by Martha Rogers
Goals, motivation and conflict, three elements all our stories need. The essence of every story is conflict, but for me, that is the most difficult thing to add to my novels. I dislike confrontation and will go to great lengths to avoid it. I get very angry with others, but rather than getting into an argument, I will have conversations with them in my head and tell them what I think and feel. If someone has done or is doing something that needs to be corrected, I fret and stew until it comes to the point I must say something. I’m not sure why that is so difficult.
Conflict, whether inner or outer, hurts. In many editing situations I’ve had to rewrite scenes because the conflict was lacking or very weak. Donald Maas has great information on conflict in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, as do Randy Ingermanson and a number of others. Ane Mulligan presented a course on GMC on our ACFW loop, so it’s not like there’s no information on how to put it in our writing. Even after reading several craft books with chapters on conflict, I still have trouble.
Donald Maas says conflict is experienced every day, but most of it is forgotten. In our novels we want conflict that holds the reader’s attention, is meaningful, immediate, large scale, and not easily resolved or forgotten. The conflict happens in and to people with whom the reader is sympathetic.
For me, conflict in what a character wants to do and should do isn’t as difficult as writing the conflict between people. Other authors seem to have no problem with getting their characters into heated arguments and situations with others. I have conflicts within the characters, but when it comes to conflict between or among my characters, I tend to avoid those scenes and just talk about what happened in a later scene. Okay, so I tell about it rather than show it. How often have I seen that on one of my manuscripts?
Problems that are easily resolved don’t provide the conflict two characters need to hold the interest of readers and keep turning the pages of our novels. They want to see the characters in battle whether physical or emotional.
I went through some major revisions in order to insert the “off scene” conflict into the plot of my latest novel, Love Finds Faith. The conflict was there, but it needed to be seen by the reader as it happened and not in discussion or thoughts about what happened. One of these days I hope to get past that barrier the first time around and not have to rewrite as much.
Today is my 78th birthday, and ideas you might want to share regarding conflict would be a great gift for this old gal with a Sanquine personality. After all these years, I’d still rather hide out than confront.
Martha Rogers is a free-lance writer and the author of the Winds Across the Prairie and Seasons of the Heart series as well as the novella, Key to Her Heart in River Walk Christmas and Not on the Menu in Sugar and Grits. Love Stays True and Love Finds Faith, the first and second books in her third series, The Homeward Journey, are now available. Martha is a frequent speaker for writing workshops and the Texas Christian Writers Conference. She is a retired teacher and lives in Houston with her husband, Rex. Their favorite pastime is spending time with their nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.