Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Guest Author C.J. Redwine: How to Escalate Conflict in Your Novel
I'd like to welcome YA author C.J. Redwine to the blog today. "Not enough conflict" is high on the list of why many novels get rejected, and C.J. is here to share a few tips (ten in all, quite the bargain) on how to escalate the conflict in your stories. I especially like numbers 1 and 7.
C.J. loves stilettos, lemon bars, and any movie starring Johnny Depp. She is the author of Defiance, the first in a post-apocalyptic fantasy trilogy from Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins. She's also the author of QUERY: How to get started, get noticed, and get signed is available now for Kindle and Nook. C.J. lives in Nashville with her husband, four kids, two cats, and one long-suffering dog.
Take it away C.J...
We all know every story requires conflict. And most of us start writing our stories with a glorious, shining piece of conflict in mind. The problem is that most of our initial glorious, shining pieces of conflict are inadequate for sustaining the interest of a reader throughout the entire story. There’s a balance to writing good conflict. A way to pace it so that it steadily grows throughout the story, keeping your reader glued to the page. Here are some suggestions for ways you can escalate the conflict in your story.
1. Use all three types of conflict:
Your hero should have a difficult internal conflict, relational conflict with other characters, and an external conflict against his environment or circumstances. Developing all three strands of conflict gives your story depth and keeps your reader constantly invested in reading more.
2. Use fear:
What does your hero fear the most? Make him face it. Don’t pull your punches. Shove your hero face to face with his biggest nightmare.
A fabulous way to keep the reader engaged is to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. It becomes next to impossible for your reader to put the book down. Even if you’re writing a chapter where the characters have some breathing space, you can use cliffhangers by ending the breathing space with the start of the next piece of conflict.
The pacing of conflict in your story should look like this: Conflict Simmers » Conflict Boils » Conflict Explodes » Breathing Space » Repeat as necessary.
5. Pacing #2:
All of that simmering, boiling, and exploding should look like peaks in your manuscript while the breathing space looks like valleys. Your peaks should get progressively higher and higher as the story nears completion. If you have two or three peaks in a row that are all at the same level of risk/intensity/stakes, you aren’t at a peak. You’re at a plateau, and you need to reassess those conflicts and figure out how to escalate them.
6. Make it worse:
In every instance of conflict, ask yourself “How could this be worse?” If you can think of several ideas, it’s time to either find a way to use those ideas as you move through the manuscript, or make the original instance WORSE. Again, don’t pull your punches.
7. Have inner and outer conflict meet:
When your hero’s choices in how to face his outer conflict lead to increased inner conflict (isolation, fear, guilt), you’ve done a good job of escalating the conflict.
8. Lose it:
What does your hero need to lose? What would hurt the most? Cripple his resolve? Set fire to his good intentions? Push him irrevocably closer to that final conflict?
9. Mystery and suspense:
Using mystery and suspense increases the tension and feeds both the hero’s fear and the reader’s as well. Each answer should raise a more harrowing question. And don’t kill the suspense by having the hero be too stupid to figure out what’s right in front of his face. Put thought into your mystery. J
Surprises are an excellent way to escalate conflict. Sudden obstacles the hero has to scramble to overcome. Left turns in the plot that force the hero to contend with a new set of circumstances. Reveals that deepen the mystery and push the hero closer to the final conflict. Just be sure your surprises rise authentically from your plot, your setting, and your characters’ choices. Beware the convenient surprise! That way lies the death of interesting stories.
These are just a few ways you can escalate the conflict in your story. Which method did you find most useful? Do you have something you’d add to the list?
Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.
At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.
As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.