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Monday, March 29, 2010

March Madness, Part 4--This Could Be A Problem

We've talked about player goals and motivation for achieving those goals. Now, let's talk conflict. I have to admit that I would have been thrilled if Bulter had rolled over and let K-State win instead of stomping on them, but the NCAA tournament wouldn't be much fun to watch if the team you are rooting for doesn't face some formidable opponents. In fact, if the stakes don't escalate after each round and draw you in game after game, you might skip the whole thing and wait to hear about the outcome on the news. Besides that, players might get lazy and think winning the championship will be easy. I'd even bet that the coach builds up the opponent just to keep his players on their toes. As authors, we have to do the same thing with our characters. We have to give them formidable forces that stand in the way of their goals. We have to raise the stakes and escalate the conflict, chapter after chapter, until we take them all the way. The plot of my manuscript has inherent conflict, but that wasn't enough. This is another area I've spent a lot of time on during rewrites. I had to build up my antagonist to an in-your-face level so that my protagonist wouldn't get lazy. To be honest, I'm not sure I'm satisfied yet. As I finalize my revisions, I plan on beefing this up even more. Do you keep your characters on their toes by constantly raising the stakes? If so good for you. Your audience will love you for it. Join me here on Wednesday for a discussion about inaction vs. action.

31 comments:

Heather Sunseri said...

Oh, how my team feeds right into what you've been writing about, Susan. UK did exactly what our MCs should never do. They were passive. They allowed their evil opponents to trample all over them. They weren't active in their roll to go after the goal. I agree with you, we must raise the stakes, but our characters must continue to fight as the stakes get more challenging.

I've enjoyed this series! Sorry about your team's loss.

Melanie's Randomness said...

Ohh Great point!! Yeah you gotta keep it interesting. I'm not a sports fan but I'm totally hooked on the Duke games. I watched it last night on the edge of my seat. I want my readers to be that way too. I'm trying to weave my zombie novel into a way that there are conflicts that will drive the lady nuts but keep it interesting so your looking for another page. =)

Tess said...

Some great points here.

Patti said...

Couldn't agree more with this basketball analogy.

Danyelle said...

Great post--conflict is definitely what gets the pages turned. I try to have mini conflict arcs along with the larger arcs. I try to make sure every chapter has a beginning, rising action, and then the falling action--but the falling action doesn't really fall. It adds to the tension.

Tamika: said...

I'm not completely satisfied. There are some conflicts that keep my mind reeling, but then I wonder if the reader will be drawn in enough.

I'm stuck on this fence with this one.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Conflict is definitely important, but I just finished reading Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. It was beautiful, but with more internal conflict than external. And then there's books like The Hunger Games where every minute something new is being thrown at you. I love both!

Julie Dao said...

This is a great point. I don't know if I try hard enough to raise the stakes for my characters, but they definitely go through a lot of conflict (both internal and external) before the story's end!

L. T. Host said...

There are some theories out there that conflict should be present in every single part of your story. That's usually how I try to write, because it invests the reader in the story, in my opinion.

But yes, if it was too easy for the characters to get through to the "final round", chances are the reader would put the book down or skip to the end. Not cool!

Sarah Simas said...

With an analogy like that I might almost start liking to watch basketball. Ha! It's a big maybe, but you never know! :)

I just finished a book where the conflicts were solid at the beginning, but by the end fizzled. I was so let down!

T. Anne said...

I'm doing this now in my WIP. It feels pretty important to keep upping the stakes until the novel hits it's cressendo. Love these analogies!

Anissa said...

I'm in the same boat with revisions. I need my antagonists to be a constant presence, and right now they're not. Ugh. I just realized I have 100 pages in the middle with the bad guys are inexplicably absent. Grrr...back to work!

Julie said...

I find its good to over do it in the beginning or first draft. Lay that conflict on thick and keep adding to it and then tone down later if needed.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Well I'll be blammered - here I've been working for longer than I should have trying to get my profile pic back and a few others, and I see it's over here, too - so either my puter is acting up, or blogger is...so now I can stop obssessesssing about what I did on my profile pic *laugh*

Stephanie L. McGee said...

I've elucidated the stakes for the immediate problem that has just hit the fan in my WiP. And I'll continue to increase the danger and stakes throughout the manuscript. I love upsetting the delicate balance of a character's world.

Jackee said...

Definitely. Just when she thinks she's dodged one bullet, I throw another at her head.

It keeps ME on my toes too, because I have to figure out ways to get her out of the messes while making the way believable. Typical dilemma, I'm sure.

Shigune Matsui said...

Heh, great! Ya know, when I think about it, in both my drawing and writings, I can't ever make a story or a comic that could be without conflict. Without conflict, how is a story supposed to be good?

Trick question: it cannot. It's like humans without lungs or hearts or brains. We simply cannot live without the vitals which keep us living, ya know?

Speaking of, I did do something new with my blog. I started adding my sketches in my blog for everyone to see. You can come comment if you want!

Jill Kemerer said...

Our books should keep the reader guessing up until the final seconds--just like the playoffs!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'm trying to do that... trying to remember to increase conflict. It's already heating things up!

paulgreci said...

Thanks,Susan. In my current WIP, the environment is the main antagonist. I'm working on making sure I don't let my MC off too easy and that he keeps getting farther from his goal.

Amy Tate said...

Amen! I think that's my biggest problem with literary fiction. It doesn't move fast enough for me, and the characters don't evolve.

Mary Campbell said...

I totally agree with you on this. I need to work on making my antagonist scarier. I need to up the stakes on the importance of defeating him - I don't think I've done that.

~Jamie said...

I recently did the SAME thing. I just couldn't get it all to be high stakes enough, and then when I would get it--it was way TOO high stakes and everything sounded silly. Finally I did the motivation thing, and it all just clicked. :)

Thanks for stopping by Elana's blog today and reading my interview!

Erica Chapman said...

This is something I have trouble with. Raising the stakes. If it's not for their own life, then I don't know how to do it, or where to categorize it. I'm working on this very thing in my revisions too - good luck!

Sorry about K-state. I live in Michigan it's all MSU around here - too bad I'm a Michigan fan ;o)

Angie Muresan said...

I love how dedicated you are to this, Susan. There's a lesson to be learned almost on a daily basis. I certainly hope you write a book about all this.

Nancy said...

You make great points. I guess I'd better agree. If by conflict, one means putting in a false scene which makes the goal have to be put off say for another book in the series, that stinks. If it is genuine conflict that truly drives a character to his knees, that's good. Just throwing things at a character that don't ring true is worse than no conflict.

Susan Fields said...

I've read the advice, "make things bad for your protagonist, now make them worse." And I try to do that, to the point that plenty of times I don't know how he/she's going to get out of it. One thing I love when I read a book is discovering how the protagonist works his/her way out of seemingly impossible situations.

Elana Johnson said...

I think this is one of the hardest things about writing. Making sure your protag is pro-ing instead of just tagging. I admit I'm guilty of the latter. I also think that sometimes it doesn't have to be an outside force that causes conflict. Inner emotional conflicts are HUGE and can be just as strong as antagonists.

Name: Holly Bowne said...

Hmmm...I THINK I'm upping the stakes with each passing chapter, but again, thanks for the tip on what to keep my eyes out for once I start the revision process.

I like what Elana wrote above me as well!

Jade said...

Your blog makes me feel useless and lazy. How is it that your posts are always helpful and relevant?

Sigh.

Solvang Sherrie said...

This was hard for me to learn. I just wanted good things to happen to my characters, but it wasn't nearly as interesting when they had something to overcome.