easier if you figure out your external conflict first. Nail that external goal-what Hauge calls the visible goal-BEFORE you start writing your story.  

And a word about internal conflict.

Internal conflict is that internal journey. This is your character arc. What stands between the hero achieving his internal goal is his greatest fear.

Hauge says this on the topic:
Every story about character arc is the story of life and death and rebirth. The real life and death is the necessary death of one's identity in order to be fulfilled and achieve one's destiny. That's what the internal journey is. It is a journey from identity to essence.

Why do we want conflict in our story? Conflict elicits EMOTION. When you make your reader FEEL EMOTION, then you have engaged them and you have done your job.

A long time ago, author Shelly Thacker said something that has stayed with me for years. Emotion on every page. Check your manuscript. Do you have emotion on every page? Can your reader FEEL something on every page? 

In fact, our own Vincey Mooney has created what he calls Response Per Page. RPP. The more responses per page (by the reader), the more reader enjoyment.  

Mooney says this: 
"Ordinarily fans do not read romances to learn how the story will turn out. They know how a romance will turn out, in fact, they are guaranteed a HEA. Fans read romances to satisfy emotional needs..."
You can read more about RPP in our archives here.


Let's add one more very important factor to our external conflict or external journey. Urgency. Without urgency, your story meanders to the finish line. In fact, it doesn't matter when you arrive. When that is the case, your reader doesn't care. Urgency makes the reader care. It makes the reader worry. It makes the reader turn the page. Urgency is what increases the stakes. 

"Urgency always pushes the plot and the pace." -Debra Dixon.

If you can figure out these simple things before you begin to write your story, you'll thank me later.

Leave a comment and let me know what you struggle with and what light bulb moments you've had. We can help each other!!

Bonus Post Content for Michael Hauge Fans!

I recently did a story dissection of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty using Michael Hauge's Six Stage Plot Structure. WOW. This really drove home the hero's journey,  internal and external conflict, and identity and essence. I highly recommend you do this if you are stuck in your story.

Watch the extended trailer here.

 Print out your own copy of the Six Stage Plot Structure handout here (enlarge before printing) before watching the movie. 

Here is Hauge's own recap of The 5 Key Turning Points of All Successful Screenplays, if you need a refresher.

Janice Hardy does a great job of outlining the Six Stage Plot Structure here.

Additionally, I have created a template that you can fill out to track the Six Stage Plot Structure/5 Key Turning Points and the internal and external journey in your own story. You can find it here on our web page. 

The prize vault is open. For two writers, the offer of a critique of the first scene of your manuscript, (not to exceed 10 pages). For one reader, a surprise pack of books. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.

Rocky Mountain Reunion
Tina Radcliffe is a two-time Golden Heart finalist, a two-time Carol Award finalist, and a 2014 Carol Award winner. Her 2015 release, Safe in the Fireman's Arms, is the recipient of the Holt Medallion Merit Award and is a Bookseller's Best Award finalist. Rocky Mountain Cowboy, the latest in the Paradise, Colorado series, can be preordered here.


Rhonda Starnes said...

I struggle with plotting, because I'm a pantser who tends to leave giant holes in my manuscript.

Lightbulb moment? The repeated revision requests that continually shed light on my flawed plot.

Thanks for the wonderful info Tina!

CatMom said...

Excellent and another "exactly what I need right now" post. Thank you, Tina! :)
I WILL be re-reading this (preferably when it's not after 2 a.m., LOL)because my WIP is currently needing some major overhauls (my pantser tendencies have taken over and I need to stop and work on the plot *sigh*).
Hugs, Patti Jo zzzzzzzz.....

Barbara Fox said...

The character that has a goal but doesn't know it yet or the one whose goal changes midway is interesting to work with because their personalities change so much once they realize what it is they truly want. That happens frequently with the damaged, closed off character. I struggle making the damaged character very likable because normally they come across as rather sarcastic.

My lightbulb moment was - nothing's happening!

This is a good post, but then I always enjoy Tina's posts. There's always a lot of meat to them.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Tina is here again!!!!!!

And then the weekend, too????


I still tend to want to fix problems for my characters too quickly.


Why is that?

But then I fix it, so it's okay, but how much smarter I'd be to get it right the first or second time!!!!!

Cindy W. said...

Wow! This is a terrific post Tina. It is definitely one for the keeper book. I will have to ponder this once I'm released from the season I am in. Thank you Tina.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Jill Weatherholt said...

Great stuff, Tina! Thank you! I've printed it so I'm able to soak in your words of wisdom when I'm a little more awake. I'd love to be entered in the drawing!

Mary Preston said...

