Tag Archives: conflict

The Showdown

When we talk about showdown, we’re talking about the major (usually final) conflict between your main character and the antagonist. Up until this point, your MC has had minor struggles, sure, but nothing compares to this.
This is what your character has been growing towards.
Every good showdown is either physical, emotional, or mental. Sometimes, it can be a combination of the three. No matter what the type, the conflict will always be resolved by something your character has learned during the story.

Let’s repeat.

Your major conflict will always be resolved by something your character has learned during the story. This is why it’s important for you to be foreshadowing throughout the novel. This is also why it’s important for your character to have an A-HA! moment.

Your major conflict will have something precious at stake. This is the way you can tell a major conflict from a minor one. The stakes are higher, be it a shared love interest, a sorceror’s stone, a desire to rule the kingdom, etc. Whatever is won or lost will make or break your MC. Again, foreshadowing will lead us to believe this as an absolute truth.

Your major conflict will involve something both sides want very badly. This goes hand in hand with the point above, but if your antagonist only kinda wants to destroy the planet, he won’t pose as much of a challenge. Especially if he gives in too soon.

Your major conflict will test your MC’s limits. Again, we could be talking physical, emotional, or mental limits. We need to feel that the character is giving everything they’ve got to get what they want.

Your major conflict will have a clear winner and clear loser. Nothing irritates a reader more than when nobody wins and the book ends without any clear shift toward good or evil. Neutrality is nobody’s friend. Even if the bad guy concedes and calls it a draw, he loses by giving in first.

Some other things that might happen (but don’t always):
Your MC will offer the antagonist a way out. This shows us how merciful and kind the MC is so we root for him or her even more. Of course, the antagonist won’t take the way out because, as I mentioned, both sides want to win very badly.

Your MC won’t get exactly what they want. This is handy for books that involve sequels or for books where your character is to learn a lesson. Because you can’t always get what you want. Yes, your MC stopped the bad guy from destroying the planet, but he escaped, so your MC didn’t stop the bad guy from ever trying again. But it’s good enough…for now.

Your MC will win but won’t be a hero. This can happen when your MC has to go against everyone else in order to do what he or she thinks is right. Heroes like that are much loved by readers because kids and teens know how hard it is to go against the crowd.

Now…let’s get ready to rumble!

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Conflict with and among readers

In considering conflict this week, I wanted to step outside the box — or outside the book, anyway — and prompt a discussion, I hope, about conflict between authors and readers, whether young ones or the librarians and other “gatekeepers” who help feed them books. Or between readers over a given book.

I’ve encountered several kinds of conflict like this. The first is minor conflicts with young readers who email with requests I can’t or won’t fill, such as the young man who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t email him the entire text file of my book after a school visit. While I find that kind of conflict annoying, because it seems to me that parents and teachers should be doing a better job of educating their students on what is and is not an appropriate way to interact with adults they barely know, it’s okay — he has to learn appropriate boundaries and fandom somehow, and I’m as good a person to teach him as any, I suppose. Such conflicts only arise because I’m meeting my audience and/or they’re reading my books, so who’s gonna complain about that?

Another kind of conflict, as we’ve discussed before, is when readers get upset about the contents, direction, or resolution of a story or series. Or, for that matter, what’s on the book’s cover. My own experiences with this have been more limited than I expected, given the violence and/or sexual content in some of my books. The one that surprised me the most was an adult reviewer who was pretty disappointed by the fact that in my first Farwalker book, Ariel does not end up in a romantic relationship with someone more than twice her age. It didn’t ruin the book for her, she wrote in her review — but almost. It’s hard for me, even here and now, not to line up my arguments for why that would be a terrible idea. Defensiveness aside, though, it does highlight for me the ways in which a book takes on its own life in the hands of every reader, since that reader brings a part of themselves, and their own norms, expectations, and longings, to every book. The ultimate expression of this kind of conflict, I suppose, is censorship efforts (or whatever you want to call activities aimed at removing books from libraries or reading lists).

I think a third kind of conflict, if you can call it that, is alignments such as “Team Edward” vs. “Team Jacob.” Would that any of us authors have fans so rabid they’re willing to wear buttons and have arguments over our characters! This may be more marketing hype than anything else, but it’s a fun kind of conflict to have.

I have to think that, as in a plot, conflict is mostly a good thing– because it requires readers’ emotions to be stirred enough to care or bother. But clearly that can be taken too far, too. What other sort of conflicts have you, as a writer, librarian, teacher, or reader, witnessed between readers and books or the authors who write them?

— Joni, who would just as soon keep most of the conflict in the pages

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CONFLICT WEEK—Conflict for the Sake of Conflict

First let me make this clear: Don’t do this.

Don’t add conflict to your story solely for the sake of having conflict in your story.

***

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out, I’ll go into a bit more detail. I see this often in adult novels where it sometimes seems authors are trying to increase their word count. Every page. Every paragraph of every page. Every word. There is conflict. Conflict builds upon conflict. It’s everywhere. And sure, some of this may be gripping and keep you on the edge of your seat, but if every time your character gets in the car and needs to get somewhere in a hurry and there just happens to be a major traffic jam or a garbage truck has accidentally dumped in the middle of the street, that’s a problem.

The edge-of-your-seat stuff wears off, and you’re left with the reader doing plenty of eye rolling and cursing (well, at least this is what I do). And audiobooks are particularly horrible to listen to when they delve into this extraneous conflict. The things take long enough to listen to as it is.

So why should we, as writers, try to avoid it?

This conflict has nothing to do with the main story (unless of course the main character’s mother drove the garbage truck or caused the traffic jam—then it relates). But normally, it’s just a mechanism to keep the reader anxious. And too much is too much.

I’ve heard there should be conflict on page one. And that whatever conflict is seen in page one (and chapter one) should be indicative to the overall conflict of the story. It should be a hint to the reader of what they can expect. It should help ease the reader into the world. In short, it should be related.

So no matter where you are in your novel, I leave you with this fun jingle:

Avoid the traffic jam.
Or your conflict will be spam.

Okay how about this one:

Don’t suffer eye-rolling fate.
Conflict should relate.


pjhoover_casual1 PJ Hoover—who never claimed to be a poet :)

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