Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Conflict and Tension, Part 4


Melanie Dickerson here. I hope y’all aren’t tired of my posts about Conflict and Tension, but I thought I needed to do one last discussion on HOW to add appropriate Conflict and Tension in your stories.

I have to admit, when I’m plotting, I don’t like making an outline or even filling out a worksheet on my characters or my plot. I have done the worksheet thing, and even created my own Plotting Worksheet, but I find that it doesn’t really help me. I have to work out my plot and characters in my head.

One thing I don't have trouble with is getting my characters to fall in love. The hard part is keeping them apart long enough. But that's a blog post for another time.
I also have trouble explaining my process, or even understanding what my process is! Sigh. I’m not methodical. At all. But, having said that, I think talking about certain aspects of your characters can help you figure out ways to create and add to the conflict in your story. 

We’ve already talked a little about the need for conflict. No conflict equals a very boring story. Every story must have conflict and tension or there is no story. But how do you create a conflict that works for your story?

Look at what you already have. I tend to start with a character that I know a few things about, then pick a fairy tale (when I’m writing my fairy tale retellings), and just let my imagination take it wherever seems fun, interesting, and romantic.

When I was coming up with The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, I remember I was thinking about fairy tales and familiar stories I might want to use as a basis for a story. I decided I wanted to take two stories and mesh them together. I started thinking about Robin Hood versus the person in charge of the forest. That would be instant conflict. What if my Robin Hood was a woman who was killing deer to feed the poor, and the hero was the forester who was in charge of catching poachers? And then I thought of Swan Lake. What if the forester fell in love with the “Swan” character from Swan Lake and [spoiler alert!] ended up shooting her? Just like in the Swan Lake story, the hero is in love with the heroine but doesn’t know her true identity. And then, when she’s in her alternate state—not a swan, but a poacher—he shoots her, then immediately realizes he’s shot the girl he’s in love with! Lots of angst and drama and CONFLICT!

That’s an example of something I learned from Mary Connealy many moons ago on the Seekerville blog, which is: Give the hero and heroine competing goals, or competing occupations.

So if you already know what occupation you want one of your main characters to have, then give their love interest an opposing occupation. An oil driller will fall in love with an environmentalist. A mayor will fall in love with a political protester. An aristocrat will fall in love with a poor governess (Jane Eyre). A duchess will fall in love with her betrothed’s brother (The Fairest Beauty). A margrave who disapproved of his brother falling in love with a servant will himself fall in love with a servant girl disguised as an aristocrat (The Beautiful Pretender).

I could go on and on but you get the picture.




Another way of adding conflict is to think about your main characters’ greatest fear and force them to face it. Do you know your main characters’ greatest fears? Do you know their goals? Their motivations? What happened to them when they were children that scarred them and gave them their greatest fears? This is all great stuff to use to create conflict and tension. And it’s not enough to know what their goal is. You have to know WHY that’s their goal, what their motivations are.

Does your character have trust issues? Use that. Do they have issues with rejection and abandonment? You can use that. What is their greatest strength? You can even use that, especially if their strength becomes a weakness by causing them to be prideful about that one thing. Make sure you challenge their strengths and weaknesses. You can use events, circumstances, the villain, or the other main character to do this.

As an example of the characters’ greatest fears causing conflict . . . In A Viscount’s Proposal, the conflict comes from the hero’s disapproval of the heroine, as well as her fear of marrying someone who wouldn’t feel any passion or genuine love for her, since that’s the kind of marriage her parents have. The hero’s stuffiness and arrogance, as well as his disapproval of the heroine, come from his fear of scandal—his father was embroiled in a scandal that got him killed when the hero was just a boy, which also led to his mother’s death. You can imagine their horror when, toward the middle of the story as they get to know each other, they each begin to feel an attraction for the other. Their fears are still there, so there’s lots of inner conflict now. Their trust issues also come into play, creating more tension and conflict.

So, your turn. How do you come up with conflict in your stories? If you’re having trouble coming up with enough conflict in your current WIP, have you mined their worst fears? Their goals and motivations? Their childhood scars and traumatic events? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

And if you're on Goodreads, I would love it if you would add my Aladdin retelling, The Orphan's Wish, to your Want to Read shelf!




44 comments:

  1. First, I must buy those books. I love the $1.99 pricetag and then I get to have them on my Kindle! WIN!!!!!

    Melanie, I've loved this conflict series and I expect everyone else has, too. I'm so glad you drew it out over several posts... It's like a conference class in a blog series. Marvelous!

    COFFEE IS HERE!!! TEA, TOO!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just bought all 3 and loaded to my Kindle for our beach vacation! Of course, that isn't for months. But I'll be happy knowing they're waiting. :)

      Delete
    2. YAY! I hope you like them, Missy!

      Delete
  2. Thanks, Ruthy! I'll be teaching it again at the Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa on June 9th. LOL

    I'll take tea, please. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tea it is! And those Southern writers are blessed to have you!

      Delete
  3. Anybody want to "talk out" their plot's conflict, or figure out how your character's flaws or strengths or fears could cause them conflict?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm working on a devotional this morning so can't even get into story mode at the moment. But I may come back later to jump in!

