Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Conflict: The Wheels of a Novel (It’s how I roll.)

By C.M. Fleming

Part of the How They Do It Series

Please help me welcome C.M. Fleming to the lecture hall today, to share some tips on one of my favorite things (in a novel that is) conflict.

Former UCR Crime Analyst with Georgia Bureau of Investigation, C. M. Fleming is an author, illustrator, and writing coach. Her first children’s novel, “Finder’s Magic,” garnered a nomination for Georgia Author of the Year in 2009. She conducts writing workshops at SCBWI conferences, teaches a six-week course for middle-grade students called, “Writing for Smarties,” and is available for school and library visits. An earlier version of her latest book, “Halley’s Hope” was a quarter-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Her latest young adult novel “Halley’s Hope” debuted in February, 2015.

As a very health-conscious senior adult she also writes about wiping out obesity, with a healthy dose of her own brand of humor and Christian wisdom.

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Take it away Connie...

What is plot? What is conflict? What is their purpose?

Robert Newton Peck, a successful writer of adolescent fiction, answers the preceding questions in his book, Secrets of Successful Fiction.

What, then, is plot? Peck simply answers, "A plot is two dogs and one bone."

He adds, "A plot is merely a dramatic situation where a character (1) Wants something, (2) Tries to get it, and (3) Is opposed." Thus, in plot development there is usually a conflict or problem; the action builds to a climax, after which there is a resolution.

Why put conflict in a children’s story? Kids have problems, perhaps different problems from adults, but problems nonetheless. It helps to know that others face scary problems and overcome them. Plus, everyone wants to see the “underdog” win, outsmart the bully, get the prize. As writers, we just have to make sure it’s not too easy – thus creating conflict.

Bottom line: No problem, no story. No problem – big problem for your story.

What are some of your favorite books as a child? Even picture books need conflict. Think of the classic, The Little Red Hen. I know this goes waaaay back. What did LRH want? To feed her chicks. And she was willing to share, but no one was willing to help with the hard work.

Picture the Dr. Seuss books (pun intended). Does The Cat in the Hat have conflict? Green Eggs and Ham addresses a common problem for children. “I don’t want to eat that!”

I could use up major gigabytes listing book after book, but you get the idea.

So – how do you create conflict in your story?

1. Give the readers a problem they can identify with.

2. What do kids fear?
a. Separation from parents.
b. Ridicule or not fitting in.
c. The unknown.
d. Dark.
e. Storms.
f. Monsters, i.e. Jurassic Park, Terminator.
g. Death.
h. (Add your own list here.)
3. Define the main character’s “heart-line.” (One sentence)
a. What is the desire of his heart?
b. What must he do to accomplish his heart’s desire?
c. What is standing in his way?
4. The one place you DON’T want conflict – between your sentences.
a. Here is where we talk about grammar. Yes, it is important.
b. Be true to your characters’ personality.
c. No “Charlie Chan” sudden disclosures.
5. Ebb and flow within each chapter.
a. Every scene in a chapter should fit together to move the story forward.
b. Every action by the mc should reflect his heart line.
6. Up the ante; make the problem bigger than life – our worst fear. Feed it.
a. Just when it can’t get any worse – make it worse. (I hear my mother’s voice saying, “Good grief! I knew this was going to happen.”)
b. Put your MC on the high-wire and then cut the safety net. (Remove obvious help from parents, friends, or people in power, like law enforcement.)
c. Let the reader know something the mc doesn’t know. (Easier said than done.)
7. Don’t forget comic relief. (This could be a whole other workshop.)
a. Dorie’s short-term memory loss in Finding Nemo. But even this adds conflict. How can she help Nemo’s father?
b. Cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias, “Here, slap Weezer!”
c. The dwarves in Snow White.
8. Bringing the story to the climax.
a. There should be several mini-climaxes building to the main climax.
b. Example The Black Stallion
i. The ship fire
ii. The stallion tangled in his rope
iii. The boy rescued, but the stallion left behind.
iv. The main climax – the horse race.
9. Resolution of the conflict.
a. Happily Ever After vs. Life Forever Changed.
b. Do the events leave the mc changed? Even in happily ever after?
c. Be careful that you are not “preaching” to your reader.
Nothing turns me off quicker than and the moral of the story is… All stories have a moral of some sort, but trust the intelligence of your reader to discern that, and let them decide what they accept as true.

My favorite genre to write is historical fiction. You don’t have to look very far to find conflict in historical events, or very far back. I don’t have an agenda for my novels, but my beliefs do color the outcome which may or may not be good for the main character.

About Halley's Hope

Everything was wrong. It was wrong that the missus left Halley and Moseley to bring her valuables in the middle of the night. It was wrong that Moseley died fighting to protect someone else’s things, when he owned nothing, not even himself. It was wrong that the birds were free and Halley was not. When a Yankee soldier dies in her arms, Halley seizes the opportunity, his uniform, his horse, and his identity. She follows her inner compass north, to the Union Army and freedom. Will her brave war horse survive his injuries, or will Halley have to say goodbye to him, too. Halley’s Hope is a work of fiction. Certain incidents and names of well known people are based on fact, the actions, dialogue, and locations are products of the author’s imagination.

Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Partial Bibliography

1. If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan
2. Hatchet by Gary Provost
3. Jimmy’s Stars by Mary Ann Rodman
4. Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost
5. Words Fail Me by Patricia T O’Conner
6. Writing the Breakout Novel (book and workbook) by Donald Maass
7. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
8. The Deep Cut by Susan Rosson Spain
9. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

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