Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tip for Tuesday

Okay, so the picture has nothing to do with today's Tip for Tuesday, but I just like it. My son is holding a pile of orange kittens. Are they adorable or what??

On to the Tip for Tuesday. There is one inviolable rule of of fiction. Can you guess what it is?

It's not Show Don't Tell (though that's a good one.)

It's not One Point of View Per Scene (another excellent one.)

It's not No Backstory Dumps (because they are stinkin' boring and grind the story to a halt)

All of those rules can and have been broken by lots of authors throughout the ages. Some break them with better results than others, but I challenge you to check your bookshelves. I'll bet you can find at least one instance where each of these rules have been broken.

No, the cardinal, unbreakable rule for writing publishable fiction is this:

"No conflict, no story."

Seriously. If your character faces no conflict, you have no story at all.

Some beginning writers fall so deeply in love with their characters that they can't bear to put them through any difficulty. The writer pulls her punches and coddles her character.

I'm blessed to have a critique partner who has NO FEAR when it comes to throwing her characters into the meat-grinder. I sometimes have to read her manuscripts while wincing out of the corner of my eye. And she's taught me a lot about conflict and being unafraid.

In a workshop I attended with Tricia Goyer, she taught us that we need to drag our characters to the lowest low, so that the glorious grace of God and the overcoming of the obstacle shines even brighter. We can't be afraid to up the conflict, to put the outcome in jeopardy, to really hammer on our characters.

I realized how far I've come in this aspect as I was working on rewrites. I was writing a scene in which my hero hoped not to disgrace himself by doing something clumsy at dinner. The first flash across my mind was, "I wonder how he'll disgrace himself and what clumsy thing he will do."

This is a minor conflict that plays into the major one of the book, the one where the heroine has to break down the hero's prideful walls and convince him that though he's been crippled in an accident, she still loves him. On the side, he needs to find out why the mine he was in charge of collapsed, killing several and injuring himself.

The dinner scene could've been just that, a meal, blah, blah, blah. By ramping up the conflict, by causing to happen the one thing the hero didn't want, it makes the story interesting and leads into the next scene. How will he react? How will she counteract those actions? Will this set back his recovery? Will this change the way the heroine sees him?

Conflict forces the reader to ask questions, then read on to find out the answer.

So, does adding conflict come naturally to you? Was it a learned skill?


  1. Amen, sista! You taught me SO much about conflict. When you critted BaVS and told me to have Evan NOT want Bethany to go visit Robin. That totally ramped the conflict big time. And Bethy's conversation with her mom. You were like, "This fizzles. Make this explode!" and I did and the story improved 100%. Seriously. Ever since that crit from you, I've been obsessed with ramping up the conflict in my stories.

  2. I have had to learn it --to not be afraid to let it happen. In every book I've written, I've had to ramp it up more. I was told early on that I didn't have enough conflict. I still wonder if I do. I think my boggest problem was I wanted to keep it so real sounding and so I was afraid to get too carried away. But I'm learning:)

  3. I like drama--on TV and in books, anyway. So it usually isn't a problem. But I was rethinking my last book the other night and realized I could still make it harder for her. There were certain aspects I tended to be gentle on.

  4. Conflict is my friend. LOL, meat grinder!!! It comes pretty natural from this warped brain of mine.

    I can't wait to read your next book, you've just whet my appetite!

  5. I had to learn how to get big conflict in a romance. When I thought of conflict, I thought of suspense and thrillers, not love stories. Now, I've learned that the "meat grinder" belongs in all genres.

  6. Oh, yeah. I'm definitely learning to add more conflict. It's hard. It fits in with pacing. When I'm so close to the story, it's hard to know if I've added enough, which probably means I should add some more.

  7. I want to read about this crippled hero! Right up my alley!

    You know, some of my books naturally have skads of conflict, while others I work at it harder. It depends on the book. But all of them have conflict!

  8. Speaking from current personal experience, conflict is what the stories of life are made of! I could use a little less of it right now, but it is teaching me to let loose when writing it. :)