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Conflict & Suspense Excerpt

Brainstorming for Conflict

W1600 ConflictSuspense

from Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell
How do you begin to write a story with conflict?

1. You come up with ideas that connect with you emotionally.

2. You nudge them in a direction that offers the greatest possibilities for conflict.

So where do you find such ideas?


Your problem should never be a shortage of ideas. It should be deciding which idea you will develop into a novel.

Become an idea-generating machine. With a little bit of training, your brain will start generating spark after spark. Your creative mind is a muscle. The more you use it, the more nimble it becomes.

This is what you want. You want an imagination that works even when you’re sleeping and when you’re just observing life (“the Boys in the Basement” in Stephen King’s wonderful metaphor).

By learning to brainstorm for conflict, you’ll have your writer’s mind on active duty at all times, ready to pick up potential ideas and, even more, begin shaping them into concepts with conflict at the core.

Here are some ways to begin this training process.

1. With a concept, or “What if …”

2. An image

3. A setting

4. A story world

5. An obsession

6. Steal old plots

7. An issue

8. First lines

9. Your passionate center

10. Dictionary game

1. Concept or “What if … ?”

Perhaps the most honored creative game of all is the What If? Game. Storytellers from the campfires of Mesopotamia to the screens of the Kindle have come up with tales by asking that question or having their writer’s mind ask it for them.

When you engage in the game, train yourself to think in terms of conflict.

Let’s say you’re driving down the street and you see a man in a nice suit on the corner. He’s wearing old tennis shoes. You wonder, what’s odd about that?

You continue on, driving and thinking about your idea. You are careful not to crash into the car in front of you, of course (though, if you do, you can use it as material).

So you think in terms of conflict. Why would a man in a suit be in beat-up tennis shoes? Has he been recently fired from a great middle-management job? Or is he a homeless guy who has managed to find a good suit? Was he once a lawyer?

Wait a second. The last idea triggers some interest. Lawyers are always fair game.

What if … he was once a high-powered lawyer brought down by a trumped-up ethics violation? Framed by his former partner?

And now he’s out for revenge.

Revenge is good for conflict.

Or you’re driving down the highway (notice how often you’re driving and playing this game?) and see a billboard for some sort of sunscreen. A beautiful woman in a bikini and sunglasses is lounging under a hot sun as a bronzed Adonis applies the protective goo to one of her honey-colored legs.

What if … he is a hit man who is supposed to kill her? What can we do with that? He’s fallen in love with her, which brings up all sorts of conflict with those who hired him. His own life may be on the line now.

… she is having an affair with him? Who is she married to? Maybe the most dangerous man in Las Vegas. Or, for a more literary take, an older man she has fallen out of love with.

… he is rubbing her not with sunscreen, but a substance from another planet that will turn her into a half woman/half squid with a thirst for blood?

You take it from there. Come up with at least five other “What if …” scenarios. Make that your goal each time you get an idea spark. List five to ten possibilities. The last few should be the hardest to come up with but may in fact turn out to be the best.

Let each idea involve a potential Lead character.

Look at each item on your list and tweak them until they are packed with conflict. Come up with an opposition character who has a strong reason to oppose your Lead. Later, choose the top two to develop into a one-page pitch.

My novel Try Dying was based upon a news item I read one day. It seemed to be one of those strange stories that happens in a town like L.A. I cut the piece out of the newspaper and threw it in my idea box, where I keep notes and clippings of all kinds.

It was in there for a few years, and I’d see it every now and again. It always intrigued me. I never knew what to do with it. Finally, I just sat down and rewrote the item, as if I were a reporter:

On a wet Tuesday morning in December, Ernesto Bonilla, twenty-eight, shot his twenty-three-year-old wife, Alejandra, in the back yard of their West 45th Street home in South Los Angeles. As Alejandra lay bleeding to death, Ernesto proceeded to drive their Ford Explorer to the westbound Century Freeway connector where it crossed over the Harbor Freeway and pulled to a stop on the shoulder.

Bonilla stepped around the back of the SUV, ignoring the rain and the afternoon drivers on their way to LAX and the west side, and placed the barrel of his .38 caliber pistol into his mouth and fired.

His body fell over the shoulder and plunged one hundred feet, hitting the roof of a Toyota Camry heading northbound on the Harbor Freeway. The impact crushed the roof of the Camry. The driver, Jacqueline Dwyer, twenty-seven, an elementary school teacher from Reseda, died at the scene.

