Monday, April 4, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Conflict and Complications

Hi all! Just a reminder that I have a competition going to draw a map for the winner. So if you want a map but can't draw it yourself, e-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

There was once a girl who decided to write a book. She opened a word processor and started on her story. She wrote and wrote and before long, her story was finished. After a few adaptions, she believed her book to be ready and queried her favorite agents. The fifth one signed her and by the end of the year, she had a book deal. She published and the book became a best seller and she got an interview on Oprah. 

The End. 

Not very satisfying, is it?

Well, I'm happy for the girl. I mean I would love to go through the experience of finishing a book with no issues and getting an agent very quickly.

BUT. Do I feel happy and completed for the experience of reading the girl's story?

Uhm... no.

Why not? Because I write, and I know that just the process of writing is not simple. In fact, this whole idea of someone picking up a pen and quickly scribbling off a story with zero effort sort of grates my nerves.

I mean she didn't even fight for it! She made a decision and the fruits of her minimal effort fell into her lap.

That's where conflict and complications come in.

A common mistake among novices and non-writers is the belief that conflict involves at least two characters snarling each other and making each other hurt/sad/angry.

In reality, conflict in the literary sense refers to internal and external things and events that stands in the way of a character achieving his/her goal.

With internal conflict, the character has to face obstacles within him/herself in order to "win". To me, the lack of confidence, alcoholism, phobias and certain thinking patterns can serve as causes of internal conflict. For example, spiders standing in a character's way to the goal might not be that much of a problem unless the character wants to melt into a quivering heap because she/he's arachnaphobic.

If the spider is in fact Shelob, that would be an external conflict. Because now the character has to face a massive spider that is keeping him/her from the goal. Now, the factor serving as the obstacle is moved to outside the character.

So, the example of the characters above not getting along can become conflict if it is made bigger than petty squabbles. For example, one character can be the evil antagonist. Or the characters have to work together to get to the goal - and then the relationship must be on the verge of fracture.

The attainment of the goal(s) must be threatened.

There was once a girl who decided to write a book. She opened a word processor and started on her story. She wrote and wrote, but about half way through, a virus crashed her computer. For a long time, the girl wanted to give up, after all, she'd given everything she had to get to where she was. And now it was all gone. Still, she needed to write, so she started again. She edited her book to as good as she thought it could get, but then froze. What if she wasn't good enough? What if none of her wish list agents said yes? But she ended up doing it any way, because she knew she worked so hard. Then the rejection letters streamed in. One after the other. But she kept querying, knowing that one would say yes. The fifty-ninth agent on the list signed her in the end and by the end of the year, she had a book deal. She published and the book became a best seller and she got an interview on Oprah. 

The End. 

Better, right? I've already got a lot more sympathy going for the character. But is it as suspenseful as it can be? Not yet. 

I mean... everything is so cut and dried, isn't it? 

That's where complications come in. To me, complications make things difficult for the character. It won't necessarily stop him/her from reaching the goal, but it will certainly add extra stress that the character could deal without (but we readers couldn't). 

So that example of the characters bickering can be a good complication, because it makes thing harder on the character. 

I could list more examples, but the possibilities here are endless. Anything will work as long as it gets to the character. 

There was once a girl who decided to write a book. She opened a word processor and started on her story. But she soon found that the writer's life was far from easy. For the rest of her life had to carry on too. Her family did not always understand the depth of her passion for the story and seemed to interrupt her every time she touched the keyboard. Every now and then, she'd get work assignments that she couldn't postpone. But on she worked. Until disaster struck about half way through the story. A virus crashed her computer. For a long time, the girl wanted to give up, after all, she'd given everything she had to get to where she was. And it was all gone. Still, she needed to write, so she started again. It took months for her to get back to where she was, but eventually, the battled her way through. She edited her book, but struggled to get the story to shine. One crit partner would say they loved the story but hated the characters. The other said they loved the characters but thought the stories needed some more work. She took both into account, but still followed her gut and polished away to as good as she thought the story could get. When time came to query, she froze. What if she wasn't good enough? What if none of her wish list agents said yes? But she ended up doing it any way, because she knew she worked so hard. Then the rejection letters streamed in. One after the other. But she kept querying, knowing that one would say yes. The fifty-ninth agent on the list signed her in the end, but although the agent was great at getting interest in the story, the girl and the agent just didn't really like each other. Still, they stuck through it and gained each other's respect and by the end of the year, she had a book deal. She published and the book became a best seller and she got an interview on Oprah. 

The End.

So that's conflict and complications to me. How do you think about it?  


  1. Lots of good points. I think you're right about your story of the writer, easy is boring.
    cheers for sharing,
    Moody Writing

  2. excellent points.

    i often hear 'you must have conflict' from people who think 'conflict' just means a mortal enemy or a battle scene.

  3. I love exploring the internal conflicts of my characters. Conflict makes any journey's end more valuable and appreciated.

  4. I love the way you altered the story to show the different kinds of conflict! I think you often have to have both internal and external conflict to have a good story--but often internal conflict causes external conflict because of the various choices and mistakes the MC makes. Great post!

