Tuesday Tip

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tip#1I was so conflicted about what to write about today. Well, would you look at that, conflict just happens to be the next item on the editing checklist. To see the full editing checklist, feel free to check it out here.

We all face conflicts in our daily lives. Small conflicts like what to eat or wear. Major conflicts like getting a divorce, having surgery, or moving for a job.

water-cooler-gossipPeople enjoy conflict–not in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Ever notice how engaged your friends and coworkers are when you tell them about your divorce from hell, but for some reason they glaze over when you recap your relaxing weekend. People feed off of drama like plants feed off of light. Maybe it distracts them from their own lives; maybe they relate; maybe they are addicted to the chemicals released from experiencing negative emotions. Whatever it is, harness its power to engage readers. If conflict keeps people at the water cooler, it will also keep readers turning the page.

Types of Conflict

Conflict is the most important part of your novel. After you introduce your main character, you introduce the conflict. The story doesn’t truly begin on page one, but when the protagonist sets out to resolve the conflict. When we think conflict, we often think of something exciting, like a plane crash or a car chase, but a conflict can be something invisible and small-scale like an emotion. To help understand conflict, let’s break it up into categories.

External: Any force outside of the protagonist: fire, tornado, shark, sharknado, etc

Internal: Internal conflict adds meaning to the external conflict. Consider the Battle of Blackwater in a Game of Thrones. Since this event happened in season two, I hardly feel the need to announce a spoiler alert, considering there are five seasons now. You’ve had your chance to catch up.

There are a lot of external conflicts in this scene: Stannis’ fleet, under-protected walls, fire, etc. However, the true drama comes from the characters’ inner conflicts. There are a lot of characters we could choose to focus on: King Joffrey, Tyrion, or Stannis, but let’s look at The Hound (I don’t remember what his real name is). The character is a great fighter, so why does he freak out and leave in the middle of battle? It’s not the ships, it’s not the men with swords, it’s the fire. Because he was burned as a child, The Hound fears fire, which is everywhere at King’s Landing. This is a great example of inner conflict layered underneath external conflict. His fear, and inability to overcome it, makes this scene more dramatic. Kudos goes to George for playing on a character’s weakness, but before I hand out too much praise, let’s just see how this character arc ends. George typically fails at character conflict resolution. No, this is not just my opinion. There are a lot of arcs that are never closed off and conflicts unresolved because Martin kills off a character instead of developing a more satisfactory conclusion (e.g., most of the Starks). Lazy, just lazy. For the Hound’s conflict to be resolved successfully, he will have to overcome his fear of fire in order to achieve his goal, but George will probably just kill him off–which is ok as long as it’s with fire.

hound

Person vs.

  • Self: inner conflict: flaws, doubts, prejudices
  • Person: an antagonist e.g., a villain
  • Society: tradition, laws, culture e.g., Hunger Games
  • Nature: weather, elements e.g., Robinson Crusoe
  • Technology: tech takes over
  • Supernatural: something superficial: Gods, demons, fate, destiny
office-space-printer

Man vs. Technology: Take that, stupid printer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to create conflict

To add conflict, you don’t have to plan a ton of major events, like explosions, war, etc. If you’ve ever read The Teahouse Fire, you’ll notice there was only one catastrophic event in the entire story: the fire. Other than that, not a lot happened, but every page was saturated with conflict. To create conflict, simply ask yourself, what does your character want? Once you know what they want, take it away and make it difficult to achieve.

  • family
  • money
  • power
  • job
  • justice
  • a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Give your character a goal that your audience can relate with. The more they can relate, the more they’ll root for your protagonist. Create situations that prevent your character from getting what they want, and show their struggle to achieve it.

How to increase conflict

1. Give a Deadline

Think of a ticking clock. Imagine the story of Cinderella without the midnight curfew. Not as exciting, is it? A race against the clock adds suspense and drama.

2. Make your Character Choose

Decisions, decisions. Giving your characters choices will keep your readers on the edge of their seats. What will they choose? Will they complete their goal if it means ruining the lives of others? What will they sacrifice to get what they want?

3. Conflicting Goals

Like real people, your main character can have more than one goal. Make those goals compete.

Example: He wants to get a promotion and save his marriage. To get the promotion, he has to spend more time at work. To save his marriage, he needs to spend more time with his wife. He obviously can’t do both.

