Write and Create Your Book's Conflict - Writer's Digest

5 Ways To Increase Conflict

The curse of a vivid imagination is that you can almost always imagine something that would make the situation worse. This is why if there is a sudden lurch on a flight, you can count on me to grip my armrest, mentally picturing the wing suddenly falling off of the plane. Strange noise in the middle of the night? Zombie apocalypse. Hacking cough and sniffle? No doubt the beginning of Ebola. It makes my life anxious, but it’s great for writing fiction. Most fiction suffers from not enough conflict, not too much. With every book and every scene, ask yourself “what would make this worse?” One way to do this is to take common conflict resolution techniques and turn them upside down. GIVEAWAY: Eileen is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: sefmac20 won.)
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The curse of a vivid imagination is that you can almost always imagine something that would make the situation worse. This is why if there is a sudden lurch on a flight, you can count on me to grip my armrest, mentally picturing the wing suddenly falling off of the plane. Strange noise in the middle of the night? Zombie apocalypse. Hacking cough and sniffle? No doubt the beginning of Ebola. It makes my life anxious, but it’s great for writing fiction.

(What does a literary agent want to see when they Google you?)

Most fiction suffers from not enough conflict, not too much. With every book and every scene, ask yourself “what would make this worse?” One way to do this is to take common conflict resolution techniques and turn them upside down.

GIVEAWAY: Eileen is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: sefmac20 won.)

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Guest column by Eileen Cook, multi-published author with her
novels appearing in six different languages. She spent most of
her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere
else, which is great training for a writer. Her latest release,
UNRAVELING ISOBEL, came out in Jan 2012, and Kirkus said of
it: "Cook gives readers a fast-paced plot, a likable narrator, and
interesting characters." Learn about Eileen, her books, and more
on her website and her Twitter. Eileen lives in Vancouver with her
husband and two dogs and no longer wishes to be
anyone or anywhere else.

# 1 Pick the Right Atmosphere:
In real life you want to choose the right environment to have a difficult conversation. You want to choose a place where the individual can focus on what you are saying and not instantly feel defensive or uncomfortable. In fiction, try and have the conflict happen in the most uncomfortable place possible for your characters.

  • Imagine a man telling his fiancé that he doesn’t think he can go through with the wedding. Now imagine him telling her in the back of the church just before the wedding, or worse yet, right after the ceremony, or as the flight takes off for their honeymoon.
  • Look at your manuscript’s conflict scenes. Do they happen at the worst time? Is there a more uncomfortable place?

#2 Allies, enemies, and the art of bringing others into the fight
In real life we don’t want to pull others into an argument. In fiction ask yourself, is there another character you can add who would make the situation worse?

  • Who does your character want on their side in an argument?
  • Who is the person your character least wants to oppose?
  • In the wedding example above it’s bad if the groom is in love with someone else, it’s worse if it’s the maid of honor, or her sister, or his best man.

#3 Avoid Accusations:
In conflict resolution we encourage people to focus on what is said, not what they assume is the meaning behind the words.

  • What meaning does your character put on things? We all filter what happens to us through our experiences. For example, there are two teen girls. One finds out that the other went to a party with another group and didn’t tell her. What might she accuse her of? You don’t want to be my friend. You’re embarrassed by me.
  • Look at your manuscript, what meaning does your character put onto what is said/done? What can they accuse the person of?

#4 Don’t Hit Below the Belt:
Why do we hurt the one’s we love? Because we can. We know the hot buttons. We know what will rile them up. Fighting dirty always increases conflict.

  • What do your characters know about each other? How can that be dragged into the current fight?
  • Look at your manuscript and make notes where the characters can have an “oh no you didn’t” moment.

(How do you make money writing articles for magazines?)

#5 Creating Win-Win Situations:
In real conflict resolution situations we try to search out areas of common ground. This allows each party to gain something from the solution. In fiction, we want to keep our character’s focus on not what they have in common, but what sets them apart. If your character perceives giving ground means they lose something, they will fight to win rather than compromise.

  • What does your character stand to lose if they lose this conflict? What is at risk?
  • Can you set up two characters with opposing goals?
  • Do you have a character that wants two opposing things at the same time? I want the big promotion at work and I want to spend more time with my family.

Readers aren’t interested in happy people leading content lives. Readers read for drama. To see characters in difficult situations who either triumph (or don’t) over those conflicts.

When in doubt, go big. Drop a plane wing, add a zombie, have them realize that the two things they want most in the world can’t both be had at the same time. Your characters may hate you for it, but readers will love it.

GIVEAWAY: Eileen is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: sefmac20 won.)

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