Conflict: Why Your Story Needs It


In my writing class at AWCS a few weeks ago, we covered the topic of conflict*.

Conflict is present in life, and so it must be present in the stories we tell. It engages the reader (as it forces them to take sides), it creates tension, and it moves the story forward.

Conflict is about choices. Any time there is a conflict, it means there is a choice to be made – that is, conflicting options: Hide or confront? Argue or give in? Tell the truth or lie? Paper or plastic? Etc. Conflict brings characters to life, because it forces them to make a choice. Their choices reveal who they are.

Conflict tells us about the characters. What values do they hold? Are they a mediator? Do they avoid? Instigate?

Sarah Johnson, our instructor, told us that every character should have the potential to conflict with your protagonist. This creates tension for the reader, as they wait for things to clash.

Sarah gave us this exercise. Take two characters that don’t have conflict (e.g., people who get along) and put them in a scene with conflicting objectives.

This is what I wrote in class. It relates to the backstory of my protagonist, Demi, in my WIP. I hope you like it.

Diver

There’s sharp crack, a tremulous vibration, and finally a small satisfying splash. Merrick has landed her Forward 3 ½ Somersault dive.

“Okay, sweetheart, this is it. Remember everything we worked on. Focus on your form, be conscious of your position in the air at all times.”

I shake out my hands and feet, and roll my head side to side. I take a deep breath, the familiar scent of chlorine helps cleanse my nerves. I can do this.

The announcer calls my name. I’m up. Adrenaline trembles through me.

I turn to my dad to accept his customary hug of encouragement before each dive. Instead of his usual crooked toothed grin, his eyes are focused on the wall beyond the pool, his complexion pasty and ashen.

I grab his shoulder. “Dad.” He winces, starts to slump, but then suddenly straightens again. He arms himself with a quivering grin, a small sheen of moisture coats his upper lip.

“Go on, Demetria. It’s time to fly,” he says, his voice gruff.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” I keep my eyes focused on his, forcing him to look at me.

“Nothing’s wrong sweetheart, just a bit of gas is all. Now go on,” he nudges me toward the pool. I step back toward him, “Maybe we should call a medic.”

“Don’t be silly,” he gives a dismissive wave. My name booms over the loudspeaker a second time.

“Go.”

“But…”

“Go, Demetria. Don’t use your old man as an excuse not to soar. You’ve worked too hard for this.” He grips my arm, it’s almost painful. “It’s your time. Soar.”

I take a half step closer to him and the look on his face tells me what I need to do. So I retreat – from him and my sense of unease. And I move forward. I jump, and I soar, and I fall.

Does Demetria have conflicting values here? What are they? Does this conflict tell you something about this character?

*It is important to note that throughout the class, our instructor made several references to Noah Lukeman’s “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways To Bring Fiction To Life”. Please refer to it if you are looking for more in depth information on introducing conflict to your work of fiction.

Nestpitch Agent Round!

As many of you already know, today is the agent round for Nestpitch!

It’s such a fabulous opportunity to have our work presented in front of some amazing agents. I just wanted to take a moment to thank Nikola Vukoja, the creator of Nestpitch, my mentor, Amanda Foody, and my fellow #Teamplotbunnies members. It is such a privilege to have my work selected for the agent round and have the opportunity for mentorship and  network with other writers.

I wish my fellow Nestpitch finalists luck and hope that your favourite agents make requests!

For all of the writers out there who are trying to get their work recognized, please, don’t give up!! Keep querying!

Showing Character Through Voice

In last week’s post, I shared with you a writing exercise that I completed during my First Three Chapters course at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre. Showing character through action.

This is what I had come up with:

She’s been here for barely a breath and already she spots him. For a moment, she barely shifts. But then her spine goes ramrod straight and she tucks in an imaginary stray lock into her already tightly braided hair. Her eyes narrow and she doesn’t even hesitate. He slim legs launch forward in a crisscross motion, like sharpened scissors, as she heads straight for him. Her razor-like stride is audible across the room, and he definitely knows she’s coming, because he shrinks back. He has nowhere to go. He’s cornered.

This week, our instructor had us do the scene again, this time in first person and using voice to show character.

I’m going to show you what I came up with, but first I’m going to take out the elements of voice, so you can compare and contrast and get a better sense of what voice really means.

