#Nanowrimo Conflict the Fuel of your Story

Conflict is the fuel that keeps your story going. Conflict revels your character and draws the reader closer. It gives the reader a reason to keep turning the page. Without conflict, your idea cannot be translated into story.

Conflict keeps a story going and reveals much about your characters. Conflict is the gap between expectation and the actual result. There are 3 levels of conflict for your characters:

  • inner (inside the character) In many cases inner conflict occurs when a person has a disagreement between values he or she holds to be important. By adjusting a character’s circumstances, you can develop internal conflict.
  • personal (between characters)
  • universal/societal (characters versus fate/God/the system)

You have to consider what your main character faces on each of these levels.

There are five major sources of conflict for people (although you can probably come up with more):

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Family
  • Religion
  • Politics

Keep these sources of conflict in mind when developing your characters.

Remember all characters have to have an agenda/goals they want to achieve. That gives them a driving force, even if it is a passive or negative one. Characters can pursue their goals aggressively or subtly. Or they could not pursue their goals, which also says something about them.

What is Conflict?

  • A serious disagreement or argument
  • A prolonged armed struggle
  • An incompatibility between two opinions, principles or interests
  • (v) be incompatible or at variance, clash

Basic Story Dynamic

  • The Protagonist (the character who owns the story) struggles with . . .
  • The Antagonist (the character who if removed will cause the conflict and story to collapse)…
  • Because both must achieve their concrete, specific . . .
  • Goals (the external things they are each trying desperately to get, not necessarily the same thing)

The Protagonist

  • Must be someone the reader wants to identify and spend time with:  smart, funny, kind, skilled, interesting, different.
  • Must seem real; flawed, layered, blind spot.
  • Must have a unique voice.
  • Must be in trouble, undeserved if possible, but usually not random.
  • Must be introduced as soon as possible, first is preferred.
  • Must have strong, believable motivation for pursuing her external and specific goal.
  • We often empathize with a reluctant protagonist.
  • We must see the spark of redemption in a negative protagonist very quickly.
  • The protagonist’s blind spot can be fatal flaw, but at least brings about the moment of crisis.
  • The protagonist, as she is at the beginning of the book, would fail if thrust into the climactic scene.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What does your protagonist want most?

The Protagonist

  • Drives the story.
  • You have one for one main story line.
  • Does not have to be the hero/heroine or even good.
  • If she fails, what is the result? (Stakes)
  • Is the person on stage in the climactic scene, defeating the . . .

The Antagonist

  • Must be someone the reader respects (fears):  smart, funny, kind, skilled, interesting, different.
  • Must seem real; flawed, layered, blind spot.
  • Must have a unique voice.
  • Must be in trouble.
  • Must be introduced as soon as possible, even if by proxy.
  • Must have strong, believable motivation for pursuing her external and specific goal.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What does your antagonist want most?

The Antagonist

  • You have one.
  • Drives the plot initially.
  • You must do the antagonist’s plan and it should be very good.
  • If removed, the plot collapses.
  • Should be a single person so the conflict is personal.
  • Is the person on stage in the climactic scene, fighting the protagonist because . . .

Their Goals Conflict

  • The reader must believe both will lose everything if they don’t defeat the other.
  • Their goals are difficult to achieve because of external barriers, primarily each other.
  • Their goals are layered, usually in three ways . . .

Goal Layers

  • External:  The concrete object or event the character needs.
  • Internal:  The identity/value the character is trying to achieve via pursuing the external goal.
  • Relationship/communal:  The connections the character wants to gain or destroy while in pursuit of the external goal.
  • People want to achieve their goals because of their . . .

Motivation

  • The reason your character needs his or her goal.
  • Everyone has an agenda.
  • Every character has a primary motivator; Frankl’s ‘One Thing’.
  • Some motivations stem from key events in a character’s life.

More on Motivation

  • The reader must believe that your characters believe all will be lost if they don’t achieve their goal.
  • Motivations, like goals, come in layers that are peeled away as the story escalates in conflict and the character is under more and more pressure.
  • The motivational layers are all present in the beginning of the story, but the character is often not conscious of the layers.
  • Thus the motivation and goals shift as the story goes on and we peel away layers…

CONFLICT EXERCISE

What is stopping your protagonist from getting what he/she wants most?

What is stopping your antagonist from getting what he/she wants most?

The Central Story Question

  • Will the protagonist defeat the antagonist and achieve her goal?
  • When the reader asks that question, the story begins.
  • When the reader gets the answer, the story is over.

Central Story Question Examples

  • DON’T LOOK DOWN:  Will Lucy defeat Nash and save herself and her family?
  • AGNES AND THE HITMAN:  Will Agnes defeat Brenda and keep Two Rivers?
  • This question leads us to the . . .

The Conflict Box

The Conflict Box is a tool that is used to diagram visually your protagonist’s and antagonist goals and conflict.

You can either have conflict because

  • Protagonist and antagonist want the same thing.
  • Protagonist and antagonist want different things, but achieving one goal causes conflict with the other’s goal.

The Conflict Box

The core conflict based on goals that brings the protagonist and antagonist into direct opposition in a struggle that neither can walk away from.

Conflict Box:  Same Goal

  • Agnes wants to keep her house, which she bought from Brenda.
  • Brenda wants to steal back the house she just sold to Agnes.

To see if your conflict is inescapable:  Draw a line from Agnes’ goal to Brenda’s Conflict.  If Agnes is causing Brenda’s conflict, you’re halfway there.

Then draw a line from Brenda’s goal to Agnes’ conflict.  If Brenda is causing Agnes’ conflict, you have a conflict lock.

The key to the conflict box is one character must cause the other character’s conflict. You have that, you have conflict lock.

Conflict Box: Different Goals:

From Lost Girls.  Gant wants to find out who is kidnapping and killing young girls.

The Sniper wants to continue killing the daughters of those he feels betrayed him.

CONFLICT EXERCISE

Go to the below box and fill it out for your book.

Slideshare of the Conflict Box:

Video of Bob explaining the Conflict Box

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

 

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on November 9, 2013, in NaNoWriMo, Write It forward and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this informative post. Well done!

  2. Excellent post – many thanks, Bob Mayer!
    LT

  3. Incredible information. Thanks!

  4. That’s a very comprehensive diagram!

  5. Hey there! I’ve been reading your website for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Tx!
    Just wanted to mention keep up the great job!

  1. Pingback: Industry News-December 2 » RWA-WF

  2. Pingback: Writing Resources 9 November 2013 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

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