Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Conflict and Tension Part 3, When to Resolve Conflict


Melanie Dickerson here. Have you ever started a story thinking you had this amazing conflict that would keep your readers enthralled until the end of the story, only to realize early on that it’s not feasible to keep this conflict going for the whole story? You don't want the story to get boring. 

I used to panic when this would happen, but I realized something. Rather than dragging out a problem beyond believability, why not just let that conflict be resolved—and add a new conflict?

Crestock.com

I try to let my conflicts resolve themselves in a believable amount of time. I don't want the story to drag, and it will if there isn't enough believable conflict. The trick is to make sure there are other conflicts that will take prominence as soon as that other conflict, or problem, is resolved.

For example, in one of my favorite movies, Penelope, starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy, Penelope’s parents hide their daughter from the public, since she has the nose and ears of a pig, as they search for a society blue-blood to marry her and break the curse. This tension of hiding keeps the viewer wondering what will happen if and when people see Penelope's "disfigured" face. But this is resolved partway through the movie when Penelope runs away from home and her photograph is plastered all over the media. She immediately becomes a media darling, beloved by the public. 

crestock.com

But there is another conflict that takes that one’s place—the bad guy begins dating her and she gets engaged to him. We knows he’s only doing it as a publicity stunt to repair his reputation--and the hero, who's really in love with her, knows that too. This is a huge point of angst for our hero and heroine, both of whom we have grown to love. There are also other conflicts that were started in the beginning that carry over. So even though one of the main sources of conflict is resolved, there are still plenty of unanswered questions and unresolved conflict keeping us engaged in the story.

In my book, The Beautiful Pretender, which is a Princess and the Pea /slash/ Beauty and the Beast mash-up, the heroine is an imposter. She’s not the daughter of an earl, as the hero supposes, but is actually just a maidservant. In my mind the climax would come when [spoiler alert] the hero chooses the heroine from all the other marriageable daughters of dukes and earls and other nobles—and immediately discovers she has been using a false identity. All manner of sparks will fly.

crestock.com

The problem was that about halfway through the story, I realized the plot would soon start to grow boring if I tried to drag out that "climax/black moment" scene until the end. There were only so many scenes I could write about the hero “testing” the young ladies to see who was the most noble, building up to the moment when he would choose a wife. So I did a bit more brainstorming, even getting my editor on the phone to brainstorm with me. I realized I still had a lot of loose ends that would need to be tied up, not to mention more time for the hero and heroine to fall in love and resolve the conflict caused by her deceiving him.

I went ahead and had the big scene almost two-thirds of the way through the story—too early to be a true “climax/black moment” scene, which the reader was already expecting anyway. However, the reader would not expect me to let that scene come with a third of the story left. This is tricky. On the one hand, I surprised my reader. But on the other hand, I couldn't let that last third of the book be boring because all their questions had been answered. So I created lots of danger, which had already been building and was foreshadowed earlier. Also, my hero and heroine had not declared their love for each other, and the obstacles keeping them from marrying were as great as ever.

crestock.com

I allowed my villains to wreak havoc, making the conflict stronger than ever. The heroine was stranded in the woods where wolves were lurking and the hero had to save her. The villain took over the hero’s castle, and he and the heroine spent several hours hiding from him. This led to lots of lovely scenes of danger and angst and longing. It worked well, I think, because that book has the highest ratings of any of my other books on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. I was able to resolve that major conflict—revealing the heroine’s true identity to the hero and everyone else in the story—because there was plenty of other conflicts to deal with, including the fall-out from the revelation.

I seem to have a lot of stories with characters who are using false identities. In The Noble Servant, both the hero and the heroine are hiding their identities, for different reasons. I was not quite sure when I wanted this to be revealed. The question keeping the reader reading was: When will the hero and heroine discover the true identity of the other? I decided to answer that question fairly early, since I didn’t want to drag it on so long that it lost its tension. But there were lots of other questions to take its place. Will the villain discover that the hero is still alive? Will he see him and kill him? Will the hero and heroine find proof of the hero’s identity so he can resume his rightful place? Why does the villain think the heroine has something valuable enough to kill over? And what is that thing? And there are lots of other questions, hopefully not least of which is, Will the hero overcome his fears about falling in love, fall in love with the heroine, and marry her? (Of course, we know he will, since this is a romance, but hopefully the reader desperately WANTS them to fall in love, and wants to see HOW this lovely event will come about.)


