Welcome to my blog on Writing Conflict and Character.
Any writer will tell you: ‘The Cat Sat on The Mat’ – this isn’t a story but if you add:
‘The Cat Sat on the Dog’s Mat’ – then that’s a story.
A good story needs conflict, it’s what drives the narrative. The scenarios and list of possibilities are endless when creating conflict within a novel – or short story.
If James Bond wanted to catch Blofeld, it would be easy. But putting obstacles or hurdles in his way creates conflict, emotion, action, excitement and therefore entertainment.
The snowflake method of writing suggests formulating a summary of each main character BEFORE you start writing your novel.
It’s a good idea to research your protagonist(s) and the type of character details that are important:
Character’s name, a one sentence summary of their storyline, their motivation, goal and conflict (the thing that prevents them from reaching their goal), an epiphany and finally a summary of the story line.
This is quite a detailed and a difficult ask for an author if they haven’t quite worked out the plot or the importance and role of each character but this discipline will help you shape your character and give credibility to their actions. Research for writing means your characters can, and probably will, change as your novel progresses and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Characters and situations evolve and that’s why you have to write many, many drafts.
Other details like hair colour, character traits and tics or likes and dislikes can be noted at a later stage. They can become part of the narrative or dialogue to bring scenes to life and to make characters realistic. Some characters will obtain their goals and others may never come close to achieving them or they may believe in one goal and be distracted by a second more important goal. This is life – this is what happens to many people.
Make your characters realistic but not flimsy or fickle. The reader must be able to identify with the goals and also follow their logic and emotions, if it changes through your book.
For example: WELL TRAINED is a shaggy dog’s story in my book of short stories RED SHOES. In this story I have pushed the characters and the situation to the limit so it becomes black humour. My main character, widow Sally Poole, wants a quite life but when a doppelgänger for her son Billie comes to fix the broken electricity she fights for her life with deadly results. Putting different obstacles in the way of the character’s goals creates conflict, tension and excitement until the final denouement and the startling outcome.
In my novel GOLDEN ICON, faded opera diva Josephine Lavelle has one last chance to sing Tosca but her plans are derailed when she’s involved in a cynical blackmail plot by her ex husband. Again, this conflict adds tension, detracting our protagonist from her goal and forcing her into doing something she doesn’t want to do.
Adding deadlines increases the pressure and ups the tension. Josephine has to get back to Italy for an audition but further complications arise with the death of her blackmailer and the reader asks: What will she do next?
Conflict and character go hand in hand. Not all people are good and not all are bad.
Your heroine needs a flaw but not one that is outright nasty or vile and can’t be redeemed. Readers invariably want a happy ending and a satisfactory resolution and if your heroine has acted outrageously then you can’t expect your reader to forgive them as easily as a mother would her child.
REMEMBER: Research characters. Give your character a goal and add an obstacle or hurdle to create tension and conflict and create a deadline to add to the excitement.
Next Blog Post: Writing about History and the Truth.