Does your manuscript have enough conflict to sustain the story? Our regular columnist C.J. Redwine gives us several examples on how to inject conflict into your manuscript.
We all know every story requires conflict. And most of us start writing our stories with a glorious, shining piece of conflict in mind. The problem is that most of our initial glorious, shining pieces of conflict are inadequate for sustaining the interest of a reader throughout the entire story. There’s a balance to writing good conflict. A way to pace it so that it steadily grows throughout the story, keeping your reader glued to the page. Here are some suggestions for ways you can escalate the conflict in your story.
- Use all three types of conflict: Your hero should have a difficult internal conflict, relational conflict with other characters, and an external conflict against his environment or circumstances. Developing all three strands of conflict gives your story depth and keeps your reader constantly invested in reading more.
- Use fear: What does your hero fear the most? Make him face it. Don’t pull your punches. Shove your hero face to face with his biggest nightmare.
- Cliffhangers: A fabulous way to keep the reader engaged is to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. It becomes next to impossible for your reader to put the book down. Even if you’re writing a chapter where the characters have some breathing space, you can use cliffhangers by ending the breathing space with the start of the next piece of conflict.
- Pacing: The pacing of conflict in your story should look like this: Conflict Simmers à Conflict Boils à Conflict Explodes à Breathing Space à Repeat as necessary.
- Pacing #2: All of that simmering, boiling, and exploding should look like peaks in your manuscript while the breathing space looks like valleys. Your peaks should get progressively higher and higher as the story nears completion. If you have two or three peaks in a row that are all at the same level of risk/intensity/stakes, you aren’t at a peak. You’re at a plateau, and you need to reassess those conflicts and figure out how to escalate them.
- Make it worse: In every instance of conflict, ask yourself “How could this be worse?” If you can think of several ideas, it’s time to either find a way to use those ideas as you move through the manuscript, or make the original instance WORSE. Again, don’t pull your punches.
- Have inner and outer conflict meet: When your hero’s choices in how to face his outer conflict lead to increased inner conflict (isolation, fear, guilt), you’ve done a good job of escalating the conflict.
- Lose it: What does your hero need to lose? What would hurt the most? Cripple his resolve? Set fire to his good intentions? Push him irrevocably closer to that final conflict?
- Mystery and suspense: Using mystery and suspense increases the tension and feeds both the hero’s fear and the reader’s as well. Each answer should raise a more harrowing question. And don’t kill the suspense by having the hero be too stupid to figure out what’s right in front of his face. Put thought into your mystery. J
- Surprise: Surprises are an excellent way to escalate conflict. Sudden obstacles the hero has to scramble to overcome. Left turns in the plot that force the hero to contend with a new set of circumstances. Reveals that deepen the mystery and push the hero closer to the final conflict. Just be sure your surprises rise authentically from your plot, your setting, and your characters’ choices. Beware the convenient surprise! That way lies the death of interesting stories.
Next month, C.J. will be critiquing one lucky reader’s query. To submit your query, please go to the tab above labeled “Labs.”
These are just a few ways you can escalate the conflict in your story. Which method did you find most useful? Do you have something you’d add to the list?
Join us on Wednesday, October 5th, when author Inara Scott talks about “Discovering the Genius in Your Writing”.
Bio: C.J. Redwine writes YA fantasy adventure. Her debut, DEFIANCE, comes out next fall from Balzer + Bray. When she isn’t writing fiction, she’s working on materials to help other writers conquer the dreaded synopsis or write a winning query. For more information on C.J. go to http://cjredwine.blogspot.com
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