So, it’s time to dish about your own stories, or about the stories you’ve been reading. Are you making sure you’re not dragging your conflicts out too long, afraid of resolving them too soon? Are you making sure you have enough different conflicts so that resolving one of them (perhaps unexpectedly and thus delighting your readers) doesn’t defuse too much of your lovely conflict and tension? And as a reader, do you ever get delighted by a conflict that gets resolved sooner than you thought, only to be replaced by more lovely conflict? Do tell. One lucky commenter will win a copy of your choice of The Beautiful Pretender or The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest.


And I can't help getting excited about The Orphan's Wish, releasing on June 26. Aladdin and Kirstyn . . . sigh. Available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, and all the others. 
I nearly forgot to mention, The Noble Servant is $1.99 today! Get it while you can! 



66 comments:

  1. I do get excited to see a conflict resolved early on, only to know the author has something else for the characters to deal with. Guess I've been reading too many good books, lol!

    Honestly, my first thought is "Those poor characters. Why can't the author leave them to their happiness?". I also know for the story to keep my interest, there must be that push/pull kind of drama or tension. I think that's where character growth comes in to play :-) I'm sure it's a hard balance between not dragging the conflict out to giving enough to keep your readers invested in your story. Or to resolve it too early and have nothing left to interest the reader. Yeah, I can see that from an authors point of view.

    I really do love getting to learn all the pieces that make for a good story! And how well an author can make them come together so seamlessly in the end! You guys make it look easy when I know darn well it's not :-)

    Great post today, Melanie! I'm certain our other authors can get a lot out of it. Along with us readers learning more about story structure and what an author faces to write a awesome one. Keep up the good work!

    Thanks for throwing my name in the hat...The Beautiful Pretender sounds good (I already have a copy of the other one).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Trixi!!! :D Yes, it is indeed a hard balance. And I know different readers have different preferences. Some like gentle stories with not so heavy conflict. Others feel the more pain, the better, I think! I try to be like Velvet said to Mi in National Velvet: "I know you won't hurt him more than need." :-)
      Thanks again, Trixi!

      Delete
  2. I love your insight here for writing. Thank you! For me as a reader, I think it's a very fine line. Sometimes, I feel like things are dragging on too long and then the end seems tied up in a neat bow too quickly. But other times, I'm like "what just happened, huh?" if the main conflict is quickly resolved. So this was intriguing to hear what goes into that decision and how to make it work. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Amy Marie! I know exactly what you mean! Sometimes it's super hard. Other times things seem to flow smoothly and work out just right. We don't want it to wrap up too "perfectly" or it will seem unrealistic. Or it ends so abruptly, we get whiplash. LOL!
      Thanks! Will put you in the drawing!

      Delete
  3. Hi Melanie,

    You always have beautiful book covers. Congratulations on your new book!

    I enjoy stories that have more than one conflict. I don't like when an honest conversation would clear up the conflict. I like something meatier.

    Thanks for sharing today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Jackie! Don't those two covers look especially amazing next to each other? Happy sigh.
      Yes, when conflict is resolved--or resolve-ABLE--too easily, it's a letdown. We always have to remember that when we're writing and plotting!

      Delete
  4. Melanie, I've gotten so much out of this series on tension and conflict. As I read this post, I realized I need to develop more conflicts earlier in the story because the main conflict will not need to go the entire way through the story. I'm just not quite sure, yet, what that looks like for this story.

    How do you find your conflicts/tension for your stories?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Jeanne! So happy you've gotten some good out of the posts! Sometimes finding conflict and tension can be hard. (Ooo!!! Great subject for Part 4! Thanks, Jeanne!) You find those when the main characters--and the villains--have very strong goals. Anything that blocks that goal from happening is going to cause conflict and tension. Another thing to play with is their inner wounds and traumas that happened to them as children. What wounded them? What is the sad, untrue message that plays over in their heads when something goes wrong? But especially, focus on their goals. The more they want something, the stronger the potential for conflict is when it gets thwarted.

      Delete
    2. Melanie mentioned the movie Penelope in her post. Since I'd never seen it, I went to wiki and read the plot. I won't give away any spoilers in case someone prefers, but a good example of introducing new conflicts/twists is when the reader (and then Penelope) finds out that one of the main characters isn't who he pretended to be (another pretender, Melanie!).

      Instead of introducing a completely new conflict from a new source or a new character, the new conflict has been part of the story all along and makes it richer. The reader is invested in the outcome even more than before.

      So, look for conflicts that can arise from existing characters. Secrets or surprises that throw the other characters for a loop. Having said that, more often than not, the reader is in on this secret/twist before the h/hn, so they know what's coming. Sometimes, though, the twist is a surprise to the reader and everybody.

      So, mix it up. :)

      Delete
    3. Yes, exactly, Pam!!! It's better if it was already there, or at least foreshadowed, instead of something completely new that got thrown in. Great point!

