Monday, April 02, 2007

Six ways to introduce and build effective conflict in your writing

I spend time working on the premises and back stories of each of my characters because I believe the key to a good story is conflict. This is how I do it.

1. Identify the premise of each character
Each of my characters has a goal within the story, a premise that motivates them throughout. For example, the protagonist’s fate is that he faces up to his conscience and goes public with his company’s unethical activities. The anti-hero is the owner of the company who does all she can to prevent this from happening, as her motivation is to save her company at all costs.

2. It's not always black and white
As I discussed before, a stereotyped character does not a good story make. Just because the boss is the anti-hero doesn’t mean she is Lucifer and the whistleblower is Mother Theresa. Interesting characters have strengths and weaknesses; the protagonist becomes a whistleblower because he’s being blackmailed due to his involvement in the company’s activities, not exactly a worthy reason.

3. Start with the status quo
Conflict encourages growth and change in characters, so I begin the story with my protagonist in his comfort zone, perhaps coming into work as his usual overconfident self. This gives my readers an insight into his personality before the conflict begins to alter him.

4. Introduce an obstruction
Now I upset the status quo by introducing the blackmailer, a journalist who wants the protagonist to come forward to bolster his scoop. The protagonist now torn between going public with the information and his loyalty to the boss, who has encouraged a dog-eat-dog business culture. He’s also internally conflicted by his conscience versus his need for material things, both influenced by his past.

5. Build tension in the dialogue
I really enjoy dialogue in fiction but it has to be done right. Each character’s response needs to be governed by the situation and their personality. The protagonist is arrogant and is used to keeping his emotions from others – instead of having him hit the roof from the get-go, his conversations with others is initially guarded and condescending. Only under the characters’ probing and game playing do the cracks begin to appear, and it is a steady and natural progress.

6. And if stuck…do your homework
If I get writer’s block I find it helpful to go back over the notes I’ve made for each character. Does the character’s reaction and feelings fit his personality and motivation? Would someone from his background act that way? Is the character’s reaction in the dialogue unnatural, perhaps an overreaction? When I know where the characters are coming from, it’s easier to write a story that I can believe in and which flows naturally.

8 comments:

Julia Buckley said...

Sounds like a good plan!

Beccy said...

Sounds like you're very organised and know what you're doing. I'd love to write but lack the creativity.

hellojed said...

Thanks Julia.

Beccy, I think your creativity shines through in your blog, but I know what you mean - there are many different kinds of creativity. And yep I'm super organised, it's scary sometimes...

Clare said...

Hi, I'm new here. If it's any encouragement, I gave up one fifth of my income to write my first novel - not as dramatic as giving up a whole job, I know, but I too had never written anything before, and I ended up getting that pubished. So it is doable. I didn't earn anything significant from it though! Sorry, probably shouldn't have mentioned that...

hellojed said...

Thanks Clare, I do love hearing about new writers getting published, and at this stage I don't care about the money (but I'm sure I will later, and won't be able to take the above back!)

I hope that you'll enjoy your trip.

Allie Boniface said...

Nice post - thanks! And by the way, I signed my first publishing contract after 6 years of writing and 4 completed manuscripts. Dedication and discipline (and a thick skin) will get you far in this trade...

Judy said...

Hi, I found you through Allie's blog. I really like what you had to say here about the ways to introduce conflict. I'm going to have to print those out so I can remember them. Thanks!

hellojed said...

Thanks Allie and Judy, it was great to take part in Writer's Wednesday - I got to stretch those writing muscles. I'm weak in writing descriptions so Allie's tips were invaluable.