Saturday, July 20, 2013

Meanwhile, In Real Life...

I think sometimes in our writing, we're scared of conflict. You've probably been there. You KNOW you're supposed to torture them, to dangle what they want in front of them and then snatch it away (while going 'mwahahahahaha!'), but sometimes it's hard! Sometimes you just don't want to. When that happens, well, there's really nothing to do but get over it. It's what makes good fiction. ;)

But sometimes I think we shy away from adding more layers of conflict because we don't want to overcomplicate. We want people to think our stories are realistic, and who would believe it if we had TOO many conflicts for our characters?

Well, everybody, actually.

Novels that people like to read (um, for fun) are usually not just 'a day in the life' of someone. Ivan Denisovich comes to mind. Slow, slow read. Very literary and I actually liked it, but that's not 'beach reading' fiction, which I think is more what most of us are going for. Popular fiction. Not study-it-in-class fiction. If the second is your goal, more power to you. But for most of us, our novel is going to take place at a crossroads in someone's life. Something weird has happened, something crazy has happened, they WISH something weird or crazy would happen...something is going to change. It's what's causing our inciting incident and pushing our story forward.

And in real life, whenever ONE thing goes crazy, several things usually do.

You might think that your heroine losing her job is a lot of conflict. And it is. But if you REALLY want to amp up that conflict, add more. How is her family doing during this week she loses her job? Is someone sick? Does someone break an ankle or something? You're adding more conflict. Believable for most of us in everyday life? Maybe not. Believable for anyone who has had a TRULY crazy week ever? Yes. Most definitely.

So our poor heroine (moment of pity for her...) lost her job and her grandma broke her ankle. Rough week, right? In real life, would it always end there? No. Her dishwasher is also going to break that week. Her dog is going to run away (thankfully, he comes back, because though I write suspense and may kill of people in my writing, the dog is ALWAYS okay.). Then the dog is going to chew up her favorite pair of shoes. Our heroine will toss them into the trash and take her trash to the curb only to discover that the trash men are already half a mile past her house and she has to keep her stinky trash for another week....

See how real life should be sometimes for our characters? Maybe no one will believe it if you give your character every HUGE issue that has ever existed to work through all in the course of your book. But you can layer big problems with little ones and pretty soon even something like dropping one of her favorite coffee mugs and breaking it is going to lead your character to a huge emotional crisis.

So are you good at conflict in your stories? Can you add in any more layers?

And if you're having one of those crazy weeks, sorry about that. But write it down--it could come in handy for a book one day. ;)

Sarah (Whose week has not been NEARLY as crazy as the made-up heroine in this post, although her oldest son has been sick, she's a million years behind on laundry, and her kitchen looks like someone should declare it a natural disaster zone...)


  1. I've been evaluating my writing yesterday and today, I've had a hard time getting back into it after my break. I start to work on it and keep feeling Ike "this is too had to work out." I've been wondering if I'm lazy and not interested? Or if maybe I've written myself into a corner. It's interesting you bring up conflict, can you add to much conflict? At least for a beginner?

    I always read about making stories bigger and I tried to do that by adding things. I really causes me to over think and stress. What's been on my mind today is, how to I reign that conflict in while still being enough? Would simolier stories be better? And how do I find them....I'm thinking out loud here! I'm wondering if I should set my current WIP aside and write some short stories and build up aiming for simolier stories. Does that sound plausible? I just think ultimately I over think and get too much in my head.

  2. I've gotten to that place before, where I feel like I'm stuck and can't work it out. So you're not alone. =)

    As far as whether or not you can have too much conflict...I guess it's possible, but it would depend. Definitely don't have 2 zillion HUGE conflicts for your heroine to work through. For me, my characters have a big conflict. Then they have lots of little ones and as soon as one almost works out, another smaller one comes up. Or at least similar to that.

    When you say that you're trying to make your story bigger by adding things, are you just pulling them out of thin air and adding them in? Or are you adding them based on the problems you already have in the story? I mean, do they all tie in or is it just like "hm. I need another problem. Maybe she'll have a car wreck!" In the 2nd things can get unbelievable, but the first usually works.

    Does that clear things up at all?

    Want to give some examples for us and have us brainstorm? =)

    Sometimes setting a current WIP aside isn't a bad idea. Maybe that's something to try, I don't know.

  3. Gosh, lets see, I think it's some of both. They are sort of related but somewhat out of thin air! Ive somehow tried to connect a dance marathon with an art contest where they draw clothes and combine it with a national fashion competition for a college scholarship. Like they all happen on one night. I was trying to up the stakes! I think I did it wrong.

    she also gets a secret admirer note & thinks its from the guy she likes. But in the next scene he announces his gf. At first she was going to break them up but then she thought the note was from him. And it's getting tangled in she thinks he likes her but she's mad he has a gf.

    It's all got mangled & weird. It's almost embarrassing to post. Like I just read "paige, torn." By erynn the entire book flows & makes sense, yet its simple! And mine just makes me go "whaaaattt?"

    1. Aw, don't be embarrassed to post! We're all learning. =) Haha, in fact, I'm not 100% positive that my current WIP will all tie together the way it kind of is in my head. I'll let you know when I finish. ;)

      Your first paragraph things make sense, mostly. I'm not 100% sure from reading how they tie together, but I see how they could. To me, that second paragraph does sound perfect! That's a conflict that's different and adds to the drama, but it's something that's believable and you know that kind of thing would happen while other things were crazy in life.

    2. Really? Would they work in the same book?

    3. I think it sounds doable also. And if you have worked yourself (and therefore your characters) into a tangled mess, the story is in how to untangle the situation and resolve it all...right? :)

  4. One question (and good post, by the way!). What do you think of some measure of predictability? It seems to me you have to be somewhat predictable, which in my mind is an intriguing factor to keep turning pages to see if it comes out the way you think (and hope) it will. Take a romance for example? Wouldn't your readers hate you more if she DIDN'T marry her true love? Just a question that has been on my mind. :)

    1. Yeah, I see what you're saying, I think. My hubby and I were actually talking about something like this the other day--like when you're reading suspense you're turning the pages to make sure the main character doesn't die, but on the other hand, you KNOW there are two more books in the series, so she CAN'T die, but you still wonder.

      Haha, like that?

      So have to have predictable unpredictability. Or something like that. I need more coffee to make that make sense. =)

      I guess maybe in the case of something like romance, we're wondering if it will work out as well as we hope it will? And yes, in "fun" books, they totally have to marry their true loves. We just want to torture the character and make that hard for them, not rob the reader of that and torture them. =)

    2. Good! I think we are on the same page! :) I am just trying to balance my predictability and unexpected twists, and wanted a second opinion. Thanks!

  5. I'm not all that great at layering conflict. I definitely need to work on that. I really enjoyed this post, as well as the comments. :)
    Just curious... Could we maybe have another writing prompt or something like that soon? Those are so much fun. Lol. Of course, I always get carried away with it and end up writing WAY more than I should in the comment section. :/