      Delete
  4. Good morning, Melanie! How do I come up with conflict? I'm not sure I've had enough caffeine to answer that question. And I've been up since 6.

    Sometimes I do the opposing goals, but more often than not their conflicts are more internal. Of course, they still have to have some external conflict. When I do reunion romances, the internal and external often mingle into one. The heart and mind can be so at odds with one another, you know.

    Okay, I need more tea. I'm getting hazy. Wonderful post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mindy! Yes, the heart and mind can definitely be at odds! The mind says, "No! Back away!" But the heart says, "Yes, gimme!" LOL

      Delete
  5. Good post, Melanie. My method is a lot like yours. I do "plot and plan," but by the time I sit down to do it I usually have a pretty good idea of who's who and why, I just need to formalize it.
    Where I fall down is in the "competing occupations" arena.
    I have a "rich girl poor guy" conflict in my "City On a Hill" series, and then the sequel is "poor girl rich guy." Don't know what permutation I'll do in the third book. After yesterday I'm feeling braver about diversity and I'd love to do the third book in the Harlem Renaissance, but we'll see. Have to sell the first two books!
    Feeling better about the GDPR. Tina forwarded a post to LinkedIn that gave me some comfort. If they want to hassle me, they have to find me first.
    Kathy Bailey
    under the radar in New Hampshire

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm under the radar, too, Kathy. It's cozy here, isn't it? :-)

      Delete
    2. Jan, I think I'm safe because I don't have any foreign followers, I barely have American ones, ha ha.

      Delete
    3. I think you're safe, Kaybee!
      I love the status disparity romances! I do quite a lot of those, usually the poor girl, rich guy, since fairy tales are often that trope. Keep writing!

      Delete
  6. Melanie, these are great examples! Thanks for sharing. I have the hardest time with conflict. I've really enjoyed this whole series!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This has been a great series, Melanie! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    I've found that the best way to develop the conflict in my stories is to plan them out in layers. I start with an overview of the characters, then I do a simple plot outline. Then I go deeper into my characters - who are they? From that, I'll get more plot ideas to sprinkle in. Then I really get into my characters, a la Susan May Warren's Story Equation (I love that book!). Then the final layer is to fine tune the plot outline and include the conflicts between the characters that I discovered while working on the character layers.

    And then, finally, I'm ready to start writing!

    But a key thing is that I have to know my characters well and know what buttons they need to push in each other to get the conflict going. :-)

    I'm saving this whole series to refer to often!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes reading plotting articles helps me by sparking an idea that's totally different from what the writer of the article said, so I hope it does help.
      Susan May Warren is awesome at explaining how to write a greatv story! A lot of what I do, plotting wise, is from workshops I've taken with her and Rachel Hauck. But I'm not as methodical as you, Jan! I wish I was. I think I wouldn't have to do so much editing, and I could write faster! Thanks, Jan, for your kind words!

      Delete
  8. I'm better at the emotional and spiritual conflicts than I am at external, except when it's something like the Oregon Trail where the conflict is almost handed to me.
    In the sequel to my Trail novel Oona Moriarty comes to a tiny Oregon Country settlement to enlist her brother Michael to go home to Ireland and fight the English with her. He refuses, for a number of reasons, and she's stuck there. She falls in love with Pace Williams, a drifter who's done just about everything, and he with her. But he won't join her quest to avenge her family against the English. He reasons, "it's not my fight," and also there's a bit of jealousy there because she's also avenging her late fiancé. They both eventually realize that their home is with each other, wherever that is, but it takes a lot of angst (and one good battle) to get them there.
    I got a lot of good work done on the above this morning and also wrote a post for LinkedIn, but LinkedIn won't let me post it. Their loss.
    KB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like a great story! I love the conflict.
      I don't know how to delete my LinkedIn account or I would. LOL! I never get on there.

      Delete
  9. Hi Melanie:

    When you wrote:

    "I hope y’all aren’t tired of my posts about Conflict and Tension, but I thought … (if you are, then that would be good too as a source of conflict in itself.)" :)

    Italics mine!

    But seriously, conflict is only one way to keep readers turning pages. I mean, yes, if a siren went off outside your house and it kept getting louder and louder, hour after hour, (cf. "always be raising the conflict/tension/stakes") while it would get your attention, it would not take long to become totally annoying! Police department calling annoying.

    There are many other ways to keep a reader's interest by rewarding them for reading. James Patterson likes to ask many questions that the reader just must have answered ASAP. I count it as an additional reward when you answer a question sooner than when the reader expected.

    However, while on the topic of conflict, which is very important to a story, I'd like to consider these:

    The anti-romantic conflicts most romance writers avoid.

