Grab Your Reader With Conflict

by Lea Schizas

No, not conflict of interest…not conflict within your being…but conflict found in a story.

What exactly is conflict in a story? Simple…a problem/obstacle your main character needs to overcome by the end of the story. Think of it as your engine that drives your car forward. Without one your car remains idle, collecting dust in the driveway. Give your car a super booster engine and you’ll be coasting the streets with no worries. Well, until the police stop you.

In a story conflict moves your character through various situations he must overcome. This intrigues and pulls your reader deeper into the story, connecting with your character’s predicament. A character needs to have a hurdle tossed at them, makes for an intriguing situation to find out the outcome. Without an outcome, there is no magnetic charge with your reader.

Before writing your story and making up your character profile, ask yourself these questions:

1- What will be the main goal my character will face and need to overcome?

2- Who will be my target audience?

The second question is important because it will help to focus your words and subject matter to suit the appropriate audience. For stories aimed at children, your focus will need to adapt to a child’s view of the world around them. Most of the time the story is told through the character’s point of view aged a few years older than the intended audience. For example, if you aim your story for the 8 – 10 age group then setting a story for a twelve year old character would be best since kids always like to read and associate with kids a bit older than them.

What subject matter can you write about for this age group? Middle grade readers love mysteries, soft spooky tales ( no knife-wielding maniacs, head chopping, blood and core etc, more suspenseful and ‘goose-bumping tales like in the “Goosebumps” books), magical tales (Harry Potter), even teeny bopper stories like Baby Sitters Club or Sweet Valley High. These latter ones are suitable for the Young Adult market, too.

TYPES OF CONFLICTS:

Here are some examples of conflicts in some books:

– the almighty tried and successful ‘good against evil’ Think Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs…yes, these fairy tales were using the ‘good against evil’ method if you sit down and think about it. The wolves in both fairy tales were intent on overcoming their ‘so-they-thought’ weaker counterparts.

In the above examples, something stood in the protagonist’s way:

Harry tries to defeat Voldemort but problems and other antagonists along the way makes this quest difficult for him.

The Lord of the Rings finds Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring but evil and dark forces stand in his way, too.

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars needs to defeat the new order of evil, and he, too, faces many obstacles and characters along the way.

In each of these examples, these obstacles (new smaller conflicts against the bigger goal they are after) causes a reader to continue reading to find out if he’ll be successful, how he will outsmart them, and what change will this cause in the main character. Along with these obstacles, throwing in some inner conflicts alongside the outer emotions helps to cast them more as three-dimensional beings, for example:

Luke Skywalker deals with the knowledge he has a sister somewhere out there. His inner being and emotions help to make him more sympathetic, which eventually bonds the reader to him. The same with Frodo; his world has been thrown for a loop when he takes on the quest of the Ring…along the way he begins to doubt if he, indeed, is the best man for this job. Also, he questions his will power to avoid succumbing to the dark forces once he has tasted the Ring’s power.

Another example to show you what ‘inner conflict’ means:

Let’s assume your book is based on a police officer who mistakenly shoots a young child while pursuing a suspect. It’s dark in the building and the kid jumped out of nowhere with a toy gun. The police officer is suspended while the case is being investigated.

INNER EMOTIONS:

How he deals and is dealt by his immediate peers His struggle to remove the visions of the killing The emotional turmoil as he waits for the investigation to conclude. His dealings with the parents of the child he accidentally killed.

Throughout all of these emotions the one factor that will bind your reader to continue will be: How will he fare at the end of this book. The way you first portray this particular character in the beginning will be totally different by the end because of the various upsets he’s had to deal with. Show him as upbeat, nonchalant, no change at the end and you will lose your reader’s interest in the book and in you as an author.

Think of real life: if you had to go through a trauma as the officer in the example above, how would it change you? A writer needs to wear his character’s shoes and get inside his head to fully understand him. Write a story with a stick person and you get stale material. Write a story with powerful emotions and you have one interesting read.

THE ALMIGHTY ENDING

By the end of your book all inner and outer conflicts need to have reached a conclusion. Whether your character overcame or failed is not as important as making sure he tried to meet them head on. You cannot place a conflict (or foreshadow) without making sure by the end of the story some sort of a resolution was made. This is cheating a reader and they WILL notice, especially if one of those conflicts was the one he’s been hoping to see the outcome to.

About the Author of this post:
Lea Schizas is an award-winning author/editor and founder of 2 Writer’s Digest top writing sites since 2004. She is the author of the YA fantasy “The Rock of Realm” and the paranormal suspense/thriller “Doorman’s Creek”. http://leaschizaseditor.com

And Now for the Sequel

Whilst researching non-fiction, I found this article called And Now for the Sequel…Writing Series Fiction for Children by Nikki Tate.

It’s interesting to read the thoughts of this writer, because they echo my own thoughts in so many ways, even though I made up my own mind before reading it elsewhere. I like how this author of this article has explained the many ways in which sequels can be written.

My own series is linear (as in the characters do become older with each book), but stand alone in as much that all information for each story will be contained between the front and back covers. Any additional information will contribute to the overall story arc for the series, ie hints for future story lines etc, but it won’t matter if the reader picks up on these facts or not. It will make no difference to the story or the series.

As a young reader, I remember falling “in love” with characters in a book. Of course, I had my favourite characters and if those characters didn’t make an appearance in the other books I picked up to read, I was terribly disappointed. Remembering this fact, I think it’s important to have all the main characters appear in each book in a children’s series. Otherwise, we risk losing readers.

