6 Building Blocks of Writing Conflict

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by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I cut my authorial teeth on writing plays for use in the church. They ran the gambit from 90-second sermon-starters to full-length musicals. My first novel was a Biblical fiction in which I strung together scenes from Jesus’ life, interspersed with the fictional characters. Just like the plays. But other than the Pharisees wanting to crucify Jesus, there was no conflict.

I filed that book under my bed and turned to contemporary fiction, letting my funny bone come out to play. Guess what? I still lacked enough conflict. My critique partners (you know the ones: Genghis Griep and Ludwig von Frankenpen) ripped it apart.

“More conflict!” was the verdict.

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“But I write light-hearted Southern fiction,” was my plea.

“You still need conflict. Anne of Green Gables had a story question that kept it going. Would Anne be able to avoid her usual high jinx and get adopted? While not normal conflict, it provided the tension needed to carry the story forward. Yours needs more!”

Okay, okay. I heard. I began to do deeper character interviews. What I discovered writing free-flowing backstories for the main characters are 6 building blocks for conflict.

Secrets: Find the one they never want anyone to know about. And if someone does know it, who? What will they do with that knowledge?

Lies: Something happened to make your protagonist believe a lie about herself. What caused it? What is the lie? (You can read my article on lies here) How does it play out in her adult life? This goes for male protagonists too.

Fears: A devastating childhood event colors their personality and their worldview. Somewhere in their past lies a secret they don’t want anyone to know. These elements are what you draw from for the story conflict. Fears develop from the lie they believe and the secrets they carry.

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Motivation: In character driven fiction, (the character’s decision causes certain events to happen, driving the plot forward) the conflict will stem from the character’s motivation, which is based on that lie they believe about themselves. Without supporting motivation, conflict falls flat. It isn’t believable. Motivation is the “why” of everything in a novel. Why does the conflict cause the hero or heroine trouble?

Events: Find out what is the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist. Do it and then go one worse. If it matters to the character, if it violates or goes in direct opposition to their motivation, it causes great conflict.

Life & Death: James Scott Bell teaches there are three types of death: physical, psychological and professional. To make the conflict work, the character must believe it’s a matter of life and death. Stemming from their fears, make the conflict lead to one of these, you’ve got gold.

In Life in Chapel Springs, my protagonist, Claire, has a health conundrum: she’s either pregnant at age forty-seven(psychological death) or she’s got cancer (physical death). With her twin daughters’ wedding in three months, if she buys a home pregnancy test, someone will think it’s for one of her girls. Disaster! She has to find a way to get answers without anyone knowing. If she’s not pregnant … well, she’ll face that later. Either way, it’s a form of death for her. It’s a simple conflict but causes a lot of story tension because Claire believes it’s a matter of life and death. There’s another story line with its own conflict, but you’ll have to buy the book to discover it.

Remember: most conflict stems from within the character.Yes, suspense, mystery, and adventure genres have built-in conflict by nature of the genre. But even so, the character’s fears are part of what they must overcome. Conflict comes from the character’s past, their hurts, their fears—their backstory.

So let your self go. Write a free-flowing backstory, and then leave a comment on what you discover.

Read More Writing Tips

Sparking Emotions in Your Readers by Kathleen Freeman

5 Types of Rough Drafts by Michelle Griep

The Rhythm of Rest by Allen Arnold


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

 

Help! My Plot is Twisting

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I’m working on the plotline for a new novel. It’s the second in a series of Depression era books. While the time period is different, the story has my brand elements of an ensemble cast of strong Southern women helping each other through life.

I’ve been doing character interviews and the backstory for about two weeks now. But today, something happened that I didn’t see coming. The plot is twisting into a mystery.

That in itself is not a bad thing. Almost every family in the South has a mystery in their past or a relative who’s crazy. It’s an intrinsic part of Southern life. Like ghosts. Yes, we love our ghost stories, too.