  5. Adversity doesn't just make us stronger. It makes us more interesting to read about, go figure.

  6. Ha! Her computer crashed and she forgot she could write by hand! :) It would be interesting to do a little research and find authors who have had their manuscripts destroyed and had to start over again.

  7. I think about it pretty much the same as you, but YOU "say" it a whole lot better. :)

  8. I'll admit, after reading the first story of the girl who put in minimal effort I definitely had some unkind words in my head...

    I definitely think that it's easier to feel happy not only for other people but for ourselves as well when there have been more complications in the way. Weird how that works.

  9. that's funny, because that is exactly what happened to my first book. I had 24 chapters all entered into the laptop. Bam, started the computer one day and it was just the blue screen of death and they could not recover anything. Took me six years to go back to trying to write and now it is a completely different story. Good post,

  10. Inner conflict that acts as a catalyst for external complications is not as easy to write as it sounds! But, yes, I 've read a lot of books where "characters in conflict" appear to be nothing more than two characters bickering. (Seen some movies like that too, boring!)
    Judy (South Africa)

  11. I think it's the internal conflict that keeps me turning pages almost more than the external - when done right. :)

  12. I love a story with some nitty gritty internal conflict that really drives the main characters forward. Nice job showing that at the end. :)

  13. I love external conflict as much as the next girl but internal conflict is so often where the real devastation lives. That's what I really love in a story.

    M.J. Fifield
    My Pet Blog

  14. Excellent points and examples. Characters need conflict and complications.

  15. Great post! Yes, conflict is necessary because lets face it as much as we probably won't admit readers love challenges, the love complications because they have to find something to cheer about in the end when the character overcomes them or survives them.

  16. It would be boring if life as a writer wasn't so tough.

  17. A story without conflict is a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese.

  18. Very good advice :) Conflict is essential. Without it, there's no story.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  19. I liked reading the different versions, and noting the character growth as the conflict mounted. Good one.

  20. This is true, it's what makes a book good. =)

  21. Great post. Couldn't agree with you more.

  22. It's the publishing deal and thoughts of rejection that made me think of self publishing companies, but my friends say that it feels good to send a copy of our work to publishers any way even if we think that chances are slim.

  23. Easy ain't no fun at all! :-) Uh, say huh?? Did I just say that?

    I'm agent surfing and it's SO hard. Looking at all those agent blogs makes my neck hurt. But I keep the thought (dream) of holding my book in my hands and sniffing its glorious scent. So, uh, yeah, I'z in it for the long run. (It looks like I'm the third one.) *sigh*

  24. All great points. I don't know if I'll ever write a novel, but Reading writing blogs have definitely brought me closer to understanding what that might take.

  25. Excellent conflict examples. The most important element for a writer to conquer :)
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  26. Great post; I agree, we need to cheer the MC on. NO matter if internal or external conflict, but there has to be a shove to change, over come or it gets dull~

  27. Hi, Thanks for visiting me, and I hope you will come back when you can. :) I agree with your concepts of conflict(s) and how to express it (them) and that it is not an easy thing to do. Thanks for the clear concepts in your post.

  28. Hi Misha! Nice to meet you. Your blog is exactly what I need right now! I just devoured your last five posts. I'm so excited to get to climb in the head of a writer and peek behind the scenes. I have some technical knowledge from creative writing classes in college (though I have a math degree, I was English one-course-from-a-minor). Looking forward to more free advice. I just started writing sci-fi in February for another challenge I was in and loved the whole invention of the world. But in chapter 5, I dumped a lot of "Telling" about that world when I was stuck as to where to go next. It sucked. But like you said, all that work is good for something, and I have promised myself I'll finish the story eventually.
    Thanks so much for stopping by and following!
    Tina @ Life is Good

  29. Conflict definitely is the key to any great story. Internal and external are both necessary. Good post, Misha.

  30. Thanks for stopping by my blog during the challenge. I came by to visit and I'm glad I did. I think join along and learn from your knowledge. This is a great post by the way, and very provocative.

  31. Easy is wonderful. Who doesn't want (at least some part of) life to be easy. But, yes, as a reader - not so much.

    This is an excellent use of the A to Z challenge. And a great set of examples of how to improve a story.

  32. Great points all! I don't think anyone really appreciates anything that is achieved easily. If you didn't put a little blood, sweat and tears into it how can you sigh with relieved delight and pride with the completion of your project.

  33. I love how you differentiated between internal and external conflict. It's a great way to show that the antagonist doesn't have to be some big bad archvillian.

  34. Sounds pretty much like my life...oh except for the Oprah part. I'm still holding out hope.

  35. Agh! I actually know a few writers who got published the easy way! It makes my head spin--considering. Great post, Misha! And conflict, when it comes to story telling, is key. Your characters have to fight for something!

  36. Great way of putting it! :)

    Following you from A-Z challenge!