I’ve never thought about writing a series where the characters remain the same age … forever. However, I’ve seen TV series and read books where this has happened and it was never a problem for me. I remember thinking, after reading X number of books in the series, “when are these people going to have a birthday?” But I soon forgot about that small detail and enjoyed the book.

Be sure to read the part called Keeping Track of the Details, there’s a good tip in there about using calendars, which is so simple, but I hadn’t thought of it.

BBC – Get Writing

Struggling Writer is always supplying his readers with great links, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw this one – BBC – Get Writing.

There are informative courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced writers in the Mini-Courses section. Also, if you browse The Craft, you’ll find heaps of helpful articles on all aspects of writing…including a number of genres too.

I haven’t browsed the courses, but I did take a look at a few of the articles and they are easy to read and well written. Go take a look.

The 36 Plots

A member of my Email Writers’ Group shared this link and I thought I’d share it here too.

The 36 Plots is written with RPG in mind, but I think the essense of what’s being said can be applied to novel or short story writing too. I hope it helps someone over a stumbling block. Or, maybe it will help you think about your plots and characters from a different direction. Good luck.

Being Invisible

Excerpt from The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author’s Tips on Writing Children’s Books and Publishing Them, or How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book for Kids by Aaron Shepard.

All at once, in the middle of the story, I “woke up” with a shock. For just a few seconds, I had completely forgotten I was sitting in a hot tent with a thousand other people – forgotten even that I was listening to Connie Regan-Blake. She had drawn me into the story so completely that I was aware of nothing but that story’s unfolding within my own mind.

That moment taught me that the height of storytelling – oral or written – is when the teller becomes invisible.

Part of becoming invisible is to engage the reader’s imagination with concrete images, as discussed earlier. If the imagination is busy enough, it will wrap the reader up in the story and draw attention away from the writer.

Have you read a book where this has happened to you? I have and I found that I felt that I was part of the story. In fact, I was part of the story. I tend to imagine myself as one of the characters and I ‘live’ the plot.

The difference it makes to the story is enormous. The pages turn automatically, the setting and characters move before your eyes. And before you know it the story has come to an end and you are left with a feeling of wonder…and disappointment because it’s over.

On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of stories where I find myself flicking forward to see when the chapter ends. Or I might continually look down at the page number to see how I’m progressing. Naturally, doing these things means I’m not right into the story. I’m distracted by the words, the author (maybe), everything around me, because something about the flow or plot doesn’t grab my total attention.

As a writer, being invisible must be a talent because I think it must be hard to do. I can’t say that I’ve tried to achieve this when I write, but I certainly would take it as a compliment if someone told me this happened to them whilst reading one of my stories.

Writing is like painting a picture. An artist uses colour to place an image before our eyes, whereas, a writer uses words. To become invisible, we have to pick the right words, a good balance with description and setting, rounded characters and realistic dialogue and action. It’s not easy, but can you make yourself invisible when you write?

Where to Start

As a reader, no matter what I’m reading – a children’s book or a book for adults – I always enjoy the books that start right in the middle of the action. It’s exciting! It makes me keep reading to find out who the characters are and what is happening to them. Yet as a writer, I sometimes feel the need to “set up” the character and setting first.

Excerpt from Writing a Children’s Book: How to Write for Children And Get Published by Pamela Cleaver.

Begin at the moment of change or crisis in the key character’s life. Don’t start with an explanation with his circumstances, or a description of where he lives. If you feel you need scene setting or character establishment to get you going, write it for yourself and go on until you reach an action point. This is where your story should start:

  • Start where the trouble begins.
  • Start on the day that is different.
  • Start where the main character comes up against something he can’t stand.

Don’t discard the previous material but feed it into the narrative as snippets as the story unfolds.

This is simple advice. Yet I feel that it’s the perfect way to find the best starting point for your story. I now know that I have to rethink the beginning of Cat’s Eyes.

I found this advice by using Google Book Search.

Leaving Successful Characters Dead or Alive

An interesting question was asked within my email writing group this morning – A Fantasy Writer’s Dream.

To start with, here’s a quote by J K Rowling, which she is reported to have said about her main character, Harry:

I have never been tempted to kill him off before the final book because I’ve always planned seven books, and I want to finish on seven books. I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks, ‘Well, I’m gonna kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels. So it will end with me, and after I’m dead and gone they won’t be able to bring back the character.’

The question was something along the lines of, with the above quote in mind, how would you finish this series?

As I said, I think this is an interesting quote and question. I have never before thought about the consequences of leaving a successful main character alive at the end of a series. I know with certainty that I wouldn’t want another writer – no matter how good they were – to bring my character(s) back to life by writing a sequel, but does that mean we have to kill all the main characters off? We shouldn’t have to do that in order to end a series, permanently. And…what right does another author have to “adopt” someone else’s characters and write a sequel? It’s wrong!

If you were J K Rowling, would you kill Harry off in the final book? Or, would you risk leaving an opening for another writer, in years to come, to write a sequel? And…turning this question to your own writing…would you leave your main characters dead or alive?

What are your thoughts and feelings on this matter?

Imagery in Writing

Stephen King’s article, Imagery and the Third Eye, is an excellent reminder that we must describe enough for the reader to “see” a picture in their mind.

I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t describe everything. It’s never bothered me if a reader sees something different to what I saw when I wrote the story, as long as they saw something and it left them feeling satisfied.

Why do I feel this way? We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, countries. The house that I see in my mind, isn’t the house that you see in yours, because our neighbourhoods are different. Trees and flowers are different in my area to yours as well.

What is scary to me, may not be scary to you, so a good piece of writing needs to give the right elements so that the passage brings a scary image to both of our minds.

Yes, it’s a good article. Go read it to discover if you see images with your third eye.