Every novelist has experienced that moment when they hit a roadblock, even when they’ve taken the time to outline their project. It’s impossible to know all the answers from beginning to end, especially when you’re at the beginning of the process of creating your book. (See, It’s Okay to Not Have All the Answers When You Write)
As you create, new answers can emerge, sometimes changing the direction or aspects of the story. Sometimes a character doesn’t live up to what you’ve envisioned and the story slows. This is normal and experienced by all novelists, even New York Times bestselling authors. I know, because I’ve been in critique groups with some of them.
When we find ourselves in a place where the story lags or comes to a halt, it’s always about one thing:
Or rather, the lack, thereof.
Happily, I have a fun method to help you in those times. I learned this in a workshop taught by Jennifer Crusie (jennifercrusie.com) a long time ago, and have carried it with me ever since.
HOW TO USE THIS TECHNIQUE
Shakespeare liked to start his stories with romance, a fight, or the paranormal. Why? Conflict! And, hey, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare….
Using conflict techniques improves not only a book’s beginning, but also every chapter, and every scene. Dang, that’s a lot of conflict to come up with!
Yes. Yes, it is. But it doesn’t always mean a love scene, a fight, or the paranormal. Well, sort of.
And we can absolutely do it. Let the categories below spark your creativity and help you keep moving forward until you reach the satisfying end of your story.
NOTE: Of the lists below, any of the suggested actions can be taken, or received by a character.
This conflict category is the nicer end of the spectrum and isn’t only about kissing, although it can be. It also includes:
- Welcomed touching of any kind, like a hug, or the brushing of hands
- Friendship and Family (emerging or established)
- A positive reveal
IMPORTANT: As long as any of the above result in complications, they count for our purposes.
This category can mean a literal kick in the pants, or a slap in the face, but predominantly represents any kind of aggressive action that hurts another at a milder level than, say, murder. These could be:
- Sabotage (at this level, usually another character’s plan)
- Conning (a related kick to lying and betrayal)
Whereas Kick represents milder physical, emotional, or mental attack, Kill is, as you would expect, more serious.
This category includes conflicts of any kind that lead to deep physical, mental, or emotional damage. They include all of the categories above taken to an intense level, as well as:
- Verbal abuse
- Physical assault
- A reveal that permanently damages a relationship or person
Yes, Jennifer spelled “catch” with a K, and since I find it to be an enjoyable addition to the pattern, I’ve done the same all these years.
Katch covers such interesting and conflict-generating activities as:
- Trapping (physically, socially, emotionally, or any other way you can think of)
- Discovering (learning something that could influence one of the above categories and causes conflict)
- Revealing (a more public form of discovering)
This category is my addition, and not part of Jennifer’s original list. I discovered this amazing conflict technique while watching one of my favorite series, Vampire Diaries. Every character in that story had a secret, from off the charts to moderately normal. Amazing stuff.
Keeping and losing secrets is one of the best ways to ensure your readers will give up sleep or miss work before they’ll put down your book. Because characters with secrets are interesting, and their stories are, as well.
The Keeping Secrets list includes:
- Lying (on the side of the liar as opposed to the victim in Kick)
- Withholding information (or anything else you can think of)
- Spying (includes ease dropping)
- Controversial or dangerous pasts
- Hiding anything (from their appearance, to the rules, to a location, or anything else you can think of)
What makes secrets particularly delicious is the subtext underneath them. People lie for as many reasons as there are individuals. Sometimes from embarrassment, sometimes because they’ve committed a crime, sometimes to manipulate or protect others.
Whatever the reason, it’s there below the surface influencing everything they do and say. For a writer, the result is a rich source of conflict.
And conflict drives all great stories.
Enjoy using this playful method to improve your writing, your characters, and to keep your stories moving forward in interesting ways.
And always remember what makes a happy, productive writer – conflict in our books, peace in our lives.
See you on the bestsellers list!