Conflict. All by itself, the word isn’t so imposing is it? Much of the time it’s used to describe something extremely real and horribly bad -but it’s somewhere else, not a whole lot to worry about. If we drop it into the writing context though, it suddenly grows to 300ft, sprouts wings and has a thong of flame. This thing will kick your ass. It’s a huge imposing beast that, from one angle, looks like a world dominating demon, on the other, might be a fresh pile of dog poo in your front yard. Either way, there it is – causing problems.
Conflict is what makes a story. You don’t have one without it. Yet, I feel like it’s one of the lesser talked about aspects of writing. I picked up my Fiction First Aid book, which is a pretty reliable resource for debugging problems, and flipped to the index. Characters are covered over the course of some 50pages, while the topic of conflict is packed into a mere 4 pages! Now, I’ll concede that lots of the conflict comes from your characters, but conflict is what causes the suspense in your story. That suspense is what keeps the reader thinking Then what? and turning the page instead of going to bed.
As I face the completion of the first full draft of my book*, I’m starting to think about** polishing and all the little bits that need to be shored-up or just flat re-written. Now, this is where the writer’s improvement hell comes in. One of these things is tweaking things so that the conflict is present in a way that keeps the reader interested enough to continue turning the page. There’s conflict a plenty in the book, what’s I think is still lacking is that extra bit of suspense associated with it.
Sounds like you know what needs work, so what’s the problem?
Well, first of all, I THINK I have this problem. This is a case where I’m too close to the work to precisely see where these problems are present. The few people who have read the early drafts so far haven’t said this is an issue, but I think it’s going to take a full draft before someone might take a look back and say: you know what? this book just wasn’t exciting enough***. Not only that, I’m not entirely sure how to fix the problems without overdoing it or just plain missing the mark. My solution is to try and look at the story as a reader instead of the writer, and try to understand where a little more suspense is necessary. Another thing I will do is ask others to read the work to see if they found it interesting and compelling enough to continue. Finally, I’m planning on taking a break from editing as it nears the end. It’ll be time to do a bit of reading and thinking about how other authors manage suspense, or fail to, and use that as my guidebook when I go back over it again.
*Curse you chapter 19! – in the end, I will defeat you. I will OWN you. You won’t have any choice but to do my bidding. Then, we’ll see who’s laughing.
**Read: Become paralytically consumed with, really
***Read: Needs more suspense – the conflict wasn’t resonating.