Also, group your protagonist with side characters who have conflicting goals or who have personality traits that conflict with your character.

Returning to the prior example. He has a mother-in-law who hates him, persuading his wife to leave.

4. Include Conflict in Every Scene

To iterate, this does not mean you have to have an explosion in every scene. Just make sure your character is struggling with something. Are they conflicting with their morals, another character, nature?

5. Inability to take Action

Render your character helpless to act. What always comes to my mind is a villain hand-rubbing and cackling while the main character, usually tied up, declares that they won’t get away with it . . . to which the villain always replies:

I already have

I already have

Main Conflict. 

Let’s look at Star Wars (The good ones). You might think the main conflict is about the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance; however, the main conflict is actually Luke’s inner struggle between choosing the honorable way of the Jedi or getting revenge. The war complements Luke’s struggle because it is a battle between good and evil.

Side Conflicts

One conflict is not enough. On the road to your character achieving his or her goal are smaller conflicts. Think of these like bumps in the road. A good story has layers of conflict. Multiple conflicts add realism, depth, and interest. Interweave them so they are related. Let’s return to A Game of Thrones, however, we’ll take a look at Daenerys this time. Her main conflict is her desire to rule the iron throne. The battle hasn’t begun, but already she’s had many side conflicts: choosing between her family and her rule, hunger, obtaining an army, her brother, etc.

Note: Don’t forget to give side characters conflict as well. Make their wants compete with the main character. Just make sure their conflicts complement, not compete.

Raising the Stakes

Every conflict should be worse than the one before.

Conflict one:They mess up your order at McDonald’s

Conflict two: You’re late for work.

Conflict three: Your boss gives you a write up.

Conflict four: You’re girlfriend calls you during lunch to breakup with you.

Conflict five: You get pulled over on your way home and receive a ticket.

Conflict six: You get home to find all of your stuff is on the lawn.

Conflict seven: You have nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep, so you spend the night in your car while your stuff gets rained on.

Compare the first and last conflict. I bet you’d happily eat that Mcmessed up egg muffin now.

What happens if your stakes decrease?

One of several things. Your readers will lose interest or the conflict will get resolved too fast.

How to make sure your stakes are rising.

It’s easier if you plan your conflict while you’re planning your novel. Map the conflicts on your outline in the order they occur. You’ll obviously put the major conflict last.

What if it’s too late? You’ve already written your first draft. It’s never too late to rearrange or cut scenes. Keep a list of the conflicts that arise in your novel and compare them to make sure they appear in the correct order. I did this while editing my sister’s novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Rather. Kay and Pig’s conflicts include a bear, a salesperson, and a kidnapping. Obviously the salesperson came first, followed by the bear, and lastly the kidnapping.

Don’t Raise the Stakes too High

Sometimes writers raise the stakes so high the protagonist cannot resolve the conflict realistically, resulting in a deus ex machina. I love her, but Karen Miller is infamously guilty of this. Do not let a God step in or bull-shit a magic ability at the last minute.This robs the reader of a satisfactory conclusion.

Rules of Conflict

  • Conflict must always be resolved (That goes for you too, George R.R. Martin)
  • Conflict must always be resolved by the main character or as the result of their actions
  • No deus ex machina
  • Have conflict in every scene
  • Have multiple conflicts

There you have it. When it comes to writing, don’t save the drama for your mama.

 

 

 

Thanks For Following

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200 followers! I feel like Frodo!

I want to thank all of you who follow me, because today, I have gained  200 followers on both Twitter and WordPress. That’s right, they both got 200 followers on the same day. That’s saying no one unfollows me in the next minute–you know how Twitter can fluctuate like the stock market.

I can’t help noticing how similar this is to the photo above.

My goal was to have 200 followers by the beginning of January. Thanks to all of you, I’ve reached that milestone roughly three months early. So now, I’ll be shooting for 300 by the start of 2015. I love reaching goals and getting to set higher ones. Thank you all for pushing the bar higher. I appreciate all of your follows, likes, and comments.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers I follow have been selected for a blog hop where they describe their writing spaces. This is the best blog hop, hands down. Getting to see where writers work is like going to Disney World to see where the “magic” happens, i.e., one artist lazily doodling while the others are on coffee break. I couldn’t help but notice although they all wrote in different places, they all seemed to have similar tools of the trade. I’m still creating my own writing area. I’ve got one room to work with and I don’t have a lot of room for furniture, so I’ve got to make every square inch count. If you’re like me, have no fear, here are some tips for creating your perfect writing place.