This post made me glad I'm a reader and not a writer.

Jackie said...

Oh my goodness, what a great post. I'm going to print this and keep going over it. You've given us so many jewels today. THANK YOU!

Cate Nolan said...

Mary Preston, that comment made me laugh. My thought as a writer was that I haven't had enough coffee yet this morning to be able to handle this post!

Great info, Tina. Like Ruthy, I want to fix things and give them their HEA, oh, maybe by Chapter 3! So my biggest challenge is being mean.

Love Hauge. Can't recommend those sheets enough. I guess different structure guidelines work for different people. His is the one that resonates with me.

Glynna Kaye said...

Perfect timing and great tips, TINA, since I'm deep into the proposal for my next book! Thank you! Internal motivation for my hero and heroine is seldom a problem for me--it's finding that external goal and conflict that is the hardest part, to make it stand out to my editor as worthy of book-length pursuit.

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOL. Rhonda. Plot is the single most difficult thing. But you're a suspense writer, you should have killing and meanness in your genes.

Tina Radcliffe said...

We all want to pantser, Patti Jo. Frankly, it's more fun..but the plotter is must less frustrated.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Hey, Barbara Fox. Thanks so much. Glad this was helpful.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Plugging those holes in the calendar, Ruthy. Selfless dedication to Seekerville.


Tina Radcliffe said...

It's 4:52 am in Arizona. I am going to go hunt a wild coffee. BRB.

Victoria Bylin said...

"Avoid starting your book until you have nailed the external conflict." Yes! A thousand times yes! So why do I struggle with this *every single time* I start a new project? My personal rule now is this: "What would the story look like on a movie screen?" If the characters are drinking coffee in a living room, or riding in a car, or otherwise being talking heads, I have a problem.

And this quote too: "Death of identity to achieve destiny . . . " Giving another fist pump because that's exactly what I need to figure out for the new hero who keeps changing his name and being way too perfect. Right now, he looks a lot like Chris Hemsworth . . . I'm especially chewing on the "achieve destiny" part.

I'm a big Michael Hauge fan. Time to break out the templates I made from one of his workshops.

Wonderful post, Tina! Just what this writer-gal needed to hear :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Cindy W. I am a hoarder of posts and papers to use. Yes. Save this for later!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Jill! You are in. And I am barely awake myself.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I hear ya, Mary Preston. Some days I wish I was only responsible for reading. HA!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Jackie Layton! Thank you. Hope this helps.

I know I sure need help with this.

Every. Single. Time.

J Baugh said...

Great post, Tina!

The ideas of emotion on every page and urgency hit home.

Please toss my name in the hat for a prize. :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Jessica Baughman. WHAT ARE YOU UP TO??? I must know!

Hope you are having a happy writing summer.

You are in the hat. Well your name. The hat is too small for entire people.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Cate Nolan!

Wassup up New York City?

Okay, half a cup of java in my.

I may live after all.

Yeah, I just want everyone to get along. Can't we all be friends?

NOOOOO. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I know! Right, Glynna.

I can come up with internal conflict in a heartbeat. After all that's all we do in our society is psycho analyze people.

But external conflict and ticking clock? THAT'S WORK!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Victoria Bylin! I do the same thing. I think of the opening of my book as a movie. and hard scenes too.

How do I show emotion without words. How do I show conflict?

Edwina said...

I'm a pantster from beginning to end. Your post today will really help me to move away from the pantster! Thanks for the great information and for the templates, too!


Cindy Regnier said...

If somebody tells me the external conflict - I can write a story about it. If I have to think it up - not so much. Shouldn't that be easy? Emotion on every page. Now that's easy. Conflict? Another hard one for me as I avoid that one in real life and can hardly bear to put the characters I love through such turmoil. Romance. My best moments come from the romance. Maybe I should just skip to the end of my WIP and do the HEE first. Good post, Tina!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great post Tinaj since I'm working on the resolution of the internal conflict in my current wip. In fact the black moment is just about to happen which will drive hero to that resolution. yay for character arcs.

Laura Conner Kestner said...

TINA - this is just what I needed! Going through the book I finished and making some changes, and doing the same for the two WIP. Thank you so much!! Please enter me in the drawing.

Janet Dean said...

TINA, thanks for this fantastic post and the template of Hauge's Six Stage Plot structure. I'm a plotter, at least to a point, but Hauge's identity and essence terms confuse me. Will fill this in with my WIP and see if I'm on track.

Like Glynna, the external goals and conflict are harder for me than the internal. But I've learned over the years that the character must have an external goal and pursue it in every scene. Sometimes in small ways but still that sense that he's moving forward. Or trying to. Must remember to heighten the urgency.