      Delete
  5. Chrome was messing up Seekerville, so I've downloaded Firefox/Mozilla.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chrome has been working fine for me, Ruthy. But I'm sorry!

      Delete
  6. So now I can see the blog, but it keeps sweeping my comments about this wonderful post away!!! EEK!

    ReplyDelete
  7. What is going on in cyber world??????

    ReplyDelete
  8. All those times my critiques said 'not enough conflict' and this is all I had to do? Thanks Melanie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) Now you know! Conflict is so important. Hard to overstate the importance of conflict, and yet, depending on the genre, it doesn't have to be world-shatteringly intense. Although intense is good.

      Delete
  9. So excited for your next book! And thanks for clearing up which fairy-tale/s The Beautiful Pretender was. I had thought Beauty and the Beast, but you already had that one, so I wasn't sure. :) Loved it all the same, though.

    Great things to consider with conflict. Makes me feel better about my WIP where all the "secrets" kept slipping out may before I'd intended. But the pacing felt right and there was always some more conflict to take it's place. :) Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pacing!!! That's the word I should have mentioned. And YES! You got it, Angela! The pacing will tell you if it's time to let the secret out. Great point. Write on, Angela!!!

      And thanks so much! The Beautiful Pretender hit on some of the things that I didn't hit on in The Merchant's Daughter, my other Beauty and the Beast story. That fairy tale is so rich with themes and angsty goodness, I feel like I could write a dozen Beauty and the Beast stories and not feel like I was duplicating anything.
      Thanks, Angela!

      Delete
    2. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite tales as well, so I will for sure be reading any other ones you come up with. ;)

      Delete
  10. Hey, everybody!!! So sorry I'm late to my own party!!! I have no excuse, unfortunately. Just Brain-Like-a-Sieve Disease. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melanie, I, too suffer from this disease. In this neck of the woods, we call it "Teflon Colander" disease. What doesn't slide off, slips right through the holes...

      Delete
  11. Melanie, lovely post on conflict.

    In one of my stories, the climax happened a bit sooner than usual, as you mentioned. I wondered if I would be able to hold the end of the book together. Thankfully, it all worked out. My heroine was injured and her life hung in the balance, which provided an opportunity for some of the hero's internal conflict to be resolved. I had to trust my gut as I wrote the story...and it paid off. For which I'm very grateful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, trusting your gut does usually pay off! If we make the inner and external goals and conflicts strong enough, it will carry us through to the end, even if the one we thought was the main one gets resolved sooner. You are a pro, Debby!!! :-)

      Delete
  12. Wonderful post, Melanie!

    I have problems resolving my conflicts too early, then I leave my characters staring at each other, wondering what comes next.

    So I've learned to sprinkle in mini-conflicts that build in tension through the second half of the story, but are also related to the main conflict...if I do it right. :-)

    I'll be printing this post out - and I can't wait to read your new book!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Jan!
      I think inner and external conflicts can sometimes feed on each other, keeping the tension going, causing new problems to crop up. Also, never forget your villain's potential to create conflict. He has goals too and will be fighting to make his own dreams come true--at the expense of our hero and heroine. :-)

      Delete
  13. Hey Melanie!! I love your books, can't wait to read the new one!! My daughter and I are big fans!! I feel like your books always keep me on the edge of my seat -- so many of the historical fiction type books are easy to "figure out" and as you said, those get boring early on. Thank you for keeping reading interesting and fun. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks, Ladette! I will put you in the drawing!
      Sometimes it's okay, I think, if the reader "figures out" the plot, as long as they feel the build-up and tension waiting for the characters to figure it out! But there has to be plenty of anticipation, and that's only achieved by conflict.
      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  14. great post, as always, Melanie! I thought that wolf scene in TBP was perfectly timed and the after effects were quite swoonworthy :D

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for the great post. You've got me re-evaluating the story I'm writing now... but in a good way. Your books sound really good. I need to add you to my re-read list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Amy! I hope you will find the missing piece for your story! Strong inner conflict and a strong external goal can help you come up with more conflict.

      Delete
    2. I think my biggest problem is that I'm basing it off stories I've heard my grandparents tell about themselves when they were dating. Not too much conflict there. They met, fell in love, married, and lived together 66 years. Perfect happily ever after. But I can think of a couple of things, like when Grandpa was going to school several states away, called her, and then hung up before she got to the phone (it was across the street). That's conflict that would make me upset with my fella! :-)

      Delete
  16. Great series...great books! Love 'em all...just waiting to add the latest to my Kindle book shelf!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Melanie, excellent series on conflict! I've heard a plot described as a climb up a steep mountain...with plateaus and high valleys interspersed. The conflict ramps up, but occasionally you take a breather, maybe reflect on how far you've come, how far you have yet to go, and whether the sacrifice will be worth it in the end!

