Thursday, April 23, 2009

ask annie

Question: Last week you suggested upping the amount of conflict in my story. But how do I do that? How do I know what kinds of conflict my story needs?

Answer: Begin by analyzing what kind of conflict you already have. Most novice storytellers are quite adept at what i call second-tier conflicts - which are conflicts with other people. These tend to be the central conflicts in most mainstream fiction and drama - good girl (or guy) vs. bad guy (or girl).

First tier conflict, as I like to think of it, is the character against him or her-self. Remember Hamlet? Hamlet knew his uncle killed his father and usurped his own throne, but still he hesitated. Hamlet's self-doubt is the fatal flaw that brings about the tragedy. In my own much more recent novels, Silver's Edge and Silver's Bane (Harlequin, 2004, 2005), Cecily, one of the story's three heroines, must claim her own power and take control as her country is collapsing into chaos. Her self-doubt, like Hamlet's, holds her back at crucial moments. It's not until she loses the man she loves she realizes exactly what's at stake. Cecily's final test comes at the very end, when she is asked to choose between having her love returned, and the wisdom that makes her Queen.

So one of the first places you might turn to look for conflict are the characters themselves. Take some time to analyze your character's strengths and weaknesses. Look for places you can make them want to change. Look for beliefs that could be changed in some way as a result of the story. Ask yourself how the character can grow.

The third tier of conflict is the characters against anything bigger than they are. Remember Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings? The Dark Lord was so big and powerful and scary all you ever saw, even in the movie was his burning eye. For Captain Ahab, Moby Dick was the embodiment of all that Ahab raged against - God, Fate, even all of Nature itself. In my Silver trilogy, the backdrop of both stories is war and imminent societal collapse. In Gone With the Wind, it's the Civil War. Thus, another way to beef up your conflicts is to look for ways to more deeply involve your characters in the greater world around them. How does what's happening in your greater story-world affect what your characters need and want and strive for?

It may help to create a chart to map out these three concurrent conflict levels. I find that when a story really starts to flow for me, these three levels appear almost organically on their own. But sometimes... that can take a lot of work. Until next week... happy writing!... Annie

Annie Kelleher is the author of 11 internationally published novels. Her latest release, a translation of her time-travel romance A Once & Future Love (Berkley, 1998) was in Spain in September, 2008. Please send your writing questions to Sited& and put ANNIE in the title.


Laura Rose said...

How cool is that. As a reader you absorb this stuff...but you never appreciate that it's intentional on the part of the writer!

April said...

Even though I'm not a "striving writer" per se, I still learn so much from you!

Selchie said...

Hi Annie, thanks for the great advice, as you know I tend to write all over the place and then put together afterwards. It's really nice to have a structured idea. Hope you had a lovely rest this past month. Looking forward to some more tips.

Happy day,


Stacie said...

test comment, from stacie....

pam said...

I love peeking into the background of writing. Thanks for sharing!