And that’s all I had. I felt this could be the opening of a novel, but then what? What kind of novel? Who was it about? How could this bizarre occurrence lead me to a compelling story?

I started to ask “What if …” and the third or fourth thing that came to me was, “What if this was being narrated by the man who was engaged to the driver, Jacqueline Dwyer? I found myself writing the next lines:

This would have been simply another dark and strange coincidence, the sort of thing that shows up for a two-minute report on the local news—with live remote from the scene—and maybe gets a follow-up the next day. But eventually the story would go away, fading from the city’s collective memory.

But this story did not go away. Not for me. Because Jacqueline Dwyer was the woman I was going to marry.

This became the first page of the novel and hardly changed at all. I didn’t know who the I was yet, but I saw the possibility for huge conflict to come. And it did.

So play “What if …” all the time. If you start doing it consciously, pretty soon your writer’s mind will run on automatic pilot, feeding you story idea after idea. Any “What if …” idea can be noodled into a conflict situation. You don’t even have to be driving:

1. Find an ad in a magazine or tabloid that has two or more people in it.

2. Jot down five “What ifs …” that harbor conflict between characters.

3. Choose the best one and write a one-page scenario on the developing story. It may be one you want to keep.

2. An Image

We are a visual culture, moved and shaped by what we see. In the brainstorming for conflict stage, getting images uploaded to your writer’s mind provides an infinite supply of story material. Here are some ways to tweak it:


I once imagined almost an entire screenplay from a scene that came to me listening to a movie soundtrack. It was a piece that gave me a picture of a father and a son together, on a hillside. The son was fourteen years old. The man was troubled about the son. And then the son burst into tears.

The music gave me the image and the emotion. I used this to imagine the conflict between the son and the father and then the inner conflict in both.

Other scenes started falling into place. All from a little music.

Make playlists of mood tunes. Mine are almost entirely film soundtracks. I have them subdivided into things like heartfelt, adventurous, suspenseful, fighting. If I’m about to write a particular scene and I know the mood I want, I’ll go to that playlist.

To generate material I sometimes put my soundtracks on a random mix, letting images play in my mind until something comes up that demands to be dramatized.

You never know what you’ll come up with when you switch from Ben-Hur to Dirty Harry, but I guarantee it will be interesting.

When an image really grabs you, stop and write about it for five minutes. Let the music play as you write, with the scene reeling like a movie in your mind. Keep an eye out for the points where characters are opposed to each other.

You don’t have to know what’s going on right away. Record to discover.


What are your dreams trying to tell you? You don’t have to be Dr. Freud to let dreams suggest story material.

Keep a pad by your bed so you can record your dreams if they awaken you.

At the very least, write notes in the morning.

Some people say they can’t remember their dreams when they wake up. I’ve been told that if you get back into your sleep position for a while, the dreams might come back to you.

It’s worth a shot because dreams can give us subterranean material we can’t get at any other way.

Movie Mind

Your mind will play you a movie if you let it. And it’s free.

Carve out some time in a quiet place for this exercise. The only direction you are going to give your mind is to come up with some conflict.

Imagine two characters and set them down in a scene. The more vivid you imagine the setting, the better.

Let the characters suggest who they are but don’t settle for plain vanilla. Keep watching until the characters develop some originality. Begin to see them.

Sometimes it helps if you cast these characters, letting actors from the past or the present “audition” for a part in the drama.

Once you’ve got the setting and the characters, watch the scene until conflict occurs. It can be an argument, a physical confrontation, points of confusion, other characters entering the scene, random events, an obsession, an odd action.

Keep the scene going until it grabs you. At some point, it will. Guaranteed.

Nurture this idea by setting down a little bit of the backstory, how these two characters got to be who they are.

You may find yourself caught up in the beginning of a tale packed with the clash of conscious wills.

3. Settings

What physical locations offer possibilities for novel length conflict? Answer: Anywhere! If you know how to look at it.

I live in Los Angeles. I’ve rarely used any other setting because there is such a wide variety of places right here in my hometown, each one offering a unique kind of conflict.

Take Skid Row. I set a novel there because every corner offers a sense of dread and danger. From the seedy transient hotels to the sidewalks where drug deals go down. It’s hard to find anywhere there isn’t some form of illegality or craziness on Skid Row.

I’ve also used the lovely San Fernando Valley, which at one time was the ideal suburb for all of America. Mostly Caucasian in population. Now there are at least one hundred different languages spoken in parts of the Valley. And almost as many gangs to go with them.

