Writing

Creating Deeper Conflicts in Writing

Conflict is not only an integral part of writing a novel, it is the primary part of writing one. Without conflict in your story, you have no plot, your characters are flat, and your writing serves no purpose. But how does a writer go beyond played-out story tropes and create engaging conflict that captures readers? It all comes down to finding differences in values.

Values & Conflict

Most new writers tend to think in terms of polarizing values when trying to create conflict, which is a great way to bleed it out of your story. If your protagonist values the simple life and your antagonist values wealth, naturally they’ll experience a severe clash, as one negates the other. But not all values are so black and white in the real world, and the art of writing is to present a fictional reality that mimics our own in some way.

When plotting (and sub-plotting), give some thought to varying the levels of contrast between values. Recognize that not all of your character’s morals and wants are either strictly “good” or “bad”, but absolutely capable of both being thought of as “honorable” (like love and safety) that can still be in conflict with each other. If your protagonist wants to marry his high school sweetheart but the government arranges marriages for the genetic viability of their offspring which would result in eradicated illness, that poses a wrinkle in each side of the equation. In fact, the closer you can get the reader to sympathizing with BOTH sides, the deeper your conflict writing becomes.

Internal Conflicts

We often think of character vs. character fights when we think of conflict, but truly remarkable writing deals not just with the interpersonal but also with intrapersonal. In fact, the most profound issues our characters can face is within themselves, and often mirrors the external issues they face in some way. This is how they grow, and that is the main journey our character will go on through our writing.

Try to pinpoint what values the character has that can be at odds with another value they have and exploit that imbalance. Perhaps she loves her husband, but he’s lost his job and she is torn by the fact that she also values financial security for herself and her sick child. Maybe he values his relationship with his father who happens to be drowning, but can’t save him because he’s terrified of water. Or maybe a girl values honesty but is sworn to lie to protect her brother.

The key is to take stock of what makes your character tick, find what he thinks is good, take two of those things he thinks are good and make them clash. Poke at his fears, his flaws, his ideals. Make him make a choice between to good things or between two things he doesn’t want, and make his choice in THAT affect not just his own life, but those around him, also.

All 6 Conflict Types

We’ve talked about internal conflicts (man vs. self) and one type of external conflict (man vs. man). We even touched on societal conflicts in our example of love vs government-arranged marriage (man vs. society). Let’s break these, and the other three, down.

Man Vs. Man:

This is likely the most often thought about when considering conflicts. It could be the protagonist vs. a villain archetype, or could present itself as arguing lovers or a parent and child with conflicting opinions and outlooks.

Man Vs. Self:

The internal part of the conflict, which we’ve already discussed. This type is almost always necessary in some form to create depth in your novel, and should be used in conjunction with an external conflict.

Man Vs. Supernatural:

Another external type, this pits your character against the unknown, magic, gods, demons, fate, or anything that “outside” of a naturally occurring foe.

Man Vs. Nature:

Going in the other direction of man vs. the supernatural is man vs. nature. This can include struggles again hurricanes, tornadoes, grass fires, earthquakes, floods, snowstorms, and the like. While not an unknown force, nature is still just as lethal and unpredictable and can add excellent stress to an already overwhelmed character, or used as a primary conflict where your setting is well defined.

Man Vs. Society:

One we briefly looked at was societal conflicts. This generally puts your character at odds with a “societal norm” which makes them an outcast against many. A great example of this is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s character Hester against society in “The Scarlet Letter”.

Man Vs. Technology:

Few stories capture this conflict as well as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Man vs. technology doesn’t just entail high powered devices (Shelley hit on what happens when technology advances beyond our control and our hubris clouds our judgement) but it certainly can deal with the influence it has over our lives and where that influence is taking us. Many stories that revolve around this primary conflict use it to dissect AI or nuclear powers gone awry, but it’s truly limited by the writer’s imagination and can be quite powerful.

Takeaway:

A novel is nothing without a conflict, and the best tales told don’t rely on one alone but many, allowing their character to grow through their choices and the resulting realizations. To get the most out of the conflicts present in your story, figure out where the values lie in your characters and the opposing values of those against them, and make them believable.

