Wednesday, March 2, 2022

CONFLICT[ED] - IWSG March 2022

It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of the amazing and generous Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to this month’s co-hosts: Janet Alcorn, Pat Garcia, Natalie Aguirre, and Shannon LawrenceTo find links to other IWSG contributors, click here.

March Question: Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?

A long time ago, a writing instructor said, “Think about the worst possible thing you can do to your characters and make it happen.” With that in mind, I figured out I needed to kill off the character in the novel I was working on who was the single force mending a family wrought with discord. Decision made, I procrastinated for two weeks. I loved him. I couldn’t imagine writing the scene—but the story was a lot of bla, bla, bla if he didn’t go, so eventually, I pulled up my big-girl writer pants and got on with it, bawling away while I typed.

Nowadays, I make bad things happen, but not always bad enough. Someone from my writing group recently described a couple of chapters I read as “pleasant,” an exceptional example of what my father used to call, “damning, with faint praise.” Time to ratchet up the conflict, Liza. But how much?

I’m currently reading a novel recommended by a friend about couple in a struggling relationship who agree to live on a sailboat with their young kids for a year. Think, four people confined to a miniscule space, away from all the comforts they’ve known. Everything about the trip has been more expensive than planned. Unbeknownst to the wife, they are underwater financially. They’ve lost their satellite phone overboard, are out of cash and almost out of food when their engine quits. Anchored off a group of islands near South America, they don’t speak the local dialect. The husband has to leave his family on the boat while he travels for several days to get parts, and his wife isn’t an experienced sailor. All I can hear is, dun, dun, dun…

Here's the deal. This author has mastered conflict and suspense. The writing is excellent and the storyline is gripping. But, I keep putting the book down because I’m too worried about what’s coming next. Things keep getting worse. I know it’s NOT going to end well and it’s causing me so much anxiety I’m not sure I’ll finish. I have enough to be anxious about in real life.

Hence, my dilemma: how do I find a middle ground between writing a book that’s so stressful a sissy reader like me puts it aside, and writing a story that’s merely “pleasant?”

Somehow, I’ve got to find it.

How do you deal with writing conflict?


18 comments:

  1. My favorite author gave the same advise to make it as hard as possible for our main character. I'm following it in my current manuscript.

    I don't think making things hard for characters means that everything is bad in the end. At least in middle grade and YA stories, the main character overcomes the hard things in the end. Maybe it'd be easier for you to make things hard for your characters if you know in the back of your mind that things will turn out okay for most of them in the end.

    Hope you're doing well. I think of you often.

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  2. Hi Liza - I admire you for being an author in the first place - its keeping on and keeping on ... cheers Hilary

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  3. You need to have conflict to make story happen. Each character needs a motivation, and those motivations have to conflict sometimes. If everyone wants the same thing and nothing gets in their way, your story is going to be awfully short...

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  4. I've also heard the advice about making things as hard as possible for your main character, but I'm not sure I always agree. Sometimes it feels like piling on in a way that feels fake as well as exhausting to read. I'd probably put down the book you describe and not pick it up again, and I'm definitely not a wimpy reader. I just think conflict needs to make sense for the situation, and we need to have some humanizing moments for the characters too.

    The other factor is, of course, the audience. Some readers like a "pleasant" read, while others want a good adrenaline rush (I'm in the latter category--usually). You'll never appeal to both camps, which is where another piece of writing advice comes in: identify your ideal reader and write for them.

    Good luck!

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  5. I think that's why I've done more flash fiction - get in and get out quick. I have not had to throw too much at a character. I can understand where that's difficult. But I have read some books that are TOO much. It is a fine line, that's for sure. Sounds like your writing group is a good source for the truth.

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  6. I feel what you’re saying about balancing the conflict. If the author keeps piling on more bad things, it becomes predictable, depressing, and even boring. I like to be surprised!

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  7. Everything needs to be a problem for the protagonist from the beginning. Problem after problem, but give him/her little victories along the way. There's no real story without conflict.

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  8. "Think about the worst possible thing you can do to your characters and make it happen" This is my favorite writing advice and I endeavor to follow it every day. My characters don't thank me for it. LOL

    I think the amount of bad things one can throw at a character needs to be balance with a nearly equal amount of quiet time, maybe not all good things, but enough time to give the reader to breathe and the characters to consider that maybe they'll pull out of this plot with everything intact. Probably not, but they need some hope too.

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  9. Agree with Carol Kilgore. Give them a few victories on the way. I don’t want to read misery all the way. We get enough on our television screens from Ukraine right now.

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  10. Ha! I was taught the same thing: Think about the worst possible thing you can do to your characters and make it happen. But I learned it doesn't always work. Especially now with all the real world troubles going on. People want more escape and less...realism. But a story isn't a story without conflict. So it is as you say, finding that middle ground.

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  11. A very real problem for you, and yes, I didn't finish a book because it scared me to death. In the world we live in, perhaps we should all be writing happy romances, as the American studios made light hearted films with a great deal of dancing after the second world war.

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  12. I understand why you're afraid to finish that book. I'm not sure I could. But maybe that's taking "make your character suffer" too far. I need hope in a story. Sure, bad things happen to good people, but I want to hope things will work out.

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  13. We definitely all have enough anxiety to deal with in life, Liza. I rarely put a book aside once I start reading it. I'd probably stay up all night to finish the book asap. I don't have an answer to your dilemma. All I know is to write the story you are compelled to write and to write what rings true to you. Good luck! Take care!

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  14. Liza, I struggle with conflict too. James Scott Bell is the writing coach who said to get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. I find this hard to do but my critique partners don't, so they're always showing me ways to add conflict.

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  15. I've heard this advice, but never found a chance to use it yet.

    www.onegayastronaut.blogspot.com

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  16. I think it's all about a balance, like everything else in writing. Endless hardship for a character can become exhausting and depressing for a reader, so they definitely need to have some wins along the ways, or something that shows them a light at the end of the tunnel if they can just pull off doing this or that - that's when you get growth. No conflict at all wouldn't be worth reading.

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