But a big city is not the only place to find conflict.

Consider the lovely, rural climes of Washington’s Puget Sound. Ideal for a tourist getaway? Not for Gregg Olsen, who places the grisliest of serial killers there, and then plays off the forbidding nature of the undeveloped setting.

Here’s Olsen’s description from Victim Six:

Even in the midst of a spring or summer’s day with a cloudless sky marred only by the contrails of a jet overhead, the woods of Kitsap County were always blindfold dark. It had been more than eighty years since the region was first logged by lumberjacks culling the forest for income; now it was developers who were clearing the land for new tracts of ticky-tacky homes. Quiet. Dark. Secluded.

Notice the words Olsen chooses: marred, blindfold dark. Quiet. Dark. Secluded. And then notice what happens by adding another element to the setting—the killer:

The woods were full of dark secrets, which is exactly what had attracted him in the first place. He’d noticed the brush pickers when he’d been out of the hunt several weeks before, when he had an urge to do something. A crammed-full station wagon was parked on the side of the road as close to the edge as possible without going into the ditch. They poured from their vehicle, talking and laughing, as if what they were about to do was some kind of fun adventure.

He sized up the women.

Most were small.


City or country, rural or populated, every setting holds the possibility not just for conflict between characters, but for being part of the conflict itself.

That’s where you need to take your mind.

In Good in Bed, Cannie Shapiro’s infant daughter is in critical condition at a Philadelphia hospital. The circumstance has rubbed raw all sorts of issues for Cannie, from her father relationship to her fitness as a mother. Author Jennifer Weiner uses this as an opportunity for the setting to conflict with Cannie:

I walked and walked, and it was as if God had fitted me with special glasses, where I could only see the bad things, the sad things, the pain and misery of life in the city, the trash kicked into corners instead of the flowers planted in the window boxes. I could see the husbands and wives fighting, but not kissing or holding hands. I could see the little kids careening through the streets on stolen bicycles, screaming insults and curses, and grown men who sounded like they were breakfasting on their own mucus, leering at women with unashamed lecherous eyes. I could smell the stink of the city in summer: horse piss and hot tar and the grayish, sick exhaust the buses spewed. The manhole covers leaked steam, the sidewalks belched heat from the subways churning below.

Try This:

1. Start with your own living situation. Write a page of straight description of your immediate setting—work from your residence outward to neighboring homes, streets, town centers, parks, undeveloped land, and so on.

2. Take apart the individual settings and give them their own page. For example, maybe your original page had this:

The main highway is about a mile from my apartment. I can hear the trucks at night, hauling whatever it is they haul up north toward Stockton or down south toward San Diego.

Put those lines at the top of a fresh page.

3. Now make up a character alone, in trouble, in that setting, and write a couple of paragraphs where the setting, not another character, adds to the conflict:

She stumbled up to the shoulder of the main highway. The gravel bit into her knees. How had she gotten here?

The honk of a giant truck kicked her heart. Then the lights of the oncoming monster blinded her. She threw herself backward, falling on the incline. Above her the truck slammed by, showering her with bits of tiny rock.

Try that for every one of the settings you’ve described. What you’re doing is training your mind to be on the lookout for ominous locations, which are anywhere you choose.

5. Now pick a location you’re unfamiliar with. Do you live in New York? Try Sioux City, Iowa, or Kent, England. Do some online research. Familiarize yourself with the place via travel sites, blogs, firsthand accounts.

6. Now repeat steps 1 through 3 for this new location. You will be pleased, if not downright amazed, how these exercises get you juiced about writing. That’s the magic of conflict.

7. Look at your Work in Progress (we’ll just call it WIP from now on). Go to every passage where you describe the physical location. Highlight in yellow each line that is neutral in description—that is, where the description is not adding to the tone you’re after.

Example: You’re writing about a runaway teenager arriving at a house in the dead of winter:

Icicles were under the eaves.

That’s okay as far as it goes, but you can do more:

The icicles pointed down like accusing fingers.

Highlight in red every passage that does “double duty,” that sets up a feeling or tone of conflict as well as describes.

8. Eliminate or change every passage in yellow until there are only passages in red.

Note that the conflict does not have to be outright dread (though there’s never anything wrong with that!). Even a feeling of discomfort in the character can be enhanced, thus adding to the inner conflict of the passage:

The sun beat me with unforgiving heat.

