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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Increase Character Conflict

Feedback can sometimes be vague, can't it? I wrote an article that might help you improve your story when the feedback is not so helpful. This article originally appeared on Suite101.

Increase Character Conflict

Make Characters and the Story More Interesting By Increasing Conflict

Here are some tips for making a bland or episodic story more interesting by introducing deep character conflicts.

Sometimes, a writer will get feedback that the characters are unlikable or uninteresting, or the story is only “okay.” This is usually a good indication that the story needs more conflict.

For popular fiction, the best type of conflict involves personal character conflict. Some writers refer to this as “throwing rocks” at your character.

This type of internal conflict can also directly impact the external storyline, so you get maximum bang for your writing buck.

Conflict will automatically create more interest for readers because they want to see how the protagonist responds under pressure—giving an indication of what the character is truly like. Conflict also raises the emotional stakes of a story, and emotion always ensures reader interest.

Here are a few tips for increasing character conflict in a story:

Make the Character Face His/Her Greatest Fear

This involves going deep into your character development to determine what your character fears the most.

It could be something external, like an object or a place, or it could be a person.

It could also be something more abstract, like a concept, an issue, or a certain type of situation or circumstance that puts the character in a difficult place emotionally.

Once you’ve determined the character’s fear, then hit him/her with it with all the strength you’ve got in your pen. Be ruthless. This is not the time to be squeamish. This will guarantee an exciting movement to your story, and your readers will be anxious to find out how the character handles the stress.

Force the Character to Do What He/She Would Otherwise Never Do

Figure out what your character would profess never to do, even at gunpoint. What would totally go against his/her moral code or inner value? What would complete abhor your character to be forced to do? “I’ll do anything but don’t make me do …”

Once you’ve figured that out, create a situation that boxes the character in until he/she is forced to do exactly what they otherwise would never do.

Make sure the character’s motivation for doing it is strong—a good motivation is as important as the despicable action itself. If your readers don’t understand why the character is acting this way or does buy the reason, then you’ve lost them.

Boxing the character into this impossible situation will create rising tension and suspense as well as intense personal conflict.

Make the Character Fail at the External Goal

Consider what would happen if the character didn’t achieve their goal at the end of the story. If they completely failed. Imagine the emotional and physical consequences of this failure.

Then write it.

Write, intending things to end tragically and disastrously for the character. No hope, no redemption, nothing positive.

This will force you to write the most conflict for your character that you can. It will force you to heap problems upon the character and story, because you are aiming for a tragic ending—you are writing the story into the ground.

Then, give yourself an extra 30-40 pages and write a turnaround. Help can come from outside sources (although don’t make it too unbelievable) but turn the tide from utter desolation to something hopeful.

Practice and Rewrite

This might take a few revisions of your story. You might decide on one sort of conflict, then change your mind or want to try a different type of conflict. That’s okay. Practice make perfect. And the more you work on conflict in revisions, the stronger the conflict will become.

Just don’t give up.

4 comments:

  1. Camy,

    Great article. I liked your point about discovering what your character wouldn't do, even at gunpoint, and forcing her into a situation where she has to no choice but to do that very thing.

    When I first began writing, I was too easy on my characters. I'd get comments from contest judges that my story lacked conflict.

    And then I had a sun breaking through the clouds moment.

    My characters are far stronger than I ever gave them credit for. They can take anything I can dish out. And the more difficult the challenges I throw at them, the better the opportunity for them to experience growth and earn that longed for HEA.

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  2. Exactly! You want them to have to really struggle and earn that ending!
    Camy

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  3. Thanks for that article, Camy!

    I always feel bad for my characters- I don't want them to have to go through those horrible things! But I'm learning to toughen my skin in order to create more interesting stories. :)

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  4. I enjoy unlikable characters. And readers do as well, if they're interesting. I think what they're trying to tell you when you see this line is that THEY don't like your character -- there's no connection to them.

    Readers want to connect, so I think if you can give them that one emotion -- and a lot of times that's the problem -- you've given your character action, but no conflict. Conflict should involve an emotion.
    In "Vanish", the book that won the Jerry Jenkins contest, the first line is,
    "It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling."

    All the questions there!!! What began with a feeling? Oooh I've felt an eerie feeling too. It forces you to want to know more. Good post Camy!

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