    Those mini-conflicts are resolved in those high valleys and plateaus, and sometimes the trail takes an unexpected turn. :)

    Just like my life!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Erica, I prefer my conflict to be confined to fiction! Unfortunately, that isn't possible. :-) Life can give us all kinds of ideas about how to insert unexpected twists and conflicts!
      I think of plot as a few Big Scenes/Conflicts with a lot of smaller scenes/conflicts. Same thing, really. :-) Thanks for stopping by, Erica!

      Delete
  18. Hi Melanie,
    I can’t wait to read The Orphan’s Wish! Your books are so amazing, always keeping me at the edge of my seat wanting more. I especially love how the Hagenheim Fairytale Series is interwoven with one another. You are, hands down, my favorite author and it is a dream of mine to one day be under your tutelage, so I too, could create beautiful and heartwarming works!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you, Julianna! That is so sweet.
      It really has been fun intertwining the characters of that series. I hope to write several more, possibly bringing the series up to 12 books. Or more. We'll see. I never planned to make them into a series at all, until after I'd written the first two. Haha! Funny how things work out.

      Delete
  19. I need to keep a copy of this to study on in my writing space. Although, lately I have been dealing with some severe writer's block, this might even help me out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabella, writer's block is the worst! Drumming up more conflict, also strengthening your character's goals and motivations, their childhood trauma story, inner conflict, etc. is very good for writer's block! Try brainstorming with a friend. Or thinking of things you've struggled with.

      Delete
  20. Tension and conflict is one of the harder things for me to put in my writing. I do love it when the "main conflict" in a book I'm reading is resolved 2/3 of the way through, because then I'm so excited to see what else the author is going to come up with to finish the story. Your books never disappoint! I am planning to go to the writer's conference in June and can't wait for a chance to meet you! I promise not to fan-girl too much. :-D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, that's awesome, Jessica! I will be looking forward to meeting you there! And thank you! You're in the drawing!

      Delete
  21. Wonderful post, Melanie! As a reader, I enjoy when a conflict/black moment doesn't get dragged out until the end of the story, and that there's still some excitement coming after it's resolved.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Beth! We all love surprises in our novels, so the more genuine surprises we can provide, the better! Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  22. Reader here. I do love conflict in a story as well as a happy ending.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too, Kim! Those are two must-haves right there! For me anyway. Although I did read Gone With the Wind seven times. But I would always imagine a different ending. Maybe Scarlett could realize much earlier that she didn't actually love Ashley after all! Ha!

      Delete
  23. Totally agree. That's why you are one of my favorites! I don't like conflict to remained unresolved until the end of the book. Or worse, throughout multiple books. I also want to mention that you are great at making the reader satisfied after finishing a book. The wrapping up never happens too quickly and the "prologues" are beautiful. I don't want a book to end with, "they finally kissed and said I love you to each other. The End". I'm sure other readers can relate. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks, Shish Lynn! It is sometimes a temptation to just end it with their declarations of love, but it's much more satisfying to give the reader a bit more, making sure they get a peek at the wedding, and sometimes more than that, a peek at their lives together afterwards. Thanks for commenting! Entering you in the drawing.

      Delete
    2. As a reader, I do love a complicated conflict that takes twists and turns to resolve. I also do enjoy an unexpected resolution that leaves me gasping, to be surprised by another conflict. Love your books, Melanie! Can’t wait to read the latest.

      Delete
  24. Melanie, I'm a day late! I was out most of yesterday. I'm so glad to be able to get by today. Great post! I often get caught up in trying to find a book-long conflict, and it helps to consider tying that one up and ending with something else. As a reader, I think it's fun to have that happen! I love surprises. I think we, as writers, are always anticipating what's going to happen It's so nice to be wrong!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha! Yes, we all love surprises, especially good ones. :-) I didn't think to mention that it probably wouldn't be good to just have a series of small conflicts that get resolved and replaced with a new one all through the book, but if a big conflict doesn't last the whole book, make sure you have another big one that keeps the reader wanting to know what happens. You know all that, of course, being a pro! :-)

      Delete
  25. Oh, good. Missy said she was late before I had to.

    Melanie, I love this series you've done and, as Missy said, I like how you point out that there may not be one conflict that lasts the whole book, but there can always be more conflict. Like when you're reading a suspense and just when you're convinced they've escaped the bad guy and everything's going to be hunky dory, you discover there's another bad guy. Aye yai yai...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Yes! That's a good example, Mindy! Danger from without is always a great conflict, especially in suspense. Thanks for coming by, Mindy!