The car still smelled like Henry. She could almost hear his accusing voice from the passenger side.

You don’t have to stay at home. You can read about a setting. When something catches your eye, do a little research. One day I read a news report in TheNew York Times that began with this paragraph:

New cracks in Hawaii’s surface continued to spew lava on Monday in the latest punctuation of Kilauea Volcano, the mythical home of the Hawaiian fire goddess Pele … The fissures prompted the closing of parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, including Chain of Craters Road and other trails and a campground in the area. The observatory also warned of lethal levels of sulfur dioxide near the vents. However, because the eruptions were in a “very remote area” of the park, they did not pose a threat to people or towns, said Janet Babb, a geologist with the observatory.

But in my brainstorming, there very definitely will be a threat to people and towns.

Now I can do some research on volcanoes, the campgrounds mentioned, and so on. That doesn’t mean I have to stay in Hawaii.

What if there’s an eruption of something under the earth in a campground in Arizona?

Why not? What does that suggest?

Brainstorming will tell me.

4. Story World

Related to setting is the story world. This takes not just the physical locale, but describes what happens within a certain milieu.

For example, if you are writing a legal thriller, your story world will include law offices, courtrooms, and places where lawyers hang out. You want to do research on what happens in these places, looking for natural conflict points.

If you want to write about the CIA, get to know the culture.

If you want to write about a church choir, get to know what happens behind the pulpit. Plenty of conflict points can be found there, as well.

A great place to find out about story worlds is on specific blogs. I once wrote a series of thrillers where the hero had to hide out at a Benedictine monastery. I found a couple of blogs written by Benedictine nuns. Their description of the day-to-day in the monastery was invaluable.

Story world is different from setting, which is strictly the physical locale. Instead we’re talking about what goes on in a character’s sphere—what social, professional, and personal contacts she has and how they affect her.

Historical Settings

If you write in a historical genre you simply move the search for conflict to the past. You can do double duty here by giving a sense of place and, most important, how a point-of-view character perceives it.

In a historical novel dealing with Los Angeles in the 1920s, I had a character from the Midwest arrive in the City of Angels:

He passed through the depot, getting stares from some of the passengers and well-wishers there. He was dirty to be sure, but hadn’t they seen a guy down on his luck before?

He walked on and found himself in a place that looked like Mexico after all. A plaza and active marketplace marked the spot. Most of the people were brown skinned. A street sign announced that Doyle was on Olvera Street.

Further on he walked and seemed to pass through a curtain into a completely different realm.

Streetcars and automobiles clanged and chugged down busy thoroughfares. A thick river of people ebbed and flowed on the sidewalks—men in suits and straw skimmers, women in walking dresses and wide-brimmed hats. Signs attached to every building announced businesses and amusements—Boos Bros. Cafeteria, Loews State Theatre, Nerney’s Grocery and Meat Market, Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store, the National Hotel, Moline’s Auto & Supplies, F. W. Pierce Furniture and the towering edifice of the U.S. Post Office.

What manner of place was this?

Doyle stopped at a corner and fished a crumpled newspaper out of the trash can. It was a few pages from the Los Angeles Times. Some listings about real estate in a place called Lankershim—Many lots at $1450! A wonderland to come! Gateway to the beautiful San Fernando Valley!—and a caricature of a man calling himself Saving Sam, who sold automobile tires. He had a little mustache, this cartoon character, which made him look like one of those snake oil salesmen from the Old West dime novels. Doyle supposed Los Angeles was where the new hucksters were flooding. It was wide open, and there were plenty of sheep ready for fleecing.

The description is filled with detail but also the character’s feeling of being a fish out of water and perhaps a mark for con artists.

Let the readers know how your characters internalize the setting.


What sort of demographic does your Lead character inhabit? If it’s an upper-
crust, Ivy League educated set, does she belong there? Is she rebelling against it? Or has she come from the “wrong side of the tracks” and can’t quite fit in?

Create a background for your character that is in conflict with the current social setting. In Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, a girl from a conservative Southern town enrolls in an elite college. Her first encounter with fellow students at Dupont is when her father, who has a mermaid tattoo on his forearm, is helping Charlotte move her things into the dorm. The mermaid stands out prominently:

Charlotte caught two of the boys in the mauve shirts sneaking glances at it. One said to the other in a low voice: “Nice ink.” The other tried to suppress a snigger. Charlotte was mortified.

