Monday, April 5, 2010

Conflict: How much is enough?

I have slowly worked my way through the Virginia Woolf Writer's Workshop by Danell Jones, savoring each lesson.
The other day, I read this lovely clip about conflict.
Conflict is the engine of a story: it puts characters in motion and keeps them going. (Internal and external)...Conflict builds momentum by increasing or getting more complicated. (p 90)
Harnessing the energy of conflict can be one of the most difficult  challenges for beginning fiction writers. (p 91)
I love the phrase "harnessing the energy". I love to read fast paced, action and emotion packed stories. Where does the action and emotion come from? The energy of the conflict. I want to make sure my book is continually moving forward, so I need to spend some time examining the conflict in my wip.

Here are some writing prompts from the book to help get you thinking about how characters and conflict work together.

1. Character and conflict are inextricably connected. To see this principle in action, put different characters in the same situation and see what they do.
--A father tells his child the trip to the lighthouse won't happen. Pick two of the following characters and write a scene for each, showing how their reactions would differ:
  • a little boy who dreams of going to the lighthouse
  • a little girl who is afraid of boats
  • a teenage girl who'd rather stay with her boyfriend
  • a teenage boy who hates his father
2. Write a scene involving two friend who have dramatically conflicting desires. Show us the conflict, but do not let your characters discuss it openly. (This one sounds hard!)

I haven't done these yet, but plan to. I'll share them when I get around to it. Instead, I made a list of conflicts in my book from memory in the order that they occur. I found that writing them down started my brain working again. I can see the conflict and have now identified several areas that need more work to bring that conflict out.

Internal Conflict (tension):

Talia--a)Loneliness. b)Battle with self to keep everyone out in order to protect herself and others from her future death, although she needs love and companionship. She is also a naturally loving person so keeping people out goes against her nature. c)Fear of the death she feels coming closer with each day, while desiring to fight for her life. d)Shame or fear of her magical qualities. Why hide them? e)Guilt/shame/remorse for destroying life because it was the "easy" way out of the problem. f)Fear Landry will think less of her for choosing the event from (e).

Landry--a)Need to revenge his father's death. b)Attraction to Talia while suspecting her of being connected to the group he blames for his father's death. c)Torn between his duty as a Royalist and his desire to help and protect Talia.

Landry and Talia--Distrust of Jaron while being dependent on his magical wisdom.

Jaron--a)Desire for revenge. b)Crushing sorrow from losing his wife and son--murdered by the draguman. c)Constant battle for control of his mind with the demon that prolongs his life.

Stefan--a)Pressure to rule wisely at such a young age. b)Sadness over his father's illness and then death. c)Fear at losing his cousin to this strange new world of magic.

Shishali (prounounced Shh-SHA-lee)--Free of inner conflict (Is this possible? I couldn't think of any for her.) She knows what she wants and has no regrets. Very animalistic desires and instincts. Perhaps her only inner conflict would be her need to satisfy all of her desires.

Kansisi (pronounced Can-see-see)--a)Guilt and remorse. He is not a bloodthirsty being, and yet he has led the draguman in the destruction of entire planets to satisfy Shishali. b)Desire to make Shishali happy although it means acting contrary to his own nature.

Nysyk (pronounced NI-sic)--torn between his childhood friend--Kansisi--and desire for Shishali.

External Conflict (Action):

Talia--a)Accused of being a spy/traitor. b)shunned physically and socially by her hometown. c)Fight scene with Shishali.

Landry--Searching for Talia before time runs out and being met with dead ends at every turn.(tension)

Talia and Landry--a)Life and Death situation on the tram. b)Air chase through Joharadin to escape the draguman during the invasion. c)Waking the dragon (tension). d)Hand to hand combat with the draguman. e)Creating the governing laws and consequences for the new guild of mages. f)Planning to travel to Jaron's homeworld to gather more data on how magic and science can work together in harmony.

Jaron--a)Physical attacks on his body as the demon tries to gain control. b)His body is deteriorating after using technology, magic, and the demon to extend his life (he is in his 300's). None of these things can keep you alive forever and he is at the end of his limits.

Nysyk--Fight with Landry and Talia and ending with the dragon.

Shishali--a)Trapped in a dream with Talia. b)Fight with Talia.

Q4U: Do you think I have too many for a 86,000 word novel?


  1. Sounds like an action/adventure fantasy, so I wouldn't think so! It just depends on how you weave the conflicts throughout the story.

    Great writing prompts. I may have to try those out!

  2. I have no idea if it's too much, but I love the way you broke it all down into external and internal conflict. I need to do that with my WIP. It might help me focus on what I need to improve. Thanks so much!

  3. I don't think there ever be too much conflict. As Donald Maass says in Writing the Breakthrough Novel, "tension on EVERY page." If there's no tension, the reader falls asleep, skims over it or, gah!, put the book down. Nice job breaking yours down. It's a useful exercise.

    Thanks for the writing prompts. One of these days, I'll need to try them.

  4. I'm not sure I'm technically qualified to answer this but since it's a positive I'm going too. I would say because of the genre you've chosen I'd say you don't have too many... action requires more so I'd say you would be great!

    Thanks for the writing prompts! I'm going to have to try these out!

  5. Excellent post! I may have to pick up a copy of that book. :-)

  6. Excellent post and blog!! I am also working on my first novel and all your pointers are extremely helpful.

    As for the word count, what genre are you in? I've heard that the ideal "range" is 70,000-150,000, but it depends on the genre. You sound like you're in a great place!

  7. I don't think there's too much conflict for the length! Every character should have both internal and external conflicts, right? Personally I like conflict because it makes things more interesting so I'd say this sounds perfect.

    That book has to go on my "to get" pile now. It's all brilliant stuff. :~D

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Summer, Mary and Jen, thanks. Glad I could offer some nice prompts. This exercise really is helping me focus.

    Kristie, love the Donald Maass quote. Thanks for sharing. I will have to check that book out.

    Shannon, I hope you get the chance to pick it up some day. :)

    Saumya, glad I can hellp. My book is Science Fantasy, so hopefully I'm good on word count. I have a few scenes I want to add, but right now I'm cutting fluff.

    Mia, so glad you are feeling better! Once again thanks for the ego boost.

  10. No, conflict is the driver in Sci-fi fantasy and you want to keep the passionate intensity simmering to boiling.

  11. I wanted to say something incredibly clever and helpful, but I got nuthin. On a side note: YAY FOR STRANGE NAMES!!

  12. You've done a magnificent job outlining the conflicts. Kudos. IMO, Elaine is right. You can never have to much conflict, especially in your genre.

    Must add VW workshop book to my writing library - looks fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Charity.

  13. Charity, you make great points about conflict in a story. I try to make every scene in my stories full of conflict with a delicate balance of lighter moments also, for moments of relief.


  14. Charity, you make great points about conflict in a story. I try to make every scene in my stories full of conflict with a delicate balance of lighter moments also, for moments of relief.


  15. Nice post! I think I might need to try one of these prompts out. :)

  16. It seems like a reasonable list for a book that long. I read that if you have a hard time making a coherent query, there may be too much going on. Of course, that doesn't take into account that queries are pretty hard to write. Here's the link if you want to check it out:


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