So much great meat here to chew on! Thanks!


Tina Radcliffe said...

Edwina! I think we are all pantsers at heart. But eventually to make life easier, we learn to plot.

Tina Radcliffe said...

External Conflict, so hard, especially for those of us who--yes, Cindy R-avoid conflict in real life at all cost.

Tina Radcliffe said...

That hero is about to face his fears!

Sandra, whenever I hear the face your fears thing, I think of Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Snakes. It had to be snakes.

All our heroes need to face the snakes in their life.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Laura! You are in. Working on two WIP at once. GOOOOD for you!

Isaac Asimov worked on short stories and novels at the same time.

My kind of guy.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Oh, Janet. You and hubs need to sit down and watch Walter Mitty. You will see the character move from identity (who he THINKS he is) to essence (WHO HE REALLY IS) in the course of the story. You'll never have problems with that again.

Myra Johnson said...

I agree--the Walter Mitty movie is delightful! Now you're making me want to watch it again!

Great post, TINA! You really know how to break the writing craft down to its essence! (Notice how cleverly I borrowed that term from Hauge?)

Wilani Wahl said...

Thanks for this post, I just realized that I don't really have conflict for my hero. He doesn't come into play until the end of the book. There is plenty of conflict for the heroine and the villian. I will be fixing that. That was my lightbulb moment this morning.

It will have to wait until tomorrow since today I need to write up for the bank all that has happened since my Amazon account was hacked on May 30. I have printed off all the evidence now to sit down and write out all the details without getting upset and yet with my words portray all the angst and hastle with Amazon who is refusing to refund the money for what the thief stole. Please pray for my sanity,

I may end up having this happen to a character in the future.

Tina Radcliffe said...

This time watch Walter Mitty and break it down as you watch it. Handout in hand.

Wow, it makes it so clear.

I like your pun!!

kaybee said...

TINA, this is a helpful post. It is something I struggle with but am getting better at. I usually use the Three-Act Structure but may give Hauge a try.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wilani! Praying. Won't your bank or credit card company help you out here?

Tina Radcliffe said...

Kaybee. Hauge is simply a glorified 3 Act Structure. Very little difference.

It is THREE ACTS with SIX Stages and FIVE turning points. Print out the sheet and you can see it.

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, another stellar "workshop in a blog," Teenster -- EXCELLENT!!

LOVE the Shelly Thacker's quote of "emotion on every page" because, well, as a CDQ, "emote" is what I do best, so I'm all for that. :)

YOU SAID: "If you only take one thing away from today's post let it be this: Your writer life will be a heck of a lot easier if you figure out your external conflict first. Nail that external goal-what Hauge calls the visible goal-BEFORE you start writing your story."

I can certainly attest to this!! I was a bonafide pantster on my first two books, but then, with 15 main characters in a family, things had to get "real" real fast with an actual plot that covered all the bases. So I reluctantly became a plotter/pantster who writes a very thorough synopsis for each and every book, which helps me to quickly plot out the entire story in a glance.

VINCE SAID: "Fans read romances to satisfy emotional needs..."

WOW. Never heard it nailed to the wall like that before, but our Vince is "inVINCE-able" when it comes to amazing quotes and insight!!!


Jana Vanderslice said...

WILANI!! Praying! We are on it!
And the Best Revenge... Write about it in a book & make millions of dollars!! You are on the right track, Girl!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Our Vince is in-VINCEABLE!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOL! Jana! Love that idea.

Caryl Kane said...

Great post TINA! I am currently dealing with "conflict" in my personal life... Trying to remember that I'm in the MIDDLE of the story.


Please enter me in the draw for a surprise pack of books.

Tina Radcliffe said...


Here is hoping your conflict is minimal, Caryl.

DebH said...

Great post Tina. Will have to print this up and review as I attempt something longer than a flash fiction. All very good things laid out logically. Of course, my husband would be the first to tell you that me and logic are NOT synonymous.

Thanks for all your awesome posts and tireless dedication to Seekerville. It is GREATLY appreciated!!!!!!!!! (exclamation points to infinity and beyond)

Name in hat please.

Debby Giusti said...

You know I love Hauge! He's wonderful!

Must print off all the goodies you've provided today, Tina.

Internal conflict, IMHO, is the key. Without that transformation, the character is flat and the story doesn't have meaning.

And don't do surface internal conflict. Go deep. Go to when the wound was first created. That's what needs to be healed...often revealed first and then healed.

Kathryn Barker said...