It becomes immediately apparent that the manners and customs at Dupont are completely foreign to Charlotte. When she is finally back in her dorm room with new roommate Beverly, Charlotte observes Beverly dressed up for a night out:

She was wearing black pants and a lavender silk shirt, sleeveless and open three or four buttonholes’ worth in front. It showed off her suntan … .
She had put a peach-colored polish on her nails; it looked great on the tips of her perfectly tanned fingers.

“I’m meeting some friends at a restaurant,” she explained, “and I’m late. I’ll put away all that stuff when I come back.” She gestured toward a mountain of bags and boxes piled this way and that.

Charlotte was astonished. The very first day wasn’t even over, and Beverly was going out to a restaurant. Charlotte couldn’t imagine such a thing.

But that’s nothing compared to her first visit to the co-ed bathroom, where she hears a prodigious pig-bladdery splattering sphincter-spasmed bowel explosion, followed by, in rapid succession, plop, plop, plop and a deep male voice …

Then another male voice from an adjoining stall comments on the noises, and the two voices go back and forth. When she tries to wash up and scurry out, she sees in the mirror two guys:

Each had a can of beer in his hand. But that was not allowed!

And so on. Wolfe wastes no opportunity for Charlotte to run up against some strange practice brought on by her new situation. Explore those areas in your own character’s life. Social conflict is some of the best material in fiction, because it affects the inside of the character as much as the outside.

5. Obsession

Come up with a character who has an obsession. This is the advice of Ray Bradbury, who then counsels that you follow the character wherever he starts to run.

And he will run into obstacles. He will run into people who want to stop him, throw him off his game, maybe even kill him. (Remember, there are three kinds of death. Start thinking about those now.)

What are the chief obsessions? Love, sex, money, power, fame, validation, and revenge.

For each of these there are innumerable variations on the theme. A ten-year-old girl and a fifty-year-old man can both be obsessed with fame, but for entirely different reasons. Getting deep into those reasons provides fertile soil for a story with conflict.

Make a list of the types of characters who would oppose the character’s obsession: family members, rivals, friends, enemies. From this cast, you will be able to select the best opposition for your Lead character.

6. Steal Old Plots

I once read a thriller about a small town where people were being transformed into animal-like creatures who feasted on human flesh. One of the characters in the town, a child, was convinced her parents were not really her parents anymore.

As I read that I thought of one of my favorite movies, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1956 version). At the beginning a little boy is running away from his mother because he doesn’t believe she is his mother anymore.

And I’m thinking, this novelist is liberally borrowing from the movie.

Then a bit later in the novel, it’s revealed that the animal-people are the result of biological experiments by a mad genius.

And now I’m thinking, the author has borrowed H.G. Wells’s plot for The Island of Dr. Moreau.

I thought I’d caught this author, but then he gave me one last twist. He had a character think that the whole thing reminded him of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and another referred to The Island of Dr. Moreau.

He was winking at readers like me, who knew what he was doing!

And this author does know what he’s doing. His name is Dean Koontz. The book is Midnight.

Do don’t be afraid to borrow, steal, update, or combine old plots and pack them with conflict.

7. An Issue

What issue in life really gets you mad? Maybe it’s political. You have plenty of issues to choose from here! It could be social or legal or spiritual.

Make a list right now of those issues that you find yourself thinking about most of the time. Now think about making that issue either the central element of your plot or a subplot strand in your novel.

But here’s the secret: You must be fair to both sides. If you aren’t you’ll get preachy and melodramatic.

Let’s take a hot-button issue like abortion. It hard to imagine something that makes for a more contentious debate.

No matter what your view, you task as a writer is to “walk in the other person’s shoes.” To see things from both perspectives and justify each position in the minds of the characters. You are not arguing before Congress. You’re writing stories about complex human beings.

If you are fair to both sides, even while advocating for one position, your book is going to be much more meaningful than if you made things pure black and white. Trust me on this. Real conflict over an issue is found in the gray areas.

8. First Lines

Dean Koontz, in his 1981 book How to Write Best-Selling Fiction, had some advice for creating story line:

Sit at your typewriter [yes , he used the word typewriter] and, without a great deal of cerebral exercise, pound out a gripping opening sentence or paragraph. It is not necessary or even desirable to think about where the story will go or what it will be about before you type that opening. Just do it. The less planning you put into this exercise, the more freely you allow these narrative hooks to just roll off the top of your head, the greater the likelihood that the experiment will succeed.

As an example, Koontz tells how he was doing this exercise one day and typed the words: “You ever killed anything?” Roy asked.