Location, Location, Location

A good writer can write anywhere, but let’s face it, some places are more inspiring than others. A lot of us have our best brainstorming sessions in the bathroom, but I don’t recommend setting up shop there. When looking for a location, consider the following:

1. The view

This is important. When you’re brainstorming or just staring off, what do you want in front of you? Do you want a view out of a window, or are windows totally distracting to you? Do you like staring at a blank wall or would this drive you crazy?

2. Noise level

A lot of writers are sensitive to noise. What noise we do allow, we like to control. I like writing to music but not to screaming kids or blaring television. When choosing a room, consider the noises you won’t be able to control, like a room beside a washing machine, water heater, refrigerator, or anything else that grumbles, rattles, and groans. You should avoid rooms that are too close to high-traffic areas like bathrooms, laundry rooms, and dining rooms. One of the bloggers I follow, who participated in the blog hop, actually wrote from a shed. Talk about privacy and peace and quiet.

3. Distractions

I used to live in a 750 square foot condo, so carving out my own place was impossble. Everywhere I wrote there were distractions. If I wrote on my bed, I fell asleep; if I wrote in the family room, I was privy to all the noise in the house–not to mention I was distracted by my books, everything I could see or hear out my window, my cats, the television, etc. For awhile I wrote in the kitchen. To be honest, the set up was great. I had a big kitchen table my mom refinished for me, so I had plenty of room for notes, books, and food–the latter being the problem. I don’t recommend writing in the kitchen unless you want to get fat instead of getting any writing done. I used to get up a lot to get drinks or snacks. I was right by the fridge; it practically called to me.

4. Color and smell

Studies show that certain colors inspire creativity. Green is supposed to make you more creative. The smell of peppermint is supposed to keep you alert. Therefore, a green wall and a peppermint candle make the perfect combo to help get the creative juices flowing.

The Tools of the Trade

1. A desk or laptop tray You don’t need to have a desk if you like to write on your bed or couch, but I do recommend a laptop tray if you will not be writing with a pen and paper. One reason is for safety. Laptops get very hot and can start fires if left on a soft surface like a couch or bed. Not too long ago I read about a man who died in his home because of the toxic fumes his laptop gave off as it set his house on fire. If you can, purchase a desk. I like corner desk because they take up less space. If you write from a desk you’ll want a comfortable chair as well. When choosing a desk, have an idea of what you will be putting on it, so you know how big it should be. Also, consider if you want drawers and compartments for storage?

2. Lighting

If you don’t get a lot of natural light you will want a floor lamp or a desk lamp. Don’t be like Bach and compose your masterpiece at night with poor lighting. I used to write by candle light, but I don’t recommend it. I might as well have written by moonlight. Oh, the eyestrain! It’s no wonder I can’t read at night anymore. I made a lot of poor lighting choices in the past. For instance, aside from the candle light, I had a lamp with a red shade to match my walls, but I quickly learned this lighting was more for ambience than functionality.

3. Time wasting eliminators

I really couldn’t think of what else to call them. Essentials just sounded to blasé. What I mean by time wasting eliminators is things you need to keep yourself from getting up every five minutes. This could be a trash can, coasters, phone charger, tissue boxes, pen holders, filing cabinets, etc. Anything that prevents you from wasting time. If you have to get up for it, it should be on your writing desk or a nearby table. Keep things within your reach.

4. Accessories

This is where it gets fun. Remember, this is a creative space, not a work place. You can have photos, flowers, knick knacks, toys, stress balls, or whatever you like. On my desk, I will have a light up owl, photo frames, solar owl, Frozen stationary, and a Lego Legolas.

A Portable Writing Place

So what about if you are a writer on the go? It might be hard to take all that stuff and put it in the car. Sometimes relocation is stimulating, even if you just go to the café down the street or a local park, but it’s counterproductive if you get to your destination and realize you left something essential at home.

Create a writing bag

I recommend a messenger bag or a canvas bag: Something large enough to fit a laptop, large notebook, reference books, etc.  I have an adorable messenger bag I got from Kmart that has owls on it (because I love owls). Inside the front flap is a place for small notebooks and pens. There’s other compartments inside where I can put snacks, my wallet, phone, etc.

Keep a checklist

I recommend putting this in your writing bag so you can check it before you leave to make sure everything is ready to go. Which brings me to the next topic.

