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That all-important “C” word

conflictIn every class I teach, the subject of conflict is unavoidable. Truth is, no matter how knowledgeable or skillful the students, whenever there’s a problem with a scene, it’s almost always because there’s not enough conflict. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for even the best writers to plunge their characters into trouble and keep them there, but it is. The problem seems to be that we writers become attached to our characters. We like them, and we want them to be happy. As a result, we tend to wrap up scenes neatly.

This is the worst thing we can do. A solved problem is not the kind of scene ending that forces a reader to read on. We want some question to exist in the reader’s mind when he finishes a scene. He should wonder if things can ever work out because, at that point, it doesn’t seem very promising. I understand an author’s urge to make things right, but that’s not what captures a reader’s interest. Things need to be very wrong and the reader needs to be worried.

When a writer produces a solution to a problem, there’s no reason for the reader to wonder about what will happen next. He can very easily put the book down and not pick it up again. Is this what we want? No, it isn’t. We want our readers to have to keep reading because they simply must find out what will happen next.

In our lives, we want smooth sailing — no problems, no conflict. But in our books, the opposite is true. Conflict is the engine that drives a story and makes it interesting. So each day as you begin to write, remind yourself that a story can never have too much conflict.

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