Conflict or Bad Situations?

In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned that I had written seven novels the publishing industry was too myopic to see the brilliance of. Maybe you have one or two of those manuscripts hidden in your storage shed, too.

What prevented publication of these jewels? Well, don’t know about yours, but probably not over a thousand things in my case. Let’s start with what makes a reader turn pages and keep reading.

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Pretty prose and impeccable grammer will get us to the head of the class in a high school English class, but it won’t do much to get someone to read our work. Assuming we get our novel into the hands of John or Jane Q. Reader, we must interest him or her in actually reading the book if we want that person to buy any more or recommend ours to friends.

The thing that will cause someone to read our book and continue through to the end is CONFLICT. My rejected novels all started with a handsome hero or beautiful heroine who moved through the story gaining wealth or happiness without opposition. To my amazement, everybody except me considered that boring. There was no conflict.

Wait a minute. In one book, the heroine’s parents both died during the War Between the States. In another, the hero’s father was wrongly accused and found guilty of a crime. That’s conflict, isn’t it?

No, that’s not conflict. Those are BAD SITUATIONS. Sad to the characters, but boring to the reader. Conflict has to involve two characters whose objectives are at cross purposes to each other.

If my heroine had wanted to operate her father’s farm after he died and discovered another character owned mortgage papers from a loan he’d advanced her father, and if this other character wanted to repossess the land for his own purposes, there would have been the basis of a real conflict. I’d have had something that might interest a reader in turning from one page to the next.

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If my hero had tried to find evidence to exonerate his father only to run up against the criminal who had actually perpetrated the crimes his father was accused of, and that criminal worked actively to keep the father from being exonerated, I would have had a conflict that might have been worked into an interesting story. An agent of publisher might have seen some value to it.

Conflict is the driving force that keeps a reader interested and makes him or her want to read more. Without it, we’ve got a term paper or a family history or just some ramblings.

We need to have conflict in every scene—real conflict, not just bad situations. There must be an overall conflict, such as the criminal keeping my hero from finding the truth or the mortgage holder keeping my heroine from succeeding in her attempt to farm her family land successfully.

But an overall conflict is not enough. We can’t have a scene here that is driven by that conflict and then the next scene just showing a happy family eating dinner together. Each scene must involve some sort of conflict that prevents the hero from achieving some part of his goal, or at least a conflict that temporarily sidetracks the hero and keeps him too busy to pursue the goal.

How do we insure that conflict? Where does it come from? We’ll take a look at that in our next blog. Until then, keep on truckin’.

Ø Think back over the fiction you’ve written. Is it driven by real conflict, or do you just have characters going throug bad situations?

Ø Think about the novels you’ve liked best. How did the author work an overall conflict into scene-by-scene conflicts to keep you interested?

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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8 Responses to Conflict or Bad Situations?

  1. Never looked at it that way…but I believe you are right. So happy you are following me on Twitter…I came to see who you were and discovered your awesome blog. 🙂 If you have time, I hope you will check out mine:http://bit.ly/oKWqx4
    No matter what genre a person is writing in, your insights will help…thanks so much for sharing.

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  2. hawleywood40 says:

    So very true – this is making me think about my current WIP. There’s definitely major conflict, but the question is whether I’ve been making the most of it in the scenes I’ve written so far …

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  3. Barb Estinson says:

    See, I’m learning by reading your blog. I can see why conflict in a story is so inmportant…. but hadn’t really thought about it.

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  4. Thanks, Max. I always appreciate your comments.

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  5. DM says:

    Great post and it is true. Conflict is what keeps the reader reading.

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