What conflicts are you creating for your characters and how do their values, and yours, affect your story? Let us know in the comments!

Writing

How to Develop Great Characters

Today’s topic of interest is character outlining and development. Let’s dive in!

Character Development

Plot is crucial to good novels, but truly great works aren’t just plot-driven, they’re character-driven. The key to a phenomenal story is richly developed and flawed characters with depth.

To create characters that evoke strong reader reactions, you must have a strong foundation for not just your protagonist, but for your entire cast of characters, even those that provide supporting roles and “background noise.” While you certainly shouldn’t info dump every piece of information you build your characters up with (using too much information and background on minor characters, for example, leads the reader to believe supporting characters are more important to the story than they really are and creates imbalance), you as the writer will intrinsically write deeper characters having a full, rounded view of their lives and pasts.

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Before beginning your story, you should have a complete understanding of the following elements for each cast member:

Weaknesses:

Every character must have a weakness. Stories are about change, and change can’t occur unless there are characteristics that are flawed. Flaws facilitate, or stunt, growth, and that struggle not only makes the reader feel invested in your protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters and their journeys, but makes the story feel realistic.

Flaws in your main character can be presented as either psychological (those that hurt your protagonist) or moral (those that cause your protagonist to hurt others), or as a combination of the two. And while superficial flaws add depth (clumsiness, a bum leg, etc.), a deeper flaw should be present to move the story along and should ultimately be present in all of your characters, because they all believe they’re the protagonist of the story, anyway.

Goals:

Every character should exist because they want something. That desire propels the story along, and fighting the obstacles along the way creates conflict. And because the entire cast thinks they are the hero of your story, every character has a goal. For some, that may be to protect a friend, or go on an adventure, or to eliminate a perceived foe that threatens their livelihood or beliefs.

When your characters stop having goals, they’re dead weight and their story is over.

Wants:

Wants in your story should be, to your characters, the “thing that attaining their goal will fix”. However, just like in Disney’s remake of the Frog Prince, nine times out of ten your character will be dead wrong about that. Because they’re chasing their wants to fill the void in their lives, attaining their goals only leads to the realization that what they want is not, actually, what they need.

Needs:

Tying it all together, the characters have interior weaknesses causing them to need healing. By chasing their wants and achieving goals that only provide a Band-Aid to the void, they discover that what they truly need is deeper, and that the only way to fully heal is to change by confronting the truth and fixing the psychological or moral issue within themselves (which should also coincide with them confronting and “winning” an external plot element). Typically, this means confronting a deep-seated fear or past, or dealing with the very thing they hate and try to avoid.

Disney’s Tiana wants to buy the restaurant. She needs to allow herself to slow down and love and be loved. This realization helps her confront her past and her current situation (characterization), and become her “true self”, and she then becomes a changed person.

A fantastic story is one that shows these moving parts in every character to varying degrees.

“And they all knew what they wanted,
What they wanted me to do,
I told ’em what they needed,
Just like I be telling you.”

-Mama Odie, The Frog Prince

Creating a character chart: 

Because each character will differ from the rest in appearance, past, personality, attitude and traits, its useful to create a character chart for each. Again, not all of this information will be revealed to the reader, but it is useful to develop a good understanding of your characters that will inevitably bleed into your writing.

Useful information includes name, age, appearance (hair/eye color, skin tone, race, height, weight, build, distinguishing physical features), family information (members, relationship status and standing), childhood, fears, motivations, background information, financial status, attitude, talents, flaws, and favorite/least favorite preferences.

(Get our printable, fill-in free character chart and all of the current Master Lists for Novelists here!)

Takeaway:

Don’t put your characters into a box. There is no “good guy” or “villain”, just like in reality there is seldom only black and white, but instead varying shades of gray. Character development is the process of uncovering your cast and creating a realistic environment for your readers. Define them by their personalities and them define the roles they play. Allow them to be more than two-dimensional, breathe life into them and your readers will want to follow their stories.

How do your characters stack up? What’s an area of character development you need to work on to get the most out of your stories? Comment and let us know!freestocks-org-425059