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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Each of us has some notion of what make writing "magic."
Character.
Setting.
Plot.
Pace.
Mood.
Theme.

The most useful advice I've received: there must be conflict in every scene, external, internal, and preferably both. And this applies to all genres from fantasy to literary.

Witness what draws us to a thread on KB. Conflict creates interest, incites emotion, propels the conversation.

This is a thread to discuss craft. What tips can you share? What have you learned?

The opinions of writers and readers are welcome! If you write, feel free to give respectful examples from your work. If you quote another writer's work, I suggest you select someone who's dead or a superstar, rather than a writer from these boards.

Meanwhile, even if this thread goes nowhere, think about how you can bring conflict into your writing. Think about the conflict in a story you're reading. How does it play out? How does it propel the story forward and increase suspense? Is the conflict internal, external or both? And how can you, as a writer, make your protagonist's day worse?

Okay. Please comment.  ;)
 

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SuzanneTyrpak said:
The most useful advice I've received: there must be conflict in every scene, external, internal, and preferably both. And this applies to all genres from fantasy to literary.

Witness what draws us to a thread on KB. Conflict creates interest, incites emotion, propels the conversation.
Ha! Well played, Suzanne.

YOU'RE TOTALLY WRONG, WOMAN!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
No, Moses, you're wrong, and I'll tell you why: you're just posting here to be a show-off. I, on the otherhand, no know what I'm talking about.

:D

ps. Also, you're a man!
 

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I'm a big fan of Donald Maass' "The Fire in Fiction," where he has about a zillion contemporary examples of "tension on every page."

Thanks to his advice, I'll resize my document page to be book-sized and go page-by-page, looking for tension.  That kinda works, but it seems to me tension is rather subjective.

One recent thing I've started doing is extending my scenes.  I get a lot of tension going, a big dramatic reveal, and then BOOM end of scene.  (In my first drafts.)  I still try to end on a dramatic note, but I've found I can squeeze a few more tense paragraphs / lines of dialog at the end and elevate the conflict even further.
 

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Me and da udder membas of da LolliPop Guild is here to shut dis craft thread down!



But, seriously...

Yes, conflict. Conflict and more conflict. Internal, external, fraternal -- all kinds will do. As one of my professors used to say, "Confwict iz dwama!"

My tip of the day: To keep the pace up, enter scenes late and leave them early. In other words, join the conversation in midstream and leave it before it's completely finished.
 

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I've been wrestling with this idea in my current novel.  There's a scene between my main character and his dead wife's former landlady.  She's a nice old woman and they have a pleasant conversation.  I was thinking the scene didn't have enough conflict, and was considering changing her so that she was an irascible old crone who gives him a hard time. 

But then I realized the real conflict of the scene isn't the interaction between the two, but instead the information she gives him about his dead wife.  The real conflict of the scene is his inner reaction to discovering that his wife lied to him.  And the old woman (unknowingly) telling him this information in such a nice way provides a level of interesting contrast.
 

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Miranda July said she most enjoys stories, be they written or in films, to "not have a lot of stress or worry in them."  She's a quirky writer/filmmaker/artist, but I enjoy her work, and she's built a faithful cult following with her unique style.
 

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I've always felt that happy people don't make great characters for stories. You want conflict in your story? Then you need to write about characters having a bad day and when they're at their lowest. Unhappy characters want to be happy and need to be put in a position where they have to prove just how badly they want their happiness back. Conflict occurs when forces diametrically opposed to the goals of the character are set into motion. Show the reader how desperately your characters want to achieve their goal and put people in place who are equally determined to stop them. That's the most straightforward way of creating conflict in your story.


P.S.: Great thread, Suzanne. Nice change of pace from the endless shop talk. ;)
 

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Re: Miranda July's comment. I too don't like stories that leave me too nervous for some reason. I Love Lucy, for instance, is nearly unwatchable for me. I think it's because I'm personally frightened of social conflict and confusion and in fiction, I can't handle it. On the other hand, I have no problem watching/reading stuff where I'm stressed the person is going to die or be tortured or decide to become a drug lord. Don't know why. Maybe it's because I never actually have to deal with that in real life, so the fiction doesn't touch my real fears? I wonder if it's why someone like my mother can't watch horror movies. She's a nurse who worked years in the ER. She knows that kind of stuff is real, and it can't be fun for her?

