I was text-talking with a writer recently. This amazing writer is working on her first novel. The story plays out around a real-life iconic place, and she has managed to create characters that seem as real to me as my family members and a setting so vivid I can hear the chaotic clatter of a large, busy household, smell the scents of dinner cooking, see the trendy 80’s outfits the teenagers wear. This author has captured a by-gone time period in a vibrant city and brought it to life on the page.
But even the most interesting, realistic characters and settings can only take a reader so far and keep them turning the page. What else is needed? Conflict.
So I posed a few questions to this writer and offered some suggestions to help her find her story’s conflict.
Following is what I said to my writer friend in our text conversation:
Have these questions in the back of your mind as you write:
- What does (your protagonist) want more than anything?
- What obstacles stand in the way of her getting what she wants?
- What is at stake if she doesn’t get it?
What she wants doesn’t have to be a huge thing (although it can be). It can be as simple as “fitting in.” Story is conflict. It can be big or small conflict, but conflict. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers yet. Keep writing with these questions in the back of your mind, and the answers will reveal themselves.
My writer-friend spent a little time thinking about her protagonist and answering the above questions. She told me it was a “valuable exercise.” Try asking your characters these questions, even if you think you’ve already nailed down your story’s conflict. You might be surprised that the answers make the conflict even more clear or take it to a deeper level.
But don’t stop there! As I told the writer I was texting, “You should also think about adding a ticking clock to your story.”
We’ll talk about that next time! Until then…