Nice job, Tina!! So much to remember!! I think a three, four or five-year-old could help with external conflict...they ALWAYS have amazing stories about their heroes and bad guys!! "And then the bad guy snuck up behind him and hit him on the head, and then the good guy's wheel came off his vehicle and the bad guy rammed his truck...CRASH" Cars and trucks and body parts flying everywhere!!

I am extremely grateful to you and to all the Seekerville posters...this site is the MOST helpful and MOST fun of all I read!! Sometimes my life is too full to comment every day, but I do read daily!!

I'd love to be considered for the drawing!!

Janet Dean said...

TINA, I'm game to watch Walter Mitty! Do you think my DH will enjoy it?


Heidi Robbins said...

Emotion on every page- YES!!! As a reader that's what makes me connect with a book and the characters, makes me invested in the outcome and makes it memorable. Even though it's hard to see the characters go through conflict, that's what evokes all the emotion! Great post!

Please enter me in the reader giveaway! :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I love all of this, Tina. As Heidi said, that EMOTION ON EVERY PAGE makes so much sense!

I love, LOVE Walter Mitty. The first time Hubby and I watched it, he asked to watch it again the next night. This never happens. Ever. We watched it again a couple months ago. It's such a great movie to study for story crafting. :) Thanks for the print outs. I'm going to utilize them. :)

My biggest struggle is making the tension big enough. Making the situation bad enough for my characters that it really does cause angst for them. I'm working on this, but I need to train my mind to see the bigger stakes, the harder conflict and tension situations for my characters, if that makes sense.

Valri said...

Great stuff, Tina! Happy Holiday weekend, everyone! I hope everybody has great plans - stay safe!!! Oh, I love Walter Mitty too!

Please enter me in the reader giveaway!


Tina Radcliffe said...

Name. In. Hat. DebH. Taking bow.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Good external.

Juicy internal.

And you are on your way! Right, Debby?

Tina Radcliffe said...

You are in Kathryn! Thanks for the kind words.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Janet, see Jeanne's comment below yours!!

Mary Connealy said...

I just wrote a scene that I KNOW has absolutely NO emotion in it.
Interesting developments but zero emotion either funny or angsty, no fear no anger....and I knew when I finished it it either needed to be fixed on cut. But I need this bridge from what's going on before to what's next.

So I'll fix it and I already know how. But when I think of it, I think of Vince. There are NO REWARDS in the scene. It's a fun editorial standard and I thank Vince for it.

Megan Brummer said...

Oh my goodness...LIGHT BULB MOMENT is right! I just got really excited. My hero's biggest fear has been there through the story so far, just right under the surface but completely un-mined! I couldn't figure out why she seemed so stoic or how to fix it. Now I know!

AND this gave me an idea for a great new character! The hardest part of being a writer for me is keeping all of the new ideas at bay while FINISHING the one I'm working on... ack.

Thanks for sharing this today, Tina! This post was a huge "ah ha!" moment for me!!

Janet Dean said...

JEANNE T, thanks for asking my question!


Janet Dean said...

I love to cause my characters trouble even in the opening pages of my books. When I do, I feel confident, that I'm getting it right. My problem with my WIP is there is no terrible trouble or issue between the hero and heroine. There's all kinds of hints. Still I'm unnerved. Yet to bring things to light too early isn't right for this story. Maybe I'm kidding myself?


Tina Radcliffe said...

You are entered, Heidi. Thanks for being one of our super readers!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I won't lie. It's never easy, Jeanne. And we don't have the luxury of shooting our secondary characters, do we?

Tina Radcliffe said...

We have Vince to thank for a lot.

RPP is my life.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Meg! I love it when I figure out his greatest fear. LOOOOOOVE IT!!

Tina Radcliffe said...


Oh, wait they do.

Well they would do it WELL.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

Loved your post!

It made me come to the realization that it's time for a new dichotomy! I will provide this new duo with new names so as not to confuse them with existing terminology.

The Intrinsic: this is what is happening inside your story. It's part of your fictional world.

The Extrinsic: this is what is happening inside your reader and outside your story world. These two are not the same!

For example: consider emotion.

Intrinsic is what the characters in the book are feeling.

Extrinsic is what the readers are feeling.

A heroine may feel enraged and betrayed by the actions of the hero while the reader knows the heroine is misinterpreting the hero's actions and is thus worried for the heroine's fate in that she may be triggering an irreversible black moment.

Now consider urgency.

Intrinsic is the ticking time bomb in the story. The characters feel a sense urgency.

Extrinsic is how urgent the reader is to find out what happens next. This may be something that the characters don't want to see happen at all.

How many times do strangers have to tell the hero in the local supermarket that the heroine's 'hidden' child looks just like him -- before he gets it!?

