Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Second Step: CONFLICT

Hi Everyone!

So today you're in for a treat, Gillian Adams is doing a blog post. She was kind enough to cover the major topic of conflict, so this post is going to be a bit longer than usual. That's enough from me, I'm going to turn it over to Gillian!

Conflict in the Story World
By Gillian Adams
When you hear the word conflict, what do you think of?  An argument?  Smoldering glares and hazy silence?  A high action chase involving villains, crocodiles, and cliffs?
In the story world, conflict means far more than that.  Simply put, conflict is anything that interferes with your character achieving his/her goal.
Now, wait a minute, you say.  What’s this about goals?  Isn’t that an entirely different subject?  I thought we were talking about conflict.
In order to fully understand conflict, you have to understand goals.  We’re going back to the basics here, but in order to have a novel that works, your main character needs a goal.  This goal should drive your character’s every deed and decision.  Having a goal enables your character to progress from a passive victim of circumstance to an active participant in the plot.
There are two main types of goals and they often work hand in hand – external goals and internal goals.  (This subject deserves its own blog post, so I’ll try to keep it brief.)  An external goal is something physical, easily measurable.  Your hero/heroine accomplishes it and everyone sees that it’s done.  Examples – Mary wants to win the marathon, John wants to slay his enemy, Sally wants to open a coffee shop.
The internal goal is invisible to others but it is often tied with the external goal.  Example – Mary is tired of being “no one,” she wants to be accepted, John wants to be free of the guilt of his parents’ deaths, Sally wants to prove her independence.
You get the picture?  Enough about goals, back to conflict.
Conflict is Two Pronged
As I said before, the simple definition of conflict is anything that interferes with the character achieving his/her goals.  If there is no conflict, then there is no story, because the main character can achieve his/her goals instantly.
Like goals, conflict is two pronged and can be both external and internal.
External conflict arises when any exterior force interferes with the character’s goals.  This can be any animate or inanimate object, an intentional or unintentional interference, the product of nature or connivance. 
It can be anything from a forbidding mountain pass that your character has to cross, to a hurricane that threatens to wreck the ship, to that deadly arch villain.
Pretty simply, right?  You probably naturally include this in your story, because without it, you wouldn’t have a story!  J
Internal conflict arises when the character is confronted with two competing and equally powerful choices. For example, in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, when Inspector Javert is faced with the mercy and nobility of Jean Valjean (an ex-convict), he is forced to decide between rigid adherence to duty (his own internal goal) and showing mercy in return.  Javert chooses mercy and, in so doing, destroys everything he has ever lived for.  He winds up shooting himself.  The internal conflict proved too much for a man who would have withstood any external conflict you threw his way.
Both external and internal conflict are necessary in a good story.  But internal conflict is far more powerful that external conflict.  While external conflict allows the readers to sympathize with the main character’s difficulties and feel his/her pain, internal conflict lays bare the character’s very soul.  It brings the story to a whole new level, thereby allowing readers to connect with the characters in a deeper way.
Internal conflict can be purely internal.  Consider the example of Javert that I mentioned above. Conflict caused wholly by self, where the only obstacles to the character’s internal goal are the ones he/she raises.  For example, this is useful if you have a character who is trying to make a new start after a bad past.  He’s stuck in a rut of his own making, trying to reach that internal goal, but every time, his own habits/desires/memories arise to prevent him.
  Or, internal conflict can be tied with external conflict.
Internal conflict can be the work of an enemy.  In Spider Man 1, the Green Goblin offers Spider Man a “sadistic choice” between saving the girl he loves and abandoning a bus load of children to die, OR, rescuing the children and watching MJ fall to her death.  “Now choose.”
Internal conflict can also be caused by a friend.  In my current WIP Song of Leira, Birdie meets external conflict in the form of her enemy Carhartan, but the internal conflict is provided by her best friend and protector/guardian Amos.  Amos wants Birdie to forget about the mysterious Song she hears and refuses to allow her to speak to the one person who could explain it.  Birdie is caught between wanting to honor her old friend for everything he has done for her and her desire to follow the call of the Song.  Internal conflict.
Conflict caused by a close friend is much more personal and devastating for the character, and thereby evokes a more emotional response in the readers.
How to add conflict to the story:
Alright, you say.  We’ve got all that.  Now what?  I’m glad you asked.  Here are some steps for you. 
1)      The first thing to do is figure out what your character’s goals are – both external and internal.  The concept of internal goals really confused me when I first sat down and thought about it.  I brainstormed for hours and tried to introduce more concrete goals into my book but they really just didn’t fit into the story.  Then I realized that my main character already had an internal goal, I just hadn’t developed it enough.  Sometimes, your character’s goals can be right beneath your nose!  It just takes a little “thinking outside the box.”

2)      After you’ve pinpointed those goals, a great question to ask yourself is “but what?”  Example: Mary wants to win that marathon, but… what?  Mary wants to feel accepted, but… what?  

This is where you get to brainstorm for the unique conflict you want to include in the book!  You ready?  Go, have fun.  Dream up every little obstacle you can to keep your characters from achieving their goals…

3)      But, wait, there’s one last thing.  You also have to figure out a logical way to resolve the conflict.  Conflict doesn’t just disappear on its own.  In a cause and effect world, there will always be effects.  Be sure to consider that in your planning.
Do you have any thoughts about conflict in the story world?  What are some ways you have used internal and external conflict in your own writing?  Feel free to share in the comments.

