Monday, January 4, 2010

Need Depth? Just Add Conflict

In my first post about conflict, I stated that conflict adds depth. I wanted to expand further on it. Again, the most important thing (I think) is to make sure there's both internal and external conflict...

I'm going to write two very basic (and otherwise uninteresting) scenarios and then attempt to show how adding conflict gives the scenes depth. Here we go:

Scenario A - The Soccer Game
  1. Jeremy walks to his nephew's soccer game. Here we have no conflict. No real story.
  2. But at the game, another boy's father, Steve, shoves Jeremy. Oooooh External Conflict. A reader's drawn in--who wouldn't be? We all reading love a good physical confrontation. Plus we want to know how Jeremy reacts. How do the soccer players react? How does Jeremy's nephew react? How does Steve's son react? What will this one shove set in motion for the MC and for everyone else?
  3. Jeremy takes it, and doesn't shove Steve back. He wants to, but he restrains himself for two reasons: he doesn't want to set a bad example for his nephew (ehh, okay... not tons of conflict, but it does show us a little bit about Jeremy), but also because he had an affair with Steve's wife... he flashes back to their last time together. We see his hand on her smooth tanned thigh--and then the tears in her eyes when she confesses that she's been honest with Steve and ends it. Jeremy still loves her. He let her go because it's what she wanted, but he longs for her still. So he won't push back because he's really the one who wronged Steve... and because he knows the woman he loves wouldn't want him to. Aaaaand hello Internal Conflict. Now a reader wants to know how it started... Why'd she tell Steve? What type of a man worries about setting a good example for his nephew but sleeps with another man's wife? When did it happen? Is Steve a good man, or should she leave him to be with Jeremy?
    The list could go on...
Example B -- The Failing Art Student
  1. Elena is failing her art class. On her last assignment, she recieved a 38%. So what? There's nothing special about this... lots of students fail classes.
  2. But she's actually a brilliant artist and aced the first three assignments of the year. Okay, now a reader might be a LITTLE bit intrigued, because it's natural to wonder what caused the discrepancy.  We sense the possibility of (wo)man vs self conflict here. Or maybe (wo)man vs man. We kind of want to read on to find out.
  3. She's failing because she recently found out that her grandmother is dying of cancer, and she can't seem to concentrate on anything else. She's discovered that she's scared of death and is heartbroken by the pending loss of someone that she loves. She feels selfish for this new fear of death because she wants to believe that her grandmother is going to Heaven, but deep down she doesn't believe in an afterlife. It terrifies her that when her grandmother dies she might simply end... that no part of her continues on. And now we've hit the motherload of Internal Conflict--readers form a connection with Elena. They feel sympathetic, possibly empathetic, for her. They want to see her come to terms and they'll read on because they want to see her overcome this fear of disbelief.
  4. Elena wants to go talk to her best friend about it after school, but her mother grounds her for the failing grade and takes away phone priviledges.  So Elena tries to talk to her mother about it instead, but the mom's too wrapped up in her own grief to understand. She sends Elena to her room. External Conflict adds another level to the story. Elena is kept from what she wants... in this case, what she needs. Now we want to keep reading for a plethora of reasons. Will she spiral further out of control? Will she find another source of help? Is her mother a bad mother--or just really screwed up with grief--to not see what Elena's going through? What are the other family dynamics? Curiosity is peaked and the connection to Elena deepens. This has developed into a story.
So you see what's happened? Each scenario started out with a fairly boring premise, but we added internal and external conflict to the mix and... voilà, we created depth!!

(Copyright © Adam Romanowicz)

♥ me


  1. Voila! Love it! I have to catch myself every now & then when I really need depth and then sometimes when I go overboard! lol this is a great post & wonderful thing to remember!
    Thanks Sara!