Okay, I think I'm veering off topic.

Kevis' comment rings pretty true for me as well. I tend to subscribe to the Job style of writing. I take a character and then take everything he/she cares about away from him/her systematically, and then I'm very intrigued to see who exactly that person's going to be in that moment.
 

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In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner said the human heart in conflict with itself was the only thing worth writing about. (I'll bet he was drunk at the time though.)
 

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Eric C said:
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner said the human heart in conflict with itself was the only thing worth writing about. (I'll bet he was drunk at the time though.)
Actually, you're right: Faulkner did get drunk right before he gave his Nobel Prize speech. He also wrote his speech while drinking as well. Ah, high school English class... those were the days.

valeriec80 said:
Re: Miranda July's comment. I too don't like stories that leave me too nervous for some reason. I Love Lucy, for instance, is nearly unwatchable for me. I think it's because I'm personally frightened of social conflict and confusion and in fiction, I can't handle it. On the other hand, I have no problem watching/reading stuff where I'm stressed the person is going to die or be tortured or decide to become a drug lord. Don't know why. Maybe it's because I never actually have to deal with that in real life, so the fiction doesn't touch my real fears? I wonder if it's why someone like my mother can't watch horror movies. She's a nurse who worked years in the ER. She knows that kind of stuff is real, and it can't be fun for her?

Okay, I think I'm veering off topic.
Your input was perfectly on topic. I'm curious how you would react to Miranda July's fiction as it constantly revolves around social awkwardness and interaction phobias. Also: Have you seen the show, "Breaking Bad" on AMC? I think you'd like that, especially the part about having no problem watching people die, get tortured, and becoming a drug lord.

OK... maybe that took the thread off topic. :eek:
 

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I've always thought mood and setting were important to enhance any future conflict in the story. This is hard because up until recently I've been reading a lot of nonfiction but Jim Butcher is very good at creating a dark, foreboding mood in his Dresden series and all throughout, humor is there, even in some of the darkest moments of the story.

I can't give an example because I took my most recent Dresden Files books back to the bookstore for a credit! 8)
 

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Get the reader invested in the character with an interesting story, add the spooky stuff little by little, be sure there's a touch of humor here and there, stir it all up and add the climax and the character solving the problem (even if just by running crazily away), and leave a residue of "what if that was real?"

It's addictive, fun, and spooky. But most of the spookiness is in the reader's imagination, leave lots of room for the human mind to do what it does best - imagine all sorts of crazy things.

Rusty
 

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Eric C said:
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech William Faulkner said the human heart in conflict with itself was the only thing worth writing about. (I'll bet he was drunk at the time though.)
I agree with Faulkner, even though reading some of his writing causes conflict in my brain.
C'mon he couldn't have been drunk when he accepted The Prize, could he?
:)
 

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I heard somewhere (prolly not from a drunk) that you can increase a scene's conflict by making sure the protagonists have something to gain AND lose in each scene. So not only does the scene need goals but there need to be consequences for the character not being able to meet those goals.
 

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JodyWallace said:
I heard somewhere (prolly not from a drunk) that you can increase a scene's conflict by making sure the protagonists have something to gain AND lose in each scene. So not only does the scene need goals but there need to be consequences for the character not being able to meet those goals.
That's a really good one. Thanks for sharing. ;)
 

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This topic comes at a timely moment for me. I'm just finishing up judging for a major writing competition. Each year when I read the entries, with the same types of problems repeated, I have a tendency to whine to my closest friends (you know who you are). Coming off the contest a few years ago, I wrote an article about common contest entry flaws. I think it doesn't matter whether the book is traditionally published, self-published or unpublished. Here's a link to the article in case anyone is interested: http://www.kathycarmichael.com/articles-and-seminars/articles-and-workshops/writing-articles/contest-flaws/
 

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Konrath had some good points on conflict as it comes to writing (see below, link to site here).

