Tag Archives: conflict

Exercises in Conflict

13 Questions/Thoughts/Exercises to Help the Conflict in your Novel

  1. What IS the conflict in your novel?
  2. What does your main character want?
  3. What five ways do you keep your character from getting what he wants?
  4. Do you start the story in the right place? Is it the day something new happens? Is a conflict hinted at on page one? Is the major conflict revealed as the main character moves forward into the beginning of the middle of the novel?
  5. What is the part of your story that creates the most tension? Why?
  6. Write your main plot as a yes or no question. In film, this is the major dramatic question (MDQ).
  7. What is the definition of “inciting incident?” Joseph Campbell says it’s a call to action for the main character. What does this mean?
  8. What is the inciting incident, or that first point of no return, for your main character?
  9. Write the inciting incident from several (at least three) points of view. How does each character view this event? Is your main character the most interesting?
  10. Remember these? What is your book and why?
    1. Man against man
    2. Man against society
    3. Man against self
    4. Man again nature
    5. Man against technology
  11. Make sure you have only ONE main plot or you will wrestle trying to control and write plots of equal weight. While you should have subplots, none should be more important than that problem you reveal in the MDQ.
  12. I think some of the best conflicts result from relationships. What are you finding in your book?
  13. Our good friend Richard Peck said, “You are no better than your first line.” And that’s the truth with everything. Make sure each thing you write, is your best. Always.

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Filed under Plot, Uncategorized

Conflict? Say What?

So I did something I never do. I spoke to an editor at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. Kelsy Thompson is an editor for Jolly Fish and Flux. Both houses were recently acquired by North Star Editions (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/72423-north-star-editions-shining-a-light-on-ya-and-mg-fiction.html).

I was scared as it was as I walked in to talk to her. And Kelsey is super kind. Still I didn’t have my printed pages (broke rule number one–be prepared) and as I rambled at her (broke rule number two–be able to sell your work in 25 words or less),  I realized I had no idea what my newest novel was about (broke rule number three–know what you’re story is about in the first place).

After stammering at her for awhile, Kelsy said, “This book idea sounds so cute, Carol. But what’s the conflict?”


I looked at her for about 18 years. Then I jumped up and ran out of the room. I scared three people who were in line to see this terrific editor. This is not my fault.

So what is conflict?  We know our characters have goals–things they want. Our job as writers is to keep our characters from getting what they want. That series of events of hindering and stopping our characters from achieving their goals is where the conflict is.

Here’s some math to make things more confusing:  cute girl character + what she wants, what she really, really wants + stumbling blocks you throw in the way to torture your character = conflict.

I can do that. Can I do that?

Let’s meet here tomorrow and see.



Filed under Agents, Editors, Plot, writing process

It’s Hard to Type with a Cat on My Arm

by Lisa Sledge

The problem is the cat’s purring. And his fur is so soft.

Now he’s kneading the bulge of chub on my stomach. That’s not exactly endearing, but it makes him happy and I can’t bring myself to shove him aside. I guess I’ll be writing one handed tonight. I’m such a sucker.

Everyone at my house has running noses and hacking lungs. In keeping with the spirit of Christmas, we all look like Rudolph. I’m just grateful that my own cold started last and I got everyone through the worst of theirs. I don’t know what we’ve got, but it came with a solid four days of fever for everyone it’s touched. Our house should be quarantined.

Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to conflict. Sometimes I forget that an antagonist or opposing force doesn’t have to be a person—it can be anything. Remember your elements of fiction and the sources of conflict?

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Machine
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Self

Too often we think of conflict only in terms of our main storyline, when in truth, it takes a never ending series of smaller conflicts to move your story toward the climax.  It could be something as simple as a cat that gets in the way, a red nose threatening to drip when your MC’s out of tissues, a shoelace that won’t stay tied, or a cell phone that splashes into a pot of soup. My favorite is internal conflict, but I find it’s the hardest to create on a page.

Look for the places in your story that drag, mark them, and see what new problems you can introduce to energize those slower scenes.

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Filed under Character, Family, writing process

Certain Things

By Debbie Nance

Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”

Maybe he is right.

My daughter just called to ask a question about property taxes. My
husband, who is the treasurer for our Condo Association, took the
association books into the auditor for an annual review. A friend of
mine is expanding her business and needed info from her new employees
for tax purposes. Obviously these are adults, how does it work for
kids and teens?

Are your characters ever caught up in tax issues?

Maybe your MC is alone because her parents didn’t pay their taxes and
got carted off to jail and died. There you go. Death & Taxes in the
same plot. 🙂

No. Not. Really.

But, what about adult issues? What problems are your characters caught
up in or affected by? What issues affect kids and adults?

I remember a presentation from the 2010 LTUE http://ltue.net/ called
No More Dead Dogs or Moms. I can’t remember much from the speech
except that the presenter was very tired of books having a scene where
the MC’s mom or dog or both died. (At the time, I happened to have a
MG and a YA with just such a scene in each of them.)

All books have to have some conflict or there isn’t much of a plot.
Think Lemony Snickets, where would the story be without all of those
Unfortunate Events?

But Ben Franklin was wrong.

There are more things in life that are certain. Remember the old Tom
Hank’s movie Castaway? When he says he has to keep breathing because
tomorrow the sun will rise? That part made me want to watch the movie
again. It gave me hope.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaA_fSYfmTQ

In our stories and books, we have to include the problems, but what
makes a book great in my opinion is when the author gives us hope.
Lemony Snickets offers the hope that the kid’s parents may yet be
alive. Tom Hanks’ movie reminds us that we have to keep breathing
because we don’t know what the tide will bring in.

What things are certain in your life? In the lives of your characters?
Do you think it is important for your book to offer hope?

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