      Delete
  26. Oh, Mel, this is great! When I first started writing, I thought that there was supposed to be one conflict that carried the book from start to finish. And there's something to be said for that. Maybe there should be something that either the hero/heroine (or both) struggles with from beginning to the end.

    But then there are conflicts (questions) that arise and are resolved. Some take longer than others. When some are resolved, it might not be in the way that the reader is expecting, and good twists present a new direction for the hero/heroine.

    And these conflicts usually overlap each other and start/end randomly, depending on how they effect other parts of the story.

    Long story short... thank you for bringing this out. With some of my first work, I was worried that readers would feel cheated when I introduced a new "wrinkle" mid-way through, but done correctly, it builds conflict instead of tearing it down. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so right, Pam! And yes, it is good if you do have a conflict that is strong enough to last the whole book. That is never a bad thing! But also isn't an absolute necessity. I think it's good to start off with several strong conflicts. Some can get resolved and others can get stronger as the story goes along. Like you, I used to think it was bad to resolve a conflict midway through the story, but I've learned it's okay, if it works for the story and there are other strong conflicts, to let one or two work themselves out early.
      Thanks, Pam!

      Delete
  27. Hi Melanie:

    I'm coming late but just a short comment:

    I like it when there are multiple streams of conflict. I really like it when the hero and heroine have mutually exclusive conflicts….especially if there are more than one of them. These conflicts do not seem to run out of steam. They require a miracle at the end…like Julie's "Emma" book.

    I also like internal conflict created in the reader. This can happen when the reader is not sure if a character is friend or enemy or when the reader is not in favor of a character's actions. "Don't marry Charity." Even true objectives can be in doubt in the reader's mind. "What's she really up too?"

    Besides, I'm not sure readers want conflict directly. What readers want is something interesting 'happening'. We had a greeting in the military where we'd ask, "What are the happs?" The 'happs' did not have to be conflict but it needed to be something interesting. In the old west, when a stranger rode into town and went into the saloon, everyone wanted to know what the news was from out of town.

    Lots of conflict can also be very good for the next books in the series. Well, this may be a little longer than I intended but at least everyone else has already spoken. :)

    Vince

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Vince! Multiple streams of conflict are great. And I also like a book in which the reader is unsure if a character is friend or foe. I've tried to include that in a couple of my books. Come to think of it, that is really fun. I need to do that again. :-)

      Do you have an example of something interesting happening that isn't necessarily conflict? I'm trying to think of something like that. Maybe in my books it would be a dance in which the hero and heroine are starting to bond. I think readers do like that, and there isn't necessarily any conflict in that, but it's interesting. Readers often say about certain of my books that they liked the back-and-forth dialogue between the hero and heroine. But that usually involves at least some tension, but mostly it's just meant to be funny and, again, some bonding between the characters as they're falling in love with each other but don't realize it yet. I personally get annoyed sometimes if there's too much conflict, especially misunderstandings between the hero and heroine. So it's a point well taken.

      I like setting up the reader with making them interested in either the hero and heroine of the next book in the series. That can work very well to entice readers to want to read the next book. :-)

      Delete
  28. Hi Melly! :)
    Sorry I'm a day late, but loved this post. I've always struggled with having enough conflict and tension, and it's helpful seeing how talented authors (such as Melly!) handle it. I cannot wait to read The Beautiful Pretender---oh my! Sounds intriguing.
    And thanks for identifying what I also have: Brain-Like-A-Sieve disease, LOL!! ;)
    Hugs, Patti Jo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks so much, Patti Jo! I think my next post will be how to create conflict using your hero and heroine's past.
      Yes, Brain-Like-a-Sieve Disease is a very real, somewhat debilitating disease frequently seen in those who always seem to be plotting a story in their heads. :-)

      Delete
  29. Hi, Melanie! Like Patti Jo, I'm late to the party! What's with these day jobs anyway? :)

    Finding a book-length conflict can be so tricky sometimes--especially keeping secrets SECRET--so I like your ideas of spinning off to related escalating conflicts.

    I always try to give my hero & heroine each an external conflict as well as an internal one. Finding a satisfying external conflict is always the hardest for me, but I know some authors find that's the easiest part and struggle with the internal. Fortunate is the author who comes by both naturally!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, Glynna! Tis not easy sometimes! The external is usually easiest for me. I actually go ahead and start a story sometimes before I know the internal conflicts, hoping one will come to me as I start to write in a character's POV.

      Delete