I agree with him. Conflict and tension are what drives the story. If we get a story without any conflict or tension, then all we're really doing is watching the character live his life.

And there's already enough "reality" TV to choke a whale. That's not to say that watching someone live there life is always boring. "Stranger than Fiction," one of my favorite movies, is a perfect example of this.

Harold Crick (played by Will Farrell in a significant change of acting style) is about as boring a person as you can get. An IRS auditor, he lives in a boring apartment, has a boring life and is, in general, the sort of non-entity that you can go your whole life without noticing. The movie would quickly put me to sleep...

...except that we know from our helpful narrator that Harold Crick is going to die. And so does he.

That tension is both monumental and vanishingly small, for as you watch the movie, you almost forget - except for strategically placed reminders - that it's there at all... until you realize just how pervasive it is as Harold changes everything about his life from that one stray comment.

Conflict is essential to telling a story, but the trick is not to let it overwhelm you. The conflict itself is not the story; the story is how the characters react to the conflict.

From Joe Konrath's site (link here):

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CONFLICT IS THE KEY

He burned down my house. Killed my wife. Kidnapped my kids. Ate my dog. Left me with two teeth, one eye, and no legs.

I dedicated my life to tracking him down. Chasing him through Europe. Following him back through time. Traveling into outer space. But I never did catch him, so I gave up.

Bad? Stupid? A time waster?

It could be worse. He didn't burn down my house. He just came over to watch the ball game. My wife and kids went to see a movie. We had a few beers, then I went to bed.

Both of these concepts are missing something essential. We all know stories contain a beginning, a middle, and an end. We also know they contain plot, setting, and characters.

But the thing that makes a compelling read, the thing that makes us keep turning the page, is something that a lot of us forget

That thing is conflict.

Conflict is the main ingredient for successful fiction. The question of "What happens next?" is what keeps your audience glued to the page. Not pretty description. Not clever phrasing. Not cute dialog. The motor that drives the story is conflict. The central plot of any story should be centered around a conflict. The sub plots should introduce more conflict. There should be conflict on every page, and even in every paragraph.

Readers don't want characters to be happy. They want them to be tortured for 90,000 words, and then happy at the very end. Maybe. That's the essence of a page-turner.

I like to break conflict down into three steps:

Opposition - That is, something against something else. Man vs. man, animal, nature, death, even himself.

Stakes - When the opposition is defined, what is at stake here? Who risks losing what?

Resolution - How does the conflict end? Is the hero's goal reached? Here's the fun part.

Apply this principle to any narrative you've encountered--movie, TV show, book, comic, short story, cartoon, etc. All of these contain a conflict, probably many conflicts at once.

Now--does your story? It doesn't matter how cool or beautiful your hero is, or how nasty the villain, unless there is turmoil and chaos. Many writers cringe at the prospect of plotting a novel. Eighty thousand words? How can I make one idea stretch that long? It's actually not too hard. Simply put your characters in a worst case scenario, then keep making it even worse.

For example--if I wrote a story about two hit men, this is how I'd add conflict.

Have them hate each other.
Hit Man #1 wants out of the business--this is his last job.
Their target (a terrorist who's planning on blowing up a school) gets away.
Their bosses threaten to kill them if they don't finish the job.
Hit man #1 is sleeping with hit man #2's wife.
Their target begins stalking them, trying to kill them before they kill him.
Hit Man #2 finds out about the affair, swears to kill #1.

And you can keep upping the ante. The boss eventually sends other hit men after them both. Hit Man #2's son is at the school the terrorist is going to blow up. The wife gets kidnapped. Etc.

If you don't like plotting out a story before you write it, you can do it as you're writing it. Just keep raising the stakes for your characters. Set up goals in the beginning, throw some obstacles in the way, and see if your characters sink or swim. And if your characters do swim, send a few sharks after them!
 
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