    1. how many children do they want: 0 to 1 or 5 to 9.
    2. when to have first child: in first year or after ten years of career building are world travel.
    3. how to handle money and credit cards: wife to keep maiden name and credit cards in her own name or to have all joint accounts. (Perhaps biggest cause of conflict in marriage.)
    4. when partner must convert to your religion -- even when they already have a perfectly good religion. (That is, not atheist.)
    5. partner is a vegetarian and will not abide any meat cooked in the house and sure would not do it herself. Other partner is a cowboy meat and potatoes guy!
    6. partner wants her mother to move in with them.Right away!
    7. partner expects to have Sunday dinner at her mother's house -- every Sunday!
    8. both partners hate each other's mother-in-law.
    9. partner is madly in love but won't even consider moving out of her small Georgia town even though her husband is making a lot of money in Seattle and has no good job prospects in Georgia.
    10. partner thinks sex once a month is idea.

    How's that for conflict? Actually I think many readers would like to find ways to deal with these problems which are often intentionally not addressed in the passion of a courtship.

    (And I didn't even mention conflicts over prenuptial agreements. :) )

    Vince

    P.S. Love the idea of 1.99 books. I'll have to try one of your non-fairly tale books. I think you do the best fairy tale books. And I'm someone who has read at least six versions of "Beauty and the Beast" over the years.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL on the anti-romance, Vince! That's a little too much realism. :)

      Delete
    2. Hi Missy:

      A Seeker writer did a story with #9 conflict and I've never forgotten it! (No spoiler here). You might know who this is. :)

      Delete
    3. Aw, Vince!!! I feel very honored that you like my fairy tale stories!!! :-) Now I'm grinning happily.
      Wow, that's a great list of unromantic conflicts! Haha! But very legitimate conflicts. I do think these are very good things to discuss in pre-marital counseling! Definitely should be dealt with before the wedding. :-)
      I like realism in my stories, but a straight-up romance does gloss over these types of things! I would definitely read a story that had a few of these very realistic conflicts, just to see how the writer resolves them and keeps the romance. :-)

      Delete
    4. Hi Melanie:

      You wrote: "but a straight-up romance does gloss over these types of things!" Yes, indeed, which makes me think of romantic comedy as perfect for some of these conflicts. Think of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall". This movie had many of the conflicts turned so excessive that they were funny. Who here writes romantic comedy?

      Delete
  10. Just saw this news on the FHL loop. Congrats to all!! I'm thrilled to see several of our blog readers!!

    2018 Touched By Love Award Finalists
    Historical Category
    Crystal Caudill
    Rachel McDaniel
    Cindy Regnier
    Lori Wright

    Long Contemporary Category
    Jennifer Chastain
    Deborah Clack
    Barbara Ellin Fox


    Short Contemporary Category
    Sami A. Abrams—Double finalist
    Tanya Agler

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congrats to them! I recognize several of those names!

      Delete
    2. Congratulations, ladies! I'm so excited for you! Happy dancing in Western New York!!!!

      Delete
  11. These are great posts, Melanie. Conflict is always a tough one for me because I love my characters and I want them to avoid pain :) My WIP has as its first conflict the fact that the heroine is hiding her family's history as part of the Russian mafia from the hero who is an FBI agent. But beyond that, I'm using childhood trauma and trust issues from past relationships. And hoping that it's enough to keep the reader's interest and the pages turning. Now it's on to sub-plots for the second level of interest. Haven't figured those out yet. Thanks for all the great tips!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds great to me, Glynis! And thank you! :-) Secrets can be a great source of conflict.

      Delete
  12. Great idea to use childhood fears! Thanks for that idea!

    ReplyDelete
  13. In one of my WIP's my hero used the heroine to save his life, which then endangered hers and now, even though she majorly mistrusts him, they have to work together and pretend to be in love in order to survive.

    I'm actually using my character's greatest fears against them in one of my WIP's because there's a bad guy who makes their greatest fears real and sends them on my characters.

    Excellent post, Melanie!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks, Nicki! Pretending to be in love when you really don't trust that person would make for some great conflict! Sounds great!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post, Melanie! The story is so much better when sparks fly!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Caryl! Yes it is! I love it when the sparks fly! :-)

      Delete
  16. What a terrific series of posts, Melanie. Thank you for "stretching it out." The time between has given me the opportunity to absorb what you've said before I go on to the next post. An interesting thought about giving the heroine and hero what amounts to opposing occupations -- that's conflict for sure :-)
    Nancy C

    ReplyDelete
  17. Melanie--Your series on conflict and tension has been great! Escalating conflict and ongoing tension keep readers reading to find out how all is resolved--and writing it is fun for the writer, too!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Great series on tension, Mel. My problem is that I usually have about 60-70K written before some of these threads start to reveal themselves. Oy vey! :(

    But I keep going, keep working, and keep revising. Which I need to go do now. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pam: If conflicts develop late in the story, look to your foundation. Read foundations for future problems just like a builder.

      Delete
  19. Be Careful What You Wish For…

    I also like to think of conflict in stages. For example have a conflict resolved 1/3 into the story and give the reader a relief from the tension. Then have having the first conflict resolved actually cause an even greater and opposite conflict. This is of the 'be careful what you wish for, you might get it' school of conflict.

    Vince

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like doing that, Vince! I did that with A Dangerous Engagement, as I recall.

      Delete