Monday, March 30, 2009


Some stories are bigger on conflict than others. But whether you're writing action-adventure or relationship stories, there had better be conflict. I'm one who avoids it like the plague in real life, so I've had to learn to enjoy inflicting it on my characters. I like nice people, but stories have to be populated with the less than perfect to be of any interest. I'm curious why this is so--why we are bored stiff reading about the kind of people we want our kids to turn out like? And yet it's true--stories without conflict don't catch hold of the reader and propel him or her to the other end like a rocket launcher.

Conflict doesn't have to be big stuff. There doesn't have to be a dead body on every page to keep momentum. In fact, that's the kind of conflict that will turn me off, as a reader. Not everyone, of course. Conflict can be as small as characters arguing over what's for dinner. I think the main thing is that the minor conflicts need to play into the major conflicts. Why are the characters arguing over dinner? Is it a symptom of a problem in the relationship? A refusal of one to acknowledge the life-threatening allergies of the other? Or something else? Because honestly, if *what's for dinner* makes no difference to the growth of the characters or to the main story plotline, it doesn't work as a source of conflict.

Sure, it allows the maxim of conflict on every page to be fulfilled, but a novel is more than random conflict. They have to build and intertwine and matter to one another. If the conflict is merely an irritant and doesn't actually matter, it isn't the kind of conflict they're talking about here.

In the same way, if the characters keep tripping over dead bodies, the story had better be about the dead bodies. They'd better not be in there to represent conflict unless it matters to the story's plot line. There's lots more to writing a novel than stringing 100,000 words together. Even pretty words. Or gritty words. They need to be more than loosely related vignettes, at least in genre writing.

That's my thought for tonight!

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