  2. Very nice! I am loving this series. Conflict is definitely necessary to get the reader hooked. Thanks for posting!

  3. Great lesson, Sara! This is a series that will benefit all of us from PB's to YA's. :-)

  4. I love your examples. I really need to work on this, thanx.

  5. Conflict?? Did you say you wanted conflict?? I don't think you can handle conflict, little miss Sara <3. Who do you think you are? Only I can handle conflict, because when I was little, my mother would beat me for not having enough conflict in my writing, and now I'm consumed with rage over the littlest bit of conflict! How's that for conflict, huh?!? What do you think about that??

    There, is that enough internal and external conflict for you? ;) Good post.

  6. Very nice examples. You know, I was just thinking of this today with regard to my second manuscript. I need more conflict, to make it harder on the MCs. I mean, you read The Hunger Games, and it seems like conflict never ends. Horrible things happen (to such a degree that you wonder how the author could have done that to her poor MCs), but it makes it so much more interesting to read. More importantly, the emotion you have invested in your awesome characters keeps you locked into the book wanting to find out how they'll work their way out of it, ever so hopeful that they'll make it.

    Great post, chica.

  7. Scenario C - The Blog Comment
    1. Simon decides to comment on Sara's blog post. Not particularly interesting. He does that fairly often.
    2. But in his comment, he makes derogatory remarks about Sara's writing ability. Now why would he do that? Hm. (Wait. Does that count as an external conflict? Can you even have an external conflict online? I dunno. I think my scenario's breaking down here...)
    3. Sara gets mad and unfollows Simon's blog perfectly understandable but doesn't know that Simon was irritable because the waitress at the diner sneezed on his eggs this morning, and he has this irrational fear of sneezed-upon eggs Huh? Where am I going with this anyway? because of a childhood episode where great aunt Matilda sneezed and her false teeth came out and landed on his scrambled eggs but then Grandma Shinkowicz made him eat the eggs anyway 'cause when she was growing up in Poland they had to eat sneezed-on eggs all the time and if it was good enough for them it would by-God be good enough for little Simon... I think I lost control of that somewhere along the way. Did I even get to inner conflict? Um. Oh, never mind. Please ignore the above scenario.

    But I really did think this was a good post, good lady. :)

  8. Southern Princess-Thanks!!

    Anne-LOL hooks are another planned part of the series... great minds and all that :-)

    Shannon-glad you're enjoying the posts!

    T.Anne, I'm happy you enjoyed the examples! They were the first two things I thought of, and there are TONS of other things I'm sure we could come up with...

  9. Iapetus999-I just choked on a bite of my freaking cookie when I read your comment. LOL hahahahha

    Carol, Oh God. HG was so full of conflict and tension... But don't forget, your MS (at least... I'd know this if you'd ever SHARE it with me, lol) is based on a totally different premise!!

    SIMON. HOLY MOTHER EFFING LAUGHING. Oh. Em. Gee. I'm dying. DYING. You definitely nailed the internal conflict with the fear of sneeze dripped eggs. I seriously just cracked up and practically spit Diet Dr. Pepper on the screen (which I was washing down the cookie I almost spit out from Iapetus999's comment.)

    Frankie-glad you liked it :-) Thanks!

  10. Awesome post Sara. If anyone needed proof that you're an awesome CP--this would do it. (But back off, she's mine and my messy draft needs too much of her time right now for me to share her!) :)

  11. Then Iapetus999 and Simon high-five and figure out how to finish the job....mwha ha haha

    I mean good post'n'stuff

  12. Great post - conflict is the core of the story. I like the way you've laid it out - very clear :)

  13. Great point! Internal and external conflict are key. One doesn't fly without the other.

  14. Nice work...I love these examples--you make it sound so easy :) And your comments are highly entertaining!

  15. Nothing like a bit of conflict to get the heart rate pumping...

    Well illustrated Sara :)

  16. Awesome examples! And you hit the nail right on the head-- you need both internal and external conflict to give a story proper depth!

    *Clicks "Follow" button*

    :) Looking forward to more!


Yay! I love when you have things to add :)