Saturday, December 22, 2007

Question on Sustaining Conflict

A Writer Asked:
I have the hardest time creating book-long conflict. Can you give us any hints on what will be in your new book about how to come up with strong conflict for our stories?

Conflict is a major thread that runs through my book, Writing the Christian Romance. Without conflict, we have no story in any genre. Conflict is what drives our stories forward and makes the readers turn pages. Conflict is dealt with throughout the book, but it is an important element in building characters. I’ll be blogging on that topic on this blog soon, and I did include some points on conflict under the topic plotting, but for now, I'll give you a few ideas on how I develop strong conflicts. When I create backstory, I develop characters who bring baggage into the present story. This baggage is based on the things that have happened to them in the past—successes, failures, experiences, as well as birth order, family dysfunctions and dynamics. Here’s where we learn the kind of family discipline, the relationship with siblings, the support and love received in the home, long-term family illnesses, and family tragedies. We also learn the character’s education, social skills, and talents. As I create this background for my character, I think of opposites that might be in another character that will set up conflicts.

Remember conflicts are both external and internal. External are those needs and goals each person has based on motivation, usually from the past. If they grew up poor, they want to be rich. If they lived in a loving family, they want to give love to others who have little. Then we create a circumstance—a man wants to purchase a building to open a factory. Another person wants the building to open a home for abused women. Each has a dream, but the dreams are opposing.

Internal conflicts are those we can’t see. They are the gut-level struggles we have and often try to hide from others. In Christian fiction, the internal conflict is often a conflict that involves faith and so it involves God. Let’s say the woman above who wants a home for abused woman hides the fact that she was once an abused woman. She hides this because of her status in this community and her pride. Or let’s say this woman once embezzled a small amount of money from her employer when life was difficult for her, and though she got away with it, she lives with the weight of that sin and guilt. The man who wants the building for his business also has an internal struggle. He wants it because the father of the woman, who wants the building, fired his father, and his father was so desperate he committed suicide. So the man’s desire for this particular building is vindictive. Since he is a Christian, we know this motivation would oppose God’s will and so it is a double internal conflict for him.

As I develop characters, I look for both small and large conflicts. Small ones might be personality quirks—one is neat the other messy. One has a driving, no-nonsense personality while the other is a laid back dreamer. One character might value nature and write poetry while the other is hands-on and technical. One is prideful, the other not. These flaws and differences cause small conflicts between the two, but then I create outward conflicts where each is trying to meet a goal that’s in opposition of the other character, and finally my darkest moments, those black conflicts, are usually the ones that have the deepest meaning because they are internal and affect the character’s relationship with God.

This deep conflict often reveals the dark secrets that each has tried to hide, and the trust they've had to develop to allow the secret to surface. The darkest moment is when one walks away and leaves the other wallowing in shock, but then something happens that makes the character realize the need to forgive or to face his or her own phantoms and admit them so that true acceptance, love and acceptance can open the doors to true love.

Writing the Christian Romance has so much more in it with examples and details but hopefully, this will give you some ideas.

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