Without Voice:

I slide by the bouncer and inhale the stale stench of beer, sweat and theatre smoke. I smooth back an imaginary stray lock of hair into my braid, and just then I spot him.

I grit my teeth and straighten my spine. I could just ignore him, not let him show him that he affects me. That’s probably the best choice. I press my lips together. I’ve had enough.

I slice my legs through the crowd, ignoring the sticky floor that only slightly impedes my progress. But nothing will.

A foot from him and I have him cornered. He flits his gaze, looking for escape. But there is none. I have him cornered, my body blocking his exit from behind the tall table.

“Hello, Ben.” I say. “I thought you were studying tonight” I ask, arching my brow suggestively at the posterior of a tiny blonde.

 

Now here it is again, but this time with Demi’s voice infused in the action.

I slide by the bouncer and inhale the stale stench of beer, sweat and theatre smoke. Lovely. This is going to be another A-class night. I smooth back an imaginary stray lock of hair into my braid, and just then I spot him.

Mother fucker. Had to study, my ass. More like he had to study the asses of co-eds.

I grit my teeth and straighten my spine. I could just ignore him, not show him that he affects me. That’s probably the best choice. The cool girl choice.

I press my lips together. Yeah, but no. Maybe I don’t want to be the cool girl anymore. I’ve had enough of this shit.

I slice my legs through the crowd, ignoring the sticky floor that only slightly impedes my progress. But nothing will. I have him in my sights and I won’t let go until I’m satisfied.

A foot from him and I have him cornered. He flits his gaze, looking for escape. But there is none. I have him cornered, my body blocking his exit from behind the tall table.

“Hellooo, Ben.” I intone. “How’s the studying going?” I ask, arching my brow at the posterior of a tiny blonde.

For more information on voice, from a previous post, click here.

Showing Character Through Action and Unspeakable Query Update

I missed last week’s post, so today’s a two for one!

1. Showing Character

I’ve been working on a new story idea, which will hopefully become my next novel. To help inspire me, and also as part of my quest to continually work on my craft, I’ve enrolled in The First Three Chapters class at the Alexandra Writers’ Centre.

This week’s class was on showing your character through action. Now, when writing, this is of key importance. I could tell you that Sally is grumpy.

Sally is grumpy.

(Gripping stuff, non?)

Or, I could show you that she’s grumpy through action.

Sally yanked her alarm clock off the bedside table and threw it on the floor.

Did you learn more about Sally the second time, other than she’s a grumpy girl? I think so (i.e., she is not a morning person).

So, the lovely Sarah Johnson, our class instructor, had us write down different descriptors of our main protagonist for our work-in-progress (WIP). Then, she had us write a short paragraph where the character walks into the room and we show those descriptors.

First, let me show you what mine would look like if I just told you about my main protagonist.

Demi walks into the crowded bar and spots Todd immediately. Pissed off, she walks over, her braided hair not budging. Demi is not someone you mess with.

Okay. So we’ve learned that Demi is pissed with Todd, that her hair is braided, and that you shouldn’t mess with her – but little else.

Now let me show you who Demi is.

She’s been here for barely a breath and already she spots him. For a moment, she barely shifts. But then her spine goes ramrod straight and she tucks an imaginary stray lock into her already tightly braided hair. Her eyes narrow and she doesn’t even hesitate. Her slim legs launch forward in a crisscross motion, like sharpened scissors, as she heads straight for him. Her razor-like stride is audible across the room. He shrinks back. He has nowhere to go. He’s cornered.

Do you have a better sense of Demi? I hope so. Whatever descriptors come to mind, they’re not wrong, because they’re your own. I’m letting you decide, dear reader, who you think she is. As a writer, we have to trust the reader to have an imagination and to fill in the gaps. I think it’s much more gratifying to share the journey of the story, rather than tell you about it. photo-1421986527537-888d998adb74

2. Update on Unspeakable

I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve finally done it. I’ve started querying. Some of you have asked me what querying means. Well, basically, it’s sending out letters to literary agents requesting representation. Unspeakable is commercial fiction. Large publishing houses will often not even entertain the idea of publishing your work without an agent. Agents understand the industry and help you find the right home for your book and also assist in sale and deal negotiation.

Nestpitch is also on the horizon (ten more days! But who’s counting?). So it’s time. Time to let go, and put my work out there. Wish me luck!