He stared at the line for a moment and it seemed to him that Roy would be a boy of fourteen. Suddenly everything seemed to unfold in his writer’s mind, and he wrote two pages in ten minutes, a conversation between Roy and a younger boy named Colin. The ideas just kept flowing and Koontz wrote a quick outline. The book, The Voice of the Night, became a hit under one of Koontz’s numerous pseudonyms.

All because of playing the first-line game

Joseph Heller wrote this line, without knowing anything else: “In the office in which I work there are five people of whom I am afraid.” This became the genesis of his massive satirical novel, Something Happened. (The line was moved further in by Heller once the book was finished, but it was the line itself that suggested the larger work.)

1. Carve out half an hour of time for this game.

2. Write a string of first lines on a page, leaving a space between them.

3. Try various ways of opening, from dialogue to character actions.

4. Feel free to expand an opening line into a paragraph.

5. When you’ve done ten or more, stop and look them over. Which ones grab you?

9. Your Passionate Center

Criminal defense lawyers are particularly reviled these days. But they have an essential part to play in our justice system. Their job, especially for public defenders, is a hard one, because, in fact, most clients are indeed guilty.

So the question they’ll get most often is, “How can you defend someone you know did it?”

The answer is, they believe in the Constitutional right to trial. That is what they are defending. So most criminal defense lawyers I know are passionately sold out to the guarantees affording those accused of crimes. This lets them do their job to the utmost, which they must if the system is to work. The Constitution of the United States is their passionate center.

What is yours? In every idea you come up with, there is the seed of your own passion if you dig down deep enough.

Let’s take a homeless lawyer for a moment. What if he is particularly upset about the way the homeless are treated in his city? How do you feel about it? Define that for yourself and then heat up the passion. Or you can substitute in the feelings you get about something else.

Do This:

Make a list of the ten things you care about most. Then take some time to write a paragraph or two about why these things matter to you. Use this list as a springboard for ideas to write about.

10. Dictionary game

When all else fails, there is one idea-generating game you can play anytime, anywhere. In fact, you can use this game when you’re in the middle of a project and don’t know what to write next.

You simply open a dictionary at random and plop your finger down on the page. Take the word you find and write for two minutes on whatever it brings to mind.

Then step back, analyze, and turn those notes into a basis for conflict.

I’m going to do this right now, totally spontaneously.

The word I turned to was flash. I wrote this:

There’s a flash of lightning. It illuminates someone in the rain. I’m standing outside a little shack in the woods and it seems like a horror movie. A clichéd horror movie. So the hulking presence that comes toward me might look like a serial killer to my mind, but he’s really a woman. A very large woman who is lost. Why is she lost in the rain? She’s crying. She’s not all there. She is in a plain dress, like a farmer’s wife. Maybe I’m in Kansas. Where am I? I haven’t got time to find out, because she has fallen to her knees. I help her up and bring her into the cabin, where I’ve got a fire going. I get a blanket to put around her shoulders but when I get back to her she is standing up and says, “I know where Bugsy Siegel buried a million dollars.”

Now I step back and look at this thing, all inspired by the word flash. Is there an idea lurking here that gives me a little juice?

Well, yes, the idea that Bugsy Siegel buried a million dollars somewhere.

I think I am going to leave this poor, wet woman in the cabin all alone. I hope she finds a story to be in someday.

But for now, I’m thinking there’s an ex-cop whose father knew Bugsy Siegel and on his deathbed whispered about the million bucks. Suddenly, out of nowhere, some very bad people want to talk to this ex-cop.

And I’m off to story nurturing.

This process took all of five minutes. There is no way I would have arrived at Bugsy Siegel’s millions on my own. The word flash led to a scene that led all the way to a random comment, which became the plot idea.

That’s the fun of the dictionary game. You never know where you’re going to end up. Once you have a trove of plot possibilities, it’s time to think about creating the solid foundation you need for conflict to be at its peak in your story. That’s the subject of the next chapter.

About the Book
Learn more ways to ramp up the conflict and suspense in your fiction with Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell

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Writer's Digest Interview | Marlon James Quote

The Writer's Digest Interview: Marlon James

Booker Prize–winning author Marlon James talks about mythology and world-building in his character-driven epic Moon Witch, Spider King, the second book in his Dark Star Trilogy in this interview from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: New Podcast Episode, a Chance at Publication, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our newest podcast episode, your chance to be published, and more!