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  • Writer's pictureJudy

Aug. 30, 2020- In Search of Conflict

Conflict is normally something most people would be perfectly happy to avoid. It seems natural to seek out balance and harmony and peacefulness. Unless you are a writer. Then you look for ways to bring tragedy to your story, drama to the telling, and conflict to the characters.

This week I spent a lot of time focused on conflict. I was recently lucky enough to get a critique session with a well-known literary agent who had read the first couple of chapters of one of my currently-not-under-contract manuscripts.

While she had many great things to say (and I would not be truthful if I did not admit that that was thrilling), she also mentioned that the beginning of this middle grades novel did not have enough conflict.

As any writer also knows, feedback is essential and critiques, especially by skilled professionals, are gold! But the most important aspect of this, is what we do with the information.

So, this week, I have been once again immersed in conflict.

As I struggled and contemplated and reflected, I pulled out some of the Writing Conflict activities and lessons that I have done with both my elementary and my college students.

One of the students’ favorites is where I have index cards with a different type of conflict on each one:

- Character vs self

- Character vs other(s)

- Character vs nature

- Character vs society

- Character vs the supernatural

- Character vs technology

Then I have a separate group of cards that list possible avenues through which to explore/reveal that conflict:

- The protagonist’s motives

- The protagonist’s character flaws

- The barriers preventing the reaching of goals

- Choices with negative consequences

In class I usually have students randomly select a card from each pile for some creative writing exercises in conflict. We sometimes mix it up and select well-known characters from classic pieces of literature to use to explore ways to reveal and expose conflict in text.

For my purposes this week, I simply used the cards to help me hone in on the types of conflict I could introduce earlier in my story, and which would be the best ways to build in that conflict. Adding these additional scenes is thrilling and even surprising. As I have played with ways to bring in more conflict earlier in the story, I am uncovering more layers to my characters and more complexities to the plot. Clearly, this agent knows what she is talking about.

Peacefulness might be what we seek in our real life, but that makes for a very boring story!

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