What should you bring?

  • laptop (if you use one to write) MAKE SURE IT’S CHARGED
  • notebooks (for writing the old fashioned way or for keeping notes)
  • pens (to write, scratch with, and chew on, of course)
  • folders (for notes, concept art, or loose pieces of paper)
  • reference books (if there is a book you constantly reach for when you write at home, take it with you)
  • snacks (don’t write hungry)
  • beverage (I recommend water)
  • ear plugs or ear buds (if you want to block out sound or listen to music)

When you’re done, you should have a space that does not irritate, confuse, or drain you, but a place that makes you feel inspired, creative, alert, and ready to write.

I can’t wait to finish my writing space. When I do, I’ll be sure to take a lot of pictures to share with you. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about our perfect writing place. What do you have on your desk? Where do you write?

Where Did the Time Go?

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So, I did something that would be taboo in a marriage: I forgot my one-year anniversary. I started my blog a year ago on September 5, 2013. It is now the 13th, so I’m roughly eight days late. My anniversary fell on a Friday, so I know why I missed it. It was a busy day at work, I was figuring out a new visitation schedule for my son, and, as I’ve mentioned in another post, my family has been dealing with a serious illness. So between doctor appointments and flip-flopping schedules, it’s no wonder my anniversary fell under my radar. (And yet I remember when McDonald’s will be giving away free coffee and when GoT season 4 will be on DVD.)

My motto this month has been celebrate the small stuff, like baking banana bread with my mom, getting my office organized, etc. So I’m going to have a little belated one-year anniversary celebration.

imagesWhat did I accomplish this year, and what’s in store for next year? My very first blog post was about a write-in I had with my sister and her friend from college. I really enjoyed connecting with Sarah Wright, and getting to discuss writing and blogging. Sarah was actually the one who convinced me and my sister that blogging is essential to a writer’s platform. Please check out her blog at http://smwright.wordpress.com/

 I wrote my first post during the write-in; since then, I’ve written over 60 post and connected with over 200 writers, readers, and bloggers with WordPress. It’s been a great experience. I feel like I’m part of a writing community.

Since that first post, I’ve talked about writing: the ups and downs, challenges and accomplishments, and what to do and what not to do. In July, I started my first weekly feature: Tuesday Tips. I’ve had a lot of good response to these, so I will keep doing them until I run out of advice. Aside from helping other writers, I’d also like to support and promote them as well. I want to start a feature where I ask authors a question. Kind of like an author interview, but with one question that focuses on a particular strength I feel the writer has. This will be a great opportunity for them to help other writers by sharing their strengths as well as promote themselves, their writing, and gain exposure.

I’d also like to feature a poet a month. I’ve read some great poetry on WordPress, and I’d like to give poets a chance to spotlight a poem of their choice.

The third feature is a collaboration with my sister called “Twin Talk.” We are super excited about this feature, which would appear on both our blogs. We realize we aren’t using our twin gimmick enough. I mean, how awesome is it that I have an identical twin who also likes to write and blog and talk about writing! We’d like to pick one topic a month and discuss it and post our discussion on our blogs. The only reason we haven’t started this yet is because we need web cams or something to record our chats so we can upload the videos. Any advice on this would be welcome.

What do you like about my blog? What would you change? Any thoughts? Also, if you are interested in being featured on my blog, please let me know either in the comments below, via twitter, or the contact section I will be updating shortly.

Thank you all for making this a wonderful blogging year.

8 Hours to Write

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untitledRecently I read a post from the blog Live to Write – Write to Live that asked this question: “If you were given eight hours to write, what would you do?”

Today I have the opportunity to find out because I have been given every school-aged child’s wet dream: a snowday!

I guess even adults get these from time to time, as long as your job is not essential and your city is in a state of emergency.

To all of you braving the storm, I will be sitting at my computer with a hot mug of coffee and a toasted bagel. This doesn’t differ from my work routine very much, except I will be wearing comfortable clothes and I will be writing instead of working.

So what will I do with the eight hours I was initially scheduled to work? Why write of course. Aside from writing this blog, I am working on book one of my series. My goal is to write three chapters. If my sister is utilizing her snow day, I will edit a chapter of her book. If I get really ambitious, I may take a break from writing fiction and write an article for textbroker.

Does anyone else have a grown up snow day today? How will you be using yours?