 Gillian is the author of Out of Darkness Rising, a fantasy novella that will be released by Flaming Pen Press this summer.  For more information, be sure to visit Gillian’s blog or her website

Thursday, April 19, 2012

More Changes

Notice: ALL THINGS SAYING 'the months' will be changed to say 'the steps'. Things will be sorted into steps from now on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Second Month: Staying on Track

Wow. Has it been a full week already? Guess it's time for another post, I'll be it extra long to make up for my lack of posting. Let's start off today's post with an analogy (in honor of my track meet Thursday).

Long distance running is a lot like track.

Say you are completely sadistic and insane and weird like me and love to run long distance. While I love long distance it's not very easy to deal with sometimes. While the typical long distance event is from 4-8 laps on a standard track, sometimes it's hard to run that distance, so you cheat on your training. Run a few sprints then call it a day. And while you're making some progress in track, it's not the kind you want to be making.

Writing is the same way. The typical YA novel is 40,000-80,000 words.** And sometimes it's hard to write; so for whatever the reason, we, as writers, cheat on that too. Maybe we post our opening pages in hope of critiques, or we just quit altogether... Whatever the reason you decide 1,000 words into your novel that you should stop and re-write. Again. And again. And again. While you're learning how to write the first 1,000 words well, you aren't learning how to write a novel well.

I would know that.

I spent three, count 'em, three hours re-organizing my novel. Why? Because I had exactly forty-nine openings for the exact same novel. I have no clue how it got that way, but it did. I wouldn't have even noticed it if I wasn't reorganizing all the files on my laptop!

I realized that my story was so scattered that if unless I started over it wouldn't make any sense. At the same time, I realized that that if I started over, I'd probably quit for some reason or another and that file would be shoved along with the others. With an extremely vague name like "Intro-4". So I needed to change.

I wrote down a non-vague title that would remind me of each fragment of my story on a notecard with the title, file name, date, and number of pages.

After that I sorted them into piles. "USE!", "Useful", "Salvageable", "Useful for other stories", and "Useless".

Then I used the usefully ones to help write an outline for the start of my novel. 

The process took a while but at least this way I'll finish. If you find yourself in the same situation and don't want to waste paper I would recommend using the notecard function on Noodle Tools. (It's pretty cool for school projects too).

But that's not what today's post is on. Today's post is about how to prevent yourself from getting to this point. It's fairly easy, if you follow a few simple but vital rules.

1) Have a plan.
Or some idea of where you want to go with your story. This will also save a whole lot of rewriting later.

2) Just keep writing.

Don't stop for critiques or to edit what you've already written. This is the fastest way to convince yourself that the book sucks and you need to re-write it.

3) Write for yourself.

Don't let anyone else read what you've written. Don't obsess over what you think others will think, either. As my drama teacher would say, "get rid of your cool brain". Don't be afraid of acting like a dork or writing something badly, because SURPRISE most of your first draft will be dorky and bad.

That's it!


** I have no factual proof of this, but the minimum a story must be to be considered a novel is 40,000 words and publishers like their books to be between 75,000-85,000 words

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Second Month: Getting Started

So you have an idea. It's been in the back of your brain forever! You've planned out all the characters, the plot, the conflict until it's practically real (more on this later). You're ready; you're ready to start writing your novel. So open up a blank word doc and prepare the world for your genius. This is a monumental occasion for readers everywhere. 

Then... nothing. Zip. Nada. You have no ideas whatsoever. Nothing comes out. It sucks right?

Or, even worse, it ends up like this:
Awful, right? I won't tell you where I found it, but needless to say, it needs some work. The answer to the question is no, it turns the readers off.

And more importantly, it turns agents and publishers off. If the first page of your novel is bad, they're no going to read the rest, even IF the rest is better than Suzanne Collins and JK Rowling combined. This makes the first page of your novel the MOST IMPORTANT page. So it has to be the best.

We'll discuss using the bad example above (okay, I'll tell you where I got it; I made it up for this. But I ALMOST used a passage like this a couple of years ago.)

Rule number one: It has to be exciting

Most newbie writers love to write long descriptions without any action. Instead of writing about a spy getting assigned to something, then going to lunch, then figuring out there's a bomb, then going to save people from the bomb, drop us right in the middle of the spy defusing the bomb. It's high-stress, intense and page turning.

Make us want to keep reading, there's a time and place for semi-long descriptions, but it's not now.

Okay, so maybe not all of us have action packed, spy movies. But we can still stuff interesting, which brings us to rule number two.

Rule number two: Include a conflict

There has to be a problem, or something that makes a situation difficult. Maybe your character isn't a bomb defusing spy, but s/he still can be in a high stress situation. Maybe s/he is going to move. Maybe s/he doesn't want to move.

It doesn't have to be the main conflict in the end. It doesn't even have to effect the rest of the story. As long as you have a conflict it works.

Rule number three: Use your best grammar and spelling

This is an obvious.

And the last rule, Rule number four: Use the same voice for the first part as you will in the rest of the novel.

This one is just a must. You can't switch voices back and forth unless you're switching characters. Period. And you can't switch narrators unless you start a new chapter. This keeps it from being confusing.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Effective 4/6/2012 Every Manuscript will be located at a new link.

If you come to this link, it will not work.