But I digress. I have a plot point I needed to figure out. As I wrote down questions that needed answering—something Rachel Hauck taught in one of her posts here on Novel Rocket—I stopped and gaped at what I’d written. Staring at the screen, I was completely gobsmacked.

How so, you ask? Well, a character died in a fishing boat accident prior to the book opening.I didn’t think a lot about that when I first I began to work out the plot. But I can’t have that character simply die and not know how it happened. You see, I need that boat for another character. This is during the Great Depression, and there isn’t money to buy a new boat. After all, we’re not talking about a rowboat, but a mid-sized commercial fishing boat. I had to find out what happened to it.

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Remember those questions Rachel said to ask? I started asking. How badly was it damaged? Was it salvageable? Could a man die in the accident but the boat survive? Were there any tale-tell signs of skull duggery?

As I asked these questions, I remembered I once slid a small mystery thread into Home to Chapel Springs, but it wasn’t planned out, it simply happened, and it didn’t require a lot of strategy. I don’t think strategically enough to figure out all the red herrings and misleads of a real mystery. I can’t play chess, either. They both take strategy and I don’t have a lick.

Possessing strategic bones or not, I now find myself now with a mystery on my hands and three people who have a very good motive for murder. I knew a call to my critique partner Elizabeth Ludwig was in order. We’ve been writing pals for twelve years. I knew she’d give me good advice. And she did.

  1. You must have a compelling reason for a character to do what you want them to do. They can’t just do it. I agree. Motivation is everything.
  2. You need an Obi Wan Kenobi character. She suggested a new character I hadn’t thought of and she works perfectly. This new character can be the “conscience” or wise counsel who provides the motivation for another to do what I need her to do.
  3. Work out the clues you need to get then end you want. Once I decide for sure if it was an accident or murder, then I can figure out the clues. If an accident, I can still cast suspicion on people if they have the motive.
  4. The rest will sort itself out as you write. And she was right. I took our brainstorming ideas and wrote them down, as if telling myself the story. They work. The devices all tie together. The motivations tie together.

Now that Lisa talked me off the cliff, I’m excited again about this story. I’ve got the elements, and have some characters that will stretch me as a writer. What more could I ask for?

Critique partners are the greatest!


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

 

Tips to Incorporate the 5 Senses in Your Writing

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch: the 5 senses we want to use to create experiential fiction. I usually insert these during the second draft or editing phase.

Here are some tips for you to help incorporate the senses. Don’t forget to make them organic to your character. If you protagonist is a musician, her similes will be musical. If she’s an artist or designer, she’d thinks in colors. A totally left-brained engineer thinks in entirely different terms to a right-brained creative.

Sight

Let the reader see what the character does. Don’t tell us she saw a meadow beside a serene lake. Take the reader there: Lainie left the road and stepped into the tall grass, made greener by last night’s rain. In the breeze, knee-high mustard flowers waved their yellow heads in welcome.Beyond the meadow, the still water of the lake drew her with an overpowering invitation to dip her toes.

If the scene can become a metaphor for the story question or the lie the character believes, all the better.

Sound

To writeyourheroine heard a noise does nothing to involve our readers. But …The floor creaked behind her… gives an immediate desire to turn your head to see what’s there. Either that or run.

Use sound to foreshadow impending danger. As he jogged, the dry leaves and pine needles crunched beneath his feet. If it didn’t rain soon, they’d become lunch for a hungry fire as it devoured the hills above Los Angeles.

Sound can create moods or transport your reader to another season and age. The nursery rhyme jingle from an ice cream truck takes us all back to our childhood summers.

Do your best to describe those sounds in terms to which your readers will relate.And don’t forget, onomatopoeias are another tool in your technique box—especially with sounds.

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Smell

Even if you write speculative or Sci-fi, you can use smells that are familiar to everyone. It brings your reader into the scene like nothing else. In my Chapel Springs series, Chapel Lake is set in the North Georgia Mountains, but even if you’re in California, almost everyone has been to the mountains once. The scent of a pine forest is unforgettable.