The reader wants the hero to hurry up and find out the child is his while the heroine has no urgency for him to find out at all!

Think about these things but don't let them hurt your head. : )


Tina Radcliffe said...

No. These don't hurt my head. These are brilliant Vince.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Valri!Another Walter fan!!!

You stay safe as well. You are in the drawing.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

I just want to add this about your comment:

"Emotion on every page."

Just like you five sense your copy, be sure to multi-emote your emotions. The same emotion too often gets boresome.

Also be aware of the emotions being stimulated in the reader. Are they varied? The reader could be feeling a grave sense of injustice by what happens on a page while at the same time the hero feels great because he does not know yet that he has been hoodwinked.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Mulit-emote. Very good! You're right.

Just like the same pacing gets old. The same emotion can as well.


You've given me lots to think about, Vince.

Tina Radcliffe said...

And I didn't even know boresome was a word.

I had to look it up. Well of course I got the gist of it, but I like new words.

They make me happy.

ohiohomeschool said...


Great post. I am a reader and would love to be in the drawing. I feel like as a reader I learn so much from writing posts. I have a better grid for what I like about a book, and why I do not like others as well. Thank you
Becky B

Tina Radcliffe said...


Glad to give you the inside scoop on the neurotic world of writers. You are in the drawing.

Tanya Agler said...

Tina, Thank you for the follow-up to Monday's contest tips. I think I struggle with emotion and urgency on every page. I love pre-plotting, but going from inside my head to the page is hard (but as you wrote in the comments, if writing were easy!).

Some light bulb moments: flaws aren't things like being a bad cook but instead a bad temper or inability to be patient with anyone and that flaws often arise out of a personality.

I'm starting my latest WIP, and I'm working on making the conflict more personal and relatable and making sure the heroine and hero both have to face their greatest fears.

Thanks, Tina.

Tina Radcliffe said...


"...flaws often arise out of a personality."

That is an excellent observation!!! OOOOH! I like it.

Chill N said...

Tina, you are a natural-born teacher. This is a super post.

When I'm reading, I don't like stories that have so much conflict it feels as if the writer is piling on the problems just to keep the story moving. I think that's why, when I write, I want to solve the problems too quickly. I figured out, though, that I can do a 'yes ... but' answer with the smaller conflicts/goals so the character gets what he wanted (or thought he wanted) but not in the way he wanted. Sort of a mini-solution while he still struggles to achieve the major goal. I'll let you know if it works :-)

Light bulb moment: as I was reading your post, I realized what I thought was the hero's worst fear isn't his worst fear. Thanks!

Nancy C

Chill N said...

I forgot to thank you for this insight: The real life and death is the necessary death of one's identity in order to be fulfilled and achieve one's destiny.

So ... thanks!

Nancy C

Tina Radcliffe said...

I think I should set up a donation link for chocolate. If this post helped, send dark chocolate. lololol.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Thank you, Nancy. Glad you had your own light bulb moment.

Sharee Stover said...

Tina, thank you for this! It's gooooood stuff!! I'm stuck trying to figure out who the hero should be in my's raining men...hallelujah. Giggle. Just kidding. But being the pantser that I am, I haven't decided which one I like more yet. So I shall work on their external / internal conflicts first :)

Bettie said...

Hey Tina. If you're still out there, I did it! My first contest entry is a Christmas story for Virginia AFCW

Bettie said...

Make that acfw....can you tell I'm tired.

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOLOL. That's just the best comment of the day, Sharee.

Which hunk is the hero here???

Tina Radcliffe said...


I am still here.

I am like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

I am always here.


So very proud of you.

You are now officially a diva.

Trixi said...

"Conflict is the angst, the torture and the very bad day. It says to the reader: if that wasn't bad enough, THEN THIS HAPPENED."

I understand why the author must do this to the characters but!! It does keep this reader on her toes, and admittedly...I secretly LOVE it!! I will come back for more torture, book after book :-)

Great post, I love learning the background stuff to an authors writing, and what makes you guys/gals tick ;-)

Please add my name to the pot for a reader surprise pack of books, thanks Tina!

Tina Radcliffe said...

No torture then the story ends on page two.

You are in the draw, Trixi the traveler.

Terri said...

I'm still struggling with plot. I like to think that m getting better, but who knows. Excellent posts and if I'm not too late toss my name in the drawing.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Terri is in. And if it's any consolation, I struggle with each and every book.

Linnette R Mullin said...

LOVE this, Tina!!! I'm sharing it with my son who writes. Good stuff! I tend to know the beginning and the end and some vague idea of how I want to get there. I sometimes get surprised along the way. 😊