  37. Great job showing the power of realistic conflicts contrasted with what a 1st draft might look like.

  38. Once again, an excellent and informative post. I'm learning so much from you. Thanks!

    Question...wouldn't a character grow more from the internal conflict than an outer conflict with another person? IMHO, The war within is a bigger battle.

  39. At first I was thinking what's wrong with that story--I'd settle for that. Then as I read on I saw what you were talking about. You make a good point. And I actually almost prefer the stories that focus more on internal conflict since often they are the easiest to which to relate.

    Contrary to my usual practice of subscribing to comments, to save time during the challenge I will not be doing so at the moment. If you want to respond to my comment , please email me directly from your email notification for the comment.
    Thanks. And I truly appreciate your efforts.

    Tossing It Out

  40. Wall of text crits me in da face. I think I'm dead now.

    Great post though. I wanted to stop by and say good morning since it is indeed now morning (as per our tweeter/twitter thingmajig).

    <3 misha

  41. I'm conflicted about this. I could try to tell you what my problem is, but it's quite complicated.

    By the way, the "this" I'm referring to is my own comment, which is overly punny and stinks of someone trying too hard. Your post, on the other hand, was excellent!

  42. So true, Mood, even if we all secretly wish that the query process went easy. ;-)

    Ben, since I have learned the distinction, those people started to annoy the life out of me.

    Sheri, I think so too. Even real life. Difficulties make us appreciate what we get more. :-)

    Sarah, I thought about the interplay between internal and external conflict as I wrote this post, but thought that discussing it would make the post unbearably long. I think one needs both types of conflicts to stay true to life. But no matter which obstacles I through at a character, it might only be seen as a complication if the internal conflict (i.e. I am not good/strong/brave enough to...) is not there too. Also, some internal conflict can be triggered by external conflict as well. Like if a bad person tries to drive the alcoholic from the goal by getting and keeping him drunk. :-)

    Hahaha Angela, as does our deepest darkest worst parts of ourselves. Believe it or not. ;-P

    It would be, Bish. I know I would put my name in five times. (Excluding the time I did it on purpose.)

    Thanks Em! :-)

    It is weird, Caitlin, but so true. I guess that's the unspoken reason as to why conflict is so important to the story. It creates sympathy.

    Joe, you have my sympathies. I once opened a file previously of 18 chapters and it only contained the word "The". Then my mother didn't bother to ask if it was ok to rip my mother board with version 2 out of my computer so that my gran could write. Took seven years to start version 3. And it is now backed up at a remote location. ;-)

  43. Very true, Judy. Our internal landscape has an effect on how we handle the outside. Just so, the outside has an effect (good or bad) on our thoughts/emotions/morale. :-)

    Debora, the same here. People's thoughts fascinate me.

    MJ hehehe and do I love writing that devestation? Hell yes. ^_^

    Yes they do, Laura. How would they grow without being challenged?

    Thanks Roza! You bring up a very good point. We cheer on as the characters face those conflicts and complications, and that involves us in the stories we read. :-)

    Luana, or the champagne without the bubbles... or the chocolate brownie without chocolate. Brr... That last one is unthinkable.

    Thanks Sarah. :-)

    Thanks Myne! I was hoping the readers would notice that. You made my day. :-D

    Yes it does, Tiger. False conflict is just a pain to read. >_<

    Thanks Murees.

  44. Munir, I'll tell you how I feel once the time comes for me to query. ;-)

    Oh no, Robyn, easy is a lot of fun in real life. It's just a pain in the ass to read. ;-P Good luck with the querying!

    Marjorie, I found it an eye-opener too. And I was already writing when I started to blog. :-)

    Thanks Charmaine. Conflict is pretty high up in my list of must-masters, too.

    So true, Ella.

    Thanks for the lovely complement, Grammy. I'm glad that you liked my post. I will definitely be back at your blog when the April dust settles. :-)

    Wow thanks Tina! I'm glad if you get such a lot from my posts. :-) Good luck with your writing.

    Very true, Devin. I find books that focus too much on one or the other difficult...

    Thank you so much, Deirdra! :-D

    I enjoyed your post, Chuck, so I'm glad to hear you enjoyed mine too. :-D

    Thank you KJM. :-D

    So very true, Ann. It's the struggle that makes the achievement worthwhile.

    Thanks Sari. That villain as sole source of conflict thing is alarmingly common.

    Haha yeah Doreen... the Oprah part was to make it clearly fictional. ;-)

    It makes my head spin too, Samantha, but I'm happy to know it's possible. :-) Gives this fragile heart a bit of hope.

    Thanks, Ju! I will drop by your blog in the very near future. ^_^

    I'm glad you liked it, KMC. :-)

    Thanks Larri! Answer as per my opinion, I think both bring growth in various extents depending on the character. It's the overcoming of the threat that brings the growth, regardless of the type of conflict involved. :-)I'll try mailing you the answer too.

    Lee, I also love internal conflict, but I find that books without external conflict are a bit monotonous. And if a reader can't be led to relate to the external conflicts, the character wasn't written well.

    Hahaha Michael, my sympathies. I'm glad you liked my post. Good NIGHT! ;-P

    ^_^ Thanks Nate!


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