Claire stuck her head out the window and inhaled the fresh morning air. Eau d’Lake with its undertones of piney woods was her favorite perfume.

Taste

With the first bite of cotton candy, the spun sugar melts and hits the back of the tongue, taking us back to a childhood carnival.

We associate tastes with good or bad memories. If your first sip of wine was more like a vinaigrette-in-search-of-a-salad than a fine Grenache, you might never like wine.

My son used to take the milk bottle from the fridge and pop the cap off and chug it down. But just one time that milk had gone bad, and that was enough to alter his behavior for life. Even thirty years later, he still smells the milk before he takes a drink or pours it.

Touch

The soft touch of a mother’s hand against her child’s brow calms him. When a man runs his fingers down the cheek or neck of the woman he loves, her heart skips a beat. When we feel the touch of the Master’s hand, peace flows over us.

Then there’s the heart-stopping moment a hand from behind clamps onto on the shoulder of an FBI agent tracking a drug lord. That’s a touch your reader will feel and draw a gasp from their throat.

No matter what genre of fiction you write, using the five senses will take your work from good to better to an unforgettable experience.

TWEETABLES


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

 

5 Steps to Using A Q Factor

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I learned about the Q Factor from James Scott Bell years ago at the BRMCWC. He’s given me permission to share it here.

So what is the Q Factor?

It’s a great tool that comes from Dr. Q, in the James Bond movies. He’s the one who gives Bond his gadgets, so during the crucial scene where Bond is dangling by his ankles over a school of piranha, he manages to get his thumb on a cuff-link. That cuff-link turns into a small, rotating saw, which he uses to cut through the restraints on his hands and legs.He then reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a fountain pen. The pen holds a compressed nitrogen charge and shoots a small grappling hook and line across the piranha pond, enabling Bond to swing to safety on the other side of the pool.

Now, if we had been reading along in the story and come to this point, and Bond simply produced those items for the first time, we’d all be groaning. How convenient! What a cheat! And we’d never trust the author again.

But Dr. Q did the set-up, and because we saw these items before, we accept them when they’re used.

The Q factor in a novel

In fiction, the Protagonist should reach a point near the end when everything looks lost. In figurative terms, she is dangling over a pool of piranha. She needs courage for the final battle, to face the ultimate test.

This is where the Q Factor can help. It is something set up early in the story that will provide the necessary inspiration or instruction for the character when she needs it most.

In Chapel Springs Revival, my Q Factor is Claire’s late Great-aunt Lola. The first time her husband went to work without kissing her goodbye, she left, went to Hollywood and became a big star in silent films. Claire remembers that when her hubby leaves for work without kissing her goodbye. This sets up the story question: will Claire leave her husband?

In the middle the story, Claire thinks about what Aunt Lola would have done. Now we cut to the black moment, when Claire’s husband walks out of the house in anger, after he learns something she did. At the appropriate time, Claire goes to the attic and reads Aunt Lola’s journals. In them, what she learns helps her make a decision.

Another way to look at it is this: so many stories are about overcoming fear. The fear manifests itself most when all the forces are marshaled against the Protagonist. Fear and common sense tell her to give up, run away.She knows she can’t. So give her a Q Factor, an emotional element that comes in when she needs it.

To do that:

  1. Select the element (item, mentor, moral sentiment, negative character, etc.)
  2. Write a scene early in the story that ties this element emotionally to the Protagonist.
  3. Refer to the Q Factor subtly in the middle section, as a reminder.
  4. Find a trigger point in yourProtagonist’sblack moment where the Q Factor can be reintroduced.
  5. Show your Protagonist taking new action based on the Q Factor. If you’ve embedded the Q well enough up front, the readers will pick up what’s happening without you having to explain it to them. Just let it happen naturally.

The Q Factor is just another tool to add to your technique box. I like collecting these and finding new ways to incorporate them.

Now, it’s your turn. Share a favorite writing tool from your technique box.


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.