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NaNo Tip: Sources of Conflict
Happy NaNo, everyone! I’m Nice Girl Ella Sheridan, here to talk to you about that all-important element of your story: CONFLICT.
Every story needs conflict to be interesting. Ever read one of those books where, the entire time, you’re thinking, “If they would just sit down and talk this out like normal people, the book could’ve ended on page fifteen”? That’s not conflict. True conflict deepens the story, deepens the characters, and makes the reader turn pages again and again.
So how do you develop conflict?
For NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, there are two different approaches to your story. One is to plot it out for a month or a few ahead of time. (I never got to go this route.) The other is to take the month as a sort of vacay from plotting and do a bit more of a pantser approach, sort of writing off the cuff. It’s freeing, but it can also lead to some pretty anxious moments when you don’t know what will happen next. Conflict can help with that. Scene by scene, the book is built, and scene by scene, you can find and deepen conflict.
First you have to know that here are two types of conflict: internal and external. This is the difference between a character fighting his love for a woman and a character fighting to survive deadly shark-filled tornadoes. One fight occurs inside the character (though it may spill out into their real-world actions), and the other fight occurs outside the character (and will most definitely affect their emotions, such as fear, panic, and the overwhelming urge to sob at the sight of all those dead shark eyes and razor-sharp teeth). You get the idea, right? Great, now how can you use that when you’re facing the blank page and have no idea what to write next?
FIRST, try to move the character along the arc of the overarching conflict of the story. In other words, find the character’s overall goal, the thing they most need to accomplish, and block it.
He wants to be alone? Put people in his life.
She wants to leave? Take away her escape routes.
He wants sex? Make sure the heroine isn’t in the mood.
(Okay, that’s a little mean, but you get the idea.)
Of course, the story’s overall conflict isn’t the only conflict you need, and every scene isn’t overtly about moving that overarching goal forward. Sometimes a scene’s purpose is…something else. Sometimes adding a minor conflict of a different source can not only add interest to a blah book but can help you when you are just trying to figure out what the heck these characters need to do next.
That brings us to our SECOND suggestion: try anything on this list. One of them just might work to get your juices flowing again. Keep in mind, this isn’t the big conflict (our character’s sole goal in life). This can be a scene where all your character needs to do is drive across town.
Find the purpose of the scene and countermand it. Don’t let them get across town. I heard an author speak once who said her heroine’s only goal in one scene was to get to the bathroom without running into the hero. Guess who she ran into?
Think about what would make this scene easier for the character or action, then provide the opposite. Breaking up with someone is easier to do in a quiet place without interruptions. What if you character doesn’t have that quiet, interruption-free place?
Find a character’s weakness and force them to face it. We’re not just talking chocolate cupcakes here either. They can’t say no to lost children and pets? There’s a bedraggled puppy just around the corner waiting to muck up their life.
Pick out a hurtful piece of a character’s backstory and force them to relive it, either emotionally or actually. Your hero was stomped on the playground on a regular basis for being a nerd, but is now a hunky scientist sans pocket protectors? What happens when he sees another nerdy little boy getting bullied around?
Find out what two characters value (either internal or external), then make sure those values mean they have to take opposing actions. (A character’s value might also conflict with something else he values/believes.) A hero and heroine both value family. Her value means she must save the family business at all cost. His value means he must do what his father wants, and his father wants her family business. Who wins?
Screw up the characters’ environment, timing, scheduling, anything that you know would make your life run smoothly. Time is an especially great way to add conflict. She doesn’t need to get married in one year to gain her inheritance; she needs to be married within the week. How much harder is that?
Any of these options can help when you’re facing the blank page of shame during NaNoWriMo—or anytime, for that matter. Sometimes that one piece of added conflict is all you need to take your story, your plot, your characters from “couldn’t this have ended pages ago?” to “why did it have to end so soon?”!
Good luck, NaNoers!
To encourage your forward NaNo movement, I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky commenter. Buy a book about creating the perfect conflict. Or buy a reward book to read after you fry your brain this month! 😉 Either way, you can only win if you comment below. I’ll post the winner on the last day of our NaNo event, November 26th.
And don’t forget: every commenter is also entered to win our grand prize, a $25 gift card to All Romance eBooks! (Now that’s some serious reward buying right there!)