Friday 8 March 2013

How Conflict Fuels the Story by Rebecca Talley #ChaBooCha

photo copyright Calvin & Hobbes

How Conflict Fuels the Story
by Rebecca Cornish Talley

When I first began writing, I was unclear about conflict. I figured it meant that some earth-shattering event had to take place in every scene. I’ve since learned that’s not correct.

Conflict is simply denying the character his or her goal.

Each scene needs a main character and that character needs a goal. If there’s no goal, there really isn’t a scene because without a goal there’s no conflict. Readers want to worry about characters. They want to root for them. As writers it’s our job to give readers what they want. Readers can’t worry about, or root for, a character unless they know what that character wants.

The main character(s) should have a main goal for the story, but there should be smaller goals in each scene to keep the story going.

For example, Cora wants the lead in the school play. That’s her main goal. Readers know that almost immediately because Cora tells her best friend in the opening scene that she wants the lead. The whole story will revolve around this goal and at the end, readers will find out whether or not Cora obtained her goal.

In the next scene, Cora comes home and wants to study some lines so she can perform them for her audition--that’s her goal for the scene. But her mother wants her to do the dishes, clean her room, and walk the dog. Cora thinks she won’t have enough time to study her lines. So what do we have? Conflict. Cora wants one thing, but her mother wants something else. There’s no earthquake, no dying relative, no escaped convict threatening their lives, but there’s still conflict because her mother’s insistence to do chores prevents Cora from practicing her lines. Readers will ask themselves, will Cora be able to study her lines?

Another scene may have Cora coming home to practice her lines. This time her mother doesn’t insist she do chores instead, but Cora can’t find the paper with her lines. She looks all over the place, but she can’t find it. Again, we have conflict. The lost paper is preventing Cora from achieving her goal of learning her lines.

Conflict comes when a character is prevented from achieving his/her goal.

I like to use index cards. On each index card, I write a sentence to describe the scene. I also include the character’s goal, what will prevent the character from obtaining said goal (conflict), and what happens as a result (disaster for the character). When I have written down all the scenes on the index cards, I lay them out on a flat surface and have a bird’s eye view of the entire story. I can immediately see where the conflict is absent and/or where it’s weak.

Remember, conflict is simply denying the character what he/she wants. Make sure you include some kind of conflict in each scene to keep readers interested. If there is no conflict there is no story because conflict fuels the story.

3 Top Writing Tips:

1. Study the craft.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
3. Never give up.

Rebecca Talley attended BYU and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Communications. She is the author of a children's picture book, "Grasshopper Pie" (WindRiver 2003), a children's chapter book "Gabby's Secret" (DuBon Publishing 2011), and four novels, "Heaven Scent" (CFI 2008), "Altared Plans" (CFI 2009), and "The Upside of Down" (CFI 2011), "Aura" (DuBon Publishing 2012). I've also authored numerous children's magazine stories and articles. She has achieved all of this while raising ten kids. Online you can find on her website,  her Rebecca Talley blog, or her Rebecca Lynn Talley blog.

And now it's time to let you know what prize is up for grabs this week! Leave a comment on this post between now and noon GMT on the 15th and you will get an entry into the drawing for
"Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books" by Nancy I. Sanders, a thorough overview of the world of beginning readers and first chapter books that provides practical steps and insider tips on writing for this market.

Now, I understand that, as so many ChaBooCha members already buy writing books, some of you might already have the books offered as prizes during this challenge. Because of this, if you are drawn by the random number selector as a winner for this prize, and you already have the book, you can do one of two things; you can choose to give the book as a gift to someone else in the challenge, either anonymously or with your name attached and it will be sent directly to them instead of you OR you can choose ONE of the following two things from the Chapter Book Challenge 2013 shop.


  1. Such a great post and brilliant timing too! I have such a clearer understanding of what 'conflict' means now, thank you!

  2. Awesome reminder that conflict is all the little stuff too! Thank you.

  3. Good points, Rebecca. Your example makes it really concrete and easier to understand. And helps point out that it's those little conflicty moments that move the story forward.

  4. Hmmm- my comment disappeared. That's weird.
    Anyway - Rebecca: good points. And I really appreciate the concrete example you provide showing how smaller conflicts help move the story forward toward the larger conflict resolution. Thanks.

  5. Thanks Rebecca. How you published all those books with 10 kids is amazing. I'm betting you've got some great older kids to help you have some writing time. Any promising writers in your bunch? :)

  6. Thanks Rebecca, I like how you break down the scenes and write down specific goals and conflict. And I guess they all move forward to the big and final goal/ obstacle/ conflict.

  7. Great tips. Whenever I think about conflict, I often think about an argument. I like how you explain it as something that stops the main character from reaching their goal.

  8. Loved this. another awesome prize too! i too try to come up with a problem or conflict in each chapter. i like to finish the chapter with the problem be solved in next chapter...

  9. "Conflict is simply denying the character his or her goal." Greatly needed this definition. The tip about the index card is premium. I'm even going to use this advice with my picture book writing as well. But as for my chapter book draft, boy do I have some revisions. Gotta get busy adding the conflict in a couple of scenes. Thanks bunches, Rebecca!