By Mackenzie Lucas
A few months ago, author of The Taker Trilogy, Alma Katsu, spoke to Washington Romance Writers about one of the building blocks of any story–conflict. Katsu, who earned a Masters’ degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University, equipped writers in attendance with tools to analyze and fix their own fiction when it falls flat–whether they’re writing literary fiction or genre fiction.
While we’re all programmed to avoid conflict, however, it’s the tension created by conflict that is the driving force that creates a page-turner for your readers. Katsu argued that conflict is not the straight, steep uphill climb writers have been taught, but a jagged up-and-down ascent that moves upward until the climax and dénouement.
Conflict is every barrier that keeps a protagonist (or character) from obtaining their goal and can be either internal or external. We should use conflict to develop plot as well as reveal character and it applies to all characters, but it’s not the same as story or plot. Conflict is multi-layered. It drives your story forward and it adds dimension to your characters.
Katsu identified four types of conflict that are in every good story: central conflict; underlying, or chronic conflict; internal conflict; and transient conflict. If you’re finding your scene flat, you should analyze each scene, identifying the conflict. One or more of these four types of conflict should be in every scene. You need to ask yourself, “Do events resolve too easily?” If the answer is yes, then ask a second question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen here.” Then make it happen.
Each step of progress your character makes should be met with opposition and setbacks in some form. By charting out your character’s goals and progress through the story, you can also see if you’ve inserted enough opposition to create the conflict and tension you need to keep your readers interested and reading.
The workshop provided excellent information and tools for any writer to improve their craft. Katsu is hoping to present a variation of this workshop at RWA Nationals in San Antonio next July. I’d recommend that you catch her talk wherever you can. For a list of her upcoming events, see below.
She’s a great teacher with a different angle on conflict that gives any writer concrete, actionable steps to adding conflict to every single scene of their books. You don’t want to miss her practical wisdom because conflict is the bedrock of your fiction writing!
This blog originally appeared on the Rockville 8 and is reprinted with permission.
About: Mackenzie Lucas is an avid reader of genre fiction. She writes contemporary and paranormal romance, and listens to an eclectic mix of music. She loves a good story, whether it’s an erotic short, a full-length romance novel, or the narrative slice-of-life found in country music. In any story, emotional integrity and authenticity are most important to her as well as a big dose of romping hot sexual tension. She enjoys smart-mouthed, sexy heroines, hunky alpha heroes who know how to take care of their women, and plot twists that surprise her, but most of all, she just wants to experience the satisfying emotional arc